Category Archives: anger

Understanding, Confronting and Resolving Anger 7- Ignoring Anger


Photo by Andre Tan

Let us not look back in anger nor forward in fear,
but around in awareness.

~James Thurber~

So far we have considered the nature of anger, where it comes from, types of anger and targets of anger and narcissistic anger. Now it is time to address what to do about your anger no matter where it comes from or where you direct it. Here we will address the possibility of ignoring your anger rather than expressing it.

Getting to know your temper

Before we get to that, let’s look at the nature of your anger. Psychologist Andrea Brandt presents seven things you need to learn about your temper. She points out that your childhood wounds guide you toward how you deal with anger. When you become angry, these wounds may return to your awareness and you again react to them while also juggling new causes of anger. It is also possible that you might not remember trauma from long in the past until you have had some help uncovering it.

Brandt also notes that anger triggers the release of stress hormones that tend to make you react on the basis of your past traumatic experiences rather than in any rational manner.

Here are the things you should know:

  • Suppressed anger is like a volcano. When you try to stuff down your anger, it does not disappear. It just accumulates inside you and acts somewhat like a balloon you overfill. Sooner or later it will pop. Your anger will eventually erupt to the detriment of both you and others around you, whether or not it has anything to do with how you got angry in the first place.
  • Your anger is trying to talk to you. Troublesome emotions are a signal to you that there is something that needs your attention. Something in your life is not the way it should be or at least not the way you think it should be. You will feel unsettled and off balance. If you try to ignore it, you will continue to keep feeling out of sorts. If you make a habit of ignoring troublesome feelings such as anger, you will soon find yourself in constant turmoil.
  • Your body tells you when you are angry. Even though you push your anger from your awareness, it still lives somewhere inside you as a form of stress. Stress hormones affect your concentration, your respiration, blood pressure and digestion as well as your immune system. As you might imagine, being off balance physically takes a toll on your mental and emotional well-being.
  • Reactions can be controlled. You have alternatives available other than ignoring feelings such as anger. This does not mean that you can necessarily prevent yourself from feeling anger. It does mean that you can find healthy ways to address your anger. We will consider these a little later.
  • Your childhood is still making you angry. Events that trigger your anger now might be similar to what angered you as a child. Childhood emotions can be rekindled by your current experiences. In that sense, what happens now can be of more consequence to your emotions and thinking than it would be if you had not had those childhood experiences.
  • Reactivity can quietly destroy relationships. Reactivity means jumping to how you feel and acting on that basis alone rather than taking time to understand what is going on in the person who you see as making you angry. Angering you might not be this person’s intention at all. Skipping over the other person’s perceptions and motivations will only compound the difficulties you have with this person.
  • Mindfulness is the opposite of reactivity. Reactivity is a thoughtless reaction with no considered justification. Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to what is going on in the moment both from the other’s perspective as well as from your own. We will consider mindfulness further a little later.

Let’s look a little closer at what your feelings have to tell you. Emotions are not as simple as you might think. It seems that something happens in your life and then you have feelings about it. But plenty of things happen around you every day. Many of them you ignore. You hardly notice them, and they have little meaning in your life. You don’t have any feelings at all about them.

Things that happen in your life may also result in positive or negative emotions. You might see someone wearing a dress that reminds you of one your mother wore when you were a child. Are your emotions positive or negative? It depends on what kind of relationship you had with your mother. The better relationship you had with her, the more positive your emotional reaction is likely to be. If you had a particularly bad relationship with her, your emotions might be negative.

If you had unresolved conflict with your mother, you might well find yourself feeling angry when you see a familiar dress. Perhaps you were able to find a way to resolve your conflict. In this case, your emotions might well be neutral or even positive.

Rita Kaushal writes about messages that your feelings have for you. She points out that there are no negative emotions. Nor are there emotions that are always positive although most people think of them as good or bad. She reminds us that anger helps us protect our personal boundaries and fear tells us that something is wrong. Although our response to these emotions can be destructive, the emotions themselves are not good or bad.

She agrees with Andrea Brandt that not finding a good way to deal with powerful emotions can rebound on you and complicate your life. Her conclusion is that all emotions have a purpose. Accepting that is the first step in dealing with your emotions.

Once you accept that emotions are okay to feel, the next step is to experience a given feeling and learn what it is about. You can learn to understand your feelings and the messages they carry and then move on to consider the best way to react to them. Many emotions can have nuances which might at first be difficult to understand. Be patient with yourself and your emotions.

Kaushal refers to Karla McLaren’s series of questions which anger poses. They are as follows:

  • What must be protected? Remember when we talked about anger stemming from fear? Your anger may be a result of fear that something might happen to you or that something might be taken from you. What might it be that you fear losing and need to protect?
  • What must be restored? Perhaps you have already lost something. Are you seeking to have it returned or replaced? It might be your self-respect or something more tangible.
  • Have you contributed to your resentment? How did the situation which triggered your anger arise? Did you do something to incite or worsen what happened? Maybe it’s not all your fault, but you might share some of the blame if you are honest with yourself.
  • How can enforcing limits make you feel protected? Sometimes you do things or give away things you wish you hadn’t. It’s easier to set your limits before you find yourself in a situation which adds to your resentment.

Asking these questions of yourself and answering them will help keep your anger from building and decrease the chances of an explosion when you feel overwhelmed. Answering these questions is a good beginning, but there remains the task of deciding how to react to your feelings, anger in this case.

Not knowing what to do about your anger leaves you tempted to try ignoring it. You might also fear the consequences of expressing your anger for yourself or for someone else. Maybe you are concerned that you might be hurt by expressing your anger or that you might hurt someone else.

Kaushal reports that she has been experimenting with finding safe ways to express her anger such as beating on a pillow. I have heard of others having a tree they use as an object for their rage. She uses this as a way to let off steam and uses her pent up anger in a physical way which does not hurt anyone. The tree can take it. She sees physical release as an important way to defuse feelings such as anger.

In contrast to this approach, some psychologists see physical expression of anger, even when it is not harmful to anyone, as a way of practicing violence and not something we should necessarily indulge in since it reinforces violent expression of anger. How would you like to be Kaushal’s tree?

Kaushal goes on to discuss Lerner’s opinion that venting anger often does not lead to its reduction. She also cautions her readers against feeling that agreement between you and others is imperative. This can lead you into the trap of feeling that you must bring others to agree with your opinions. Sometimes this just will not happen, and you leave yourself open to continuing frustration. You can also agree to disagree with others and let it go.

Ignoring another’s anger

Heated arguments do not often lead to anyone changing his or her mind. They usually end with both sides withdrawing, possibly even more convinced that he or she is right and the other person is wrong. On the other hand, not responding at all is also likely to increase the other person’s rage. Just look at what is happening around our country right now,  So, how can you get the other person to tone down their anger?

Nadia Persun has some ideas. She quotes humorist Kin Hubbard as saying, “Nobody ever forgets where he buried a hatchet.” Unresolved conflicts might be buried, but seldom are they forgotten. Here are her suggestions for defusing another person’s anger:

  • Disengage and don’t take it personally. I have written before about not taking things personally, as suggested in the second of the Four Agreements presented by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book with that title. Engagement and taking things personally are closely connected. If you take someone’s anger as a personal attack against you, it is only a short step to engaging them in a war of words or worse as you look for ways to protect yourself from assault. If you can look at another’s anger as his or her problem, there is no need to protect yourself or mount an offensive. We talked earlier about your anger being a product of your fear. The same goes for others. They may be motivated by their own fears.
  • Avoid ego battles and rides to the past. Protecting your ego can lead you into significant conflict. Again, someone else’s anger is not about you. It is about them. Unless you allow yourself to be drawn into their emotional drama, it is not your issue even if it seems to be. Arguing about who did what, when, where and why only drags out the process. Also, remember that another person’s anger has connections to his or her past. You most likely had no part in the past misadventures which boil to the surface for him or her. Justifying yourself will not make things better for either of you.
  • Choose calm and sanity. It’s hard not to engage with an angry person itching for a fight. Yet it doesn’t help to react to the surface anger you see before you. Remember that this is not your fight even though it might be tempting and provocative. It’s hard to fight by yourself. The other person might rage on for a while but eventually will see that you are not in a fighting mood and will realize that you would rather listen than fight. Then maybe you can talk about why he or she is angry and what to do about it.
  • Give out an imaginary cupcake. This might seem like a silly suggestion. Remember that anger is an emotional response to loss or harm. This can be a very primitive feeling relating back to early childhood losses. Imagine being a four year old at a party where cupcakes are served. All the children including you get one. Then someone grabs yours and gobbles it down. How do you feel? That’s what I’m talking about. Someone might be trying to give you a message that he or she feels hurt or betrayed. Matching the other’s anger will not make him or her feel any better. What if you could control your own emotions and instead offer calmness as well as a kind and understanding response? It takes practice, but it is possible.

I think by now that you might realize that trying to ignore anger does not work very well. As we have seen, once you get to understand your own and another’s anger, trying to ignore either one is not very productive. It can have a negative effect on your health, physically and emotionally. It can encourage others to become more entrenched in their anger. It can worsen your relationships with others and prevent you from making any progress toward resolving your anger or that of others. If ignoring it doesn’t work, what does? That’s what’s next.

Understanding, Confronting and Resolving Anger: A Series 6. Narcissistic Rage



Photo by Andre Tan

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

~Mahatma Gandhi~


Being an activist is about getting things done.
It’s not about standing around shaking your fist in anger.

~Christine Quinn~

Now we will look at narcissistic rage, perhaps the most difficult type of anger you are likely encounter. It is no fun to deal with but it is best to be prepared,

What is narcissistic anger?

Mark Goulston, M.D. in his Psychology Today article, refers to narcissistic anger as “a chilling rage.” From the point of view of a narcissist, the world “looks like it should approve, adore, agree with and obey you. Anything less than that feels like an assault, leading a narcissist to feel justified in raging back at you.” You might imagine a person sitting on a throne expecting everyone else to bow to the ruler’s wishes and to anticipate his or her expectations.

Goulston lists characteristics of narcissists. These include:

  • Control freaks–They try to exercise tight control over everything that happens around them and freak out when things do not go their way.
  • Irritability–They are easily annoyed and anything unpleasant tends to grate on them.
  • Short fuse–You have probably heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” They don’t see this as applying to them. Everything they don’t like is of major importance.
  • Low frustration tolerance–Life around them is calm only when everything is as they want it and everyone agrees with them.
  • Argumentative–They don’t believe in allowing others to have their own opinion and that it is possible to coexist peacefully with those who don’t agree with them. All differences must be attacked.
  • Need to have the last word–They never let anything go unchallenged and fight to the bitter end to have their ways accepted as the right ones.
  • Unable to lose–Their goal is to win at all costs regardless of the magnitude of the situation.
  • Won’t take no for an answer–For them no is NOT a complete sentence. It is a challenge to keep arguing.

They have other unpleasant traits as well:

  • Being quick to anger if you don’t accommodate them–They don’t discuss arrangements they don’t like. They are much more likely to attack you since they see you as being wrong or inconsiderate.
  • Being quick to become aggressively defensive if you call them on any deficiency, fault or responsibility–Another way of saying this is that they have “thin skin.” Nothing is ever their fault and there is always something wrong with you for attacking them.
  • Can’t apologize or, if they do, they can’t do it sincerely–Any apology tends to be hollow and not really meant. You will be left with the uneasy feeling that they think any fault lies with you.
  • Rarely say thank you or congratulations–You are not important and anything you accomplish reduces their feeling of self importance.
  • Don’t feel or demonstrate remorse–They don’t generally feel they have ever done anything wrong. Therefore they feel no need to feel sorry for anything they have done.
  • Feel entitled to enthusiastic and appreciative approval, adoration, agreement, and obedience–They view themselves at the top of the heap in all matters and expect others to bow down to them constantly.
  • Gloating in victory, sullen in defeat–Don’t expect any gracious gestures whether they get their way or not. It’s all about them.
  • Quick to rage if you humiliate them–Humiliation can be as simple as viewing them on the same plane with ordinary mortals. They take offense very easily.

Maybe you are wondering how some people get to be raging narcissists. One theory is that by nature they have trouble feeling good about themselves and need constant reassurance of their value. They may well come from a childhood in which they are constantly told of their lack of worth as human beings. As adults they try to compensate for their inferior feelings by seeking constant adulation from others. When they don’t find what they are looking for they show the characteristics we have just discussed.

Another theory is that they need to feel better than everyone else in order to remain stable, at least to some degree, and feel in balance. When they do not get the praise they crave, they turn to rage in an attempt to bully others into revering them.

Alexander Burgemeester reminds us that narcissistic personality disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis as we saw earlier. He describes people with this pattern as follows, “They have little to no empathy, cannot understand the problems of people around them and are not aware of other people’s feelings. Although they act superior and confident, this actually hides the fact that they have very fragile egos. The slightest disrespect or challenge can quickly lead to the development of a furious rage in them.”

He traces the term narcissistic rage to the psychiatrist Franz Kohut who described it as a response from a narcissistic person who feels under attack. Narcissistic rage differs from ordinary anger in that it is not based on reason and is an overblown reaction to a possibly unimportant remark.

Burgemeester cites three causes of narcissistic rage:

  • Challenge to their confidence–This results when someone challenges or questions their actions or ideas as imperfect.
  • Injury to self esteem–Rage seeks to discredit or punish others who challenge a narcissist.
  • False sense of self–Their rage responds to someone questioning the worth of their ideas or actions.

In addition he lists seven stages of anger for most people. They are:

  • Stress–You have learned that stress is a normal reaction to an actual or imagined threat.
  • Anxiety–If you can’t find an immediate solution to your stress, you begin to worry about it.
  • Agitation–When anxiety persists, it affects your concentration and focus, leaving you feeling on edge.
  • Irritation–Little things which normally don’t upset you begin to grate on you as well as the original stress.
  • Frustration–You feel at wit’s end and have trouble finding any reasonable options.
  • Anger–You might be angry at your inability to solve the problem or at another person for creating it in your life.
  • Rage–Most people don’t reach this stage, but frustration might build inside you to the point where you explode.

Narcissists tend to skip the first six stages and react immediately with rage. They use their rage to attack any perceived questioning of their fragile self-image and superior feelings.


Responding to Narcissistic Rage

Richard Goulston notes that engaging a person in the midst of narcissistic rage is not likely to be productive. If it is safe, you might just listen until they are finished ranting. You can later request that they talk to you in a calm and respectful manner. If that does not happen the next time, it might be best to just walk away if you can or avoid such people altogether.

Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D. suggests specific ways to handle narcissists in a work situation, although her suggestions may apply to other settings as well:

  • Determine which type you’re dealing with. A grandiose narcissist might be a good ally if your goals exactly match theirs. Vulnerable narcissists are harder to deal with because they are constantly on the lookout for people who might further diminish their already poor concept of themselves.
  • Acknowledge your annoyance. Learn to recognize where your annoyance lies, usually related to the person who constantly interrupts you when you are trying to accomplish something.
  • Appreciate where the behavior comes from. Understand that vulnerable narcissists need to make themselves feel better. A modicum of reassurance is necessary for them to focus on a group task. Just don’t get carried away with praising them or they will take over a project.
  • Evaluate the context. Some situations will worsen their tendencies toward being defensive, vindictive and spiteful. One example is a narcissist who was passed over for a job but still needs to work with the team they do not lead.
  • Maintain a positive outlook. Some narcissists enjoy seeing others suffer. Letting them see your annoyance is likely to increase their efforts to make your life miserable.
  • Don’t let yourself get derailed. Stay focused on your own goals despite a narcissist’s efforts to take center stage and monopolize the direction of your group.
  • Keep your sense of humor. Try using humor to react to a narcissist’s attempt to monopolize group goals rather than using direct confrontation.
  • Recognize that the person may need help. A narcissist whose low self esteem leads them to disruptive behavior may be in need of help to find better ways to improve how they see themselves.

These suggestions appear to be good ones when you are the one in charge. If the narcissist is the one in charge, your chances of using any of them will be quite diminished. Using these approaches when you are in a vulnerable or one-down position is likely to be seen as undermining the power of the narcissist in charge. In such a situation, your options for improving the situation do not look good. Your best bet may be to find a way to remove yourself from the situation.

Maybe you are not ready to flee or are not in a position of being able to afford to do so. Now what? Susan Price has some ideas. Here is one possible scenario: “Your boss is a complete narcissist: he expects you to be at his whim all day, he blames everyone for mistakes except himself, argues and contradicts employees with every small detail, even with things he said himself.” If this sounds familiar, read on. Here are her suggestions for handling the situation:

  • Forget being friends. You will have to sell your soul to be considered a friend by such a person. Remember that narcissists are not capable of making friends in the sense of having mutual respect and caring for each other. Your interests are never a priority.
  • Don’t criticize. Your criticism will never be taken at face value. Anger and rage are to be expected when you criticize a narcissist.
  • Focus on analyzing problems. Sharing your feelings is not likely to get you anywhere. Narcissists are interested only in their own feelings. Instead, concentrate on problems and potential solutions. Then, don’t count on receiving credit for a good idea.
  • Let him or her make decisions. Presenting options works better than suggesting the best option. Then allow him or her to take credit for the plan.
  • Make him or her look and feel good. His or her importance and having it recognized are uppermost in such a person’s mind. Don’t be stingy with praise.
  • Absorb the blame. Narcissists never see themselves at fault. Someone else is always the blame for whatever goes wrong.
  • Set boundaries and keep them. Focus on solutions and temper criticism with praise.
  • Don’t compete. Don’t expect praise for yourself or thanks for doing a good job. A narcissist will always take credit for teaching you to do a good job.

To survive, you need to set aside your own needs and become a cog in the machine operated by a narcissistic boss. Staying afloat is a tricky business and has few rewards. You might be better off finding a more rational and rewarding position. If you decide to stay, don’t expect much for yourself.

You might be wondering whether dealing with a narcissist with power is a lost cause. It is difficult but not impossible. In a social group, you can work with others to reconstitute the group without the offending narcissist. In a corporation, the board of directors, informed by shareholders and workers, has power over any given boss. In government, citizens have the power to elect representatives who have the power to contain if not remove narcissists not in touch with public needs. In all these cases, your job is to start working with others and find a mutual path toward resolving the impasse.


Getting back to you


Anger can be scary or at least uncomfortable to deal with, especially the extreme of narcissistic anger. One good thing is that you do not have to deal with it by yourself and there are always others who can help you manage to deal with it. Going it alone can be very trying. The next post will suggest some ways to keep you from being overcome by your own or others’ anger.

Understanding, Confronting and Resolving Anger: A Series 5. The Targets of Anger

Photo by Andre Tan

Anybody can become angry–that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way–that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.


Anger at yourself

You are the one closest to the anger that takes place within you that you might direct back toward yourself. But why would you be angry at yourself?

One reason is that you might have learned how to do this while growing up. Your parents might have often expressed anger toward you as you grew up. It might seem that whatever you did was wrong, and you always heard about it in an angry way. This might be an issue in your family which your parents inherited from their parents and which might date back for generations.

Your older brothers and sisters might have learned their angry manner from your parents. Then they treated you they way they were treated. You might carry on the family tradition in the way you treat your younger siblings and the way you treat yourself for that matter.

Your parents might have experienced traumatic events which they were not able to handle constructively. Perhaps the only way they knew to express their feelings about what happened was through their anger. In this case, your parents were not angry at you but rather at what happened to them. You just happened to be in the way.

Traumatic events might have befallen you as well. An accident, disease or loss of someone close to you might leave you injured physically or emotionally and possibly traumatized. If you have no good ways of handling such events, you might also be stuck with anger as your only outlet.

You may also blame yourself for what happened to you or to someone you loved in the past. Perhaps you could not find a way to protect yourself or a loved one from disaster. Yet you see it as your fault and turn your anger inward.

You might make major blunders and then wish you hadn’t. On a less serious level, you might handle a situation clumsily or react negatively to a minor incident even though you know better.

What happens when you start directing your anger toward yourself and make a habit of it? Gina Simmons lists some possibilities:

  • Difficulty giving and receiving love from others–You might be so busy directing anger at yourself that you don’t notice the needs of those around you. You might also ignore your own needs and push away people who are trying to be kind to you.
  • Lack of motivation to achieve–You might lose faith in yourself and your abilities. If you see yourself as such an awful person, how can you expect to achieve anything of significance?
  • Inability to enjoy normal pleasures of life–Your anger toward yourself may prevent you from enjoying good things in your life. First, you might not notice good things happening around you. Second, you might convince yourself that you don’t deserve to enjoy any pleasure.
  • Self destructive behavior–You might turn to physical harm as a way of punishing yourself, such as mutilating your body. The ultimate self-punishment is suicide. Of course, punishing yourself is not the only motivation for suicide. Some people turn in this direction as a last resort when they can find no other acceptable options to deal with physical or emotional pain. You might also wish to relieve others from having to put up with your worthless self.

Theodore Isaac Rubin, in his book Compassion and Self Hate, has this to say, “Self-hatred, the most damaging form of self-anger, occurs when we feel it’s impossible to act ideally, and we give up on the value of our real self.” This is in contrast with healthy self-esteem where you can still find value in yourself despite your faults. He suggests a number of techniques to start changing your totally negative view of you.

  • If you have been ruminating on how awful a person you are, or what you have done, take a break from that kind of thinking. It might be difficult and need conscious effort, but you are worth it.
  • Start looking at your life as it exists in the present. Regardless of what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future, consider what you can do right now to change the direction of your life.
  • Set a goal. It will be easier to accomplish something if you can decide on how you would like to see yourself and your life in the future.
  • Think of ways you can act differently to start moving toward the goal you have set. One exercise I have found helpful is to imagine I am now in the future, and I have accomplished my goal. Write a letter from your future self to your present self. Write about what steps you took to reach your goal and what the journey was like.
  • All the planning and wishing in the world will not accomplish anything as long as it remains in your imagination and nowhere else. You can spend the rest of your life revising your plan without taking the first step toward it. Get going!

Stop punishing yourself

In her book, How to Stop Punishing Yourself, Danielle Grossman shares her thoughts on how to accomplish it. The first step is to realize that you are not getting anywhere while you are stuck in a pattern of punishing yourself. Perhaps you are not the only one with a negative view of yourself. As we have discussed, your family may have shared this view of you as you grew up. Other people you have encountered might have reinforced this opinion. You might also agree that you are the problem.

Beating up on yourself will not change anything that has happened to you in the past or anything you did in the past. Even if you have reason to berate yourself for what happened, dwelling on it will only make you feel worse.

Grossman suggests starting with understanding of self-punishment as “so deeply entrenched that no amount of telling ourselves to be nice to ourselves is going to make much difference.” It’s not simply a matter of letting go of self-punishment and suddenly liking yourself again, if you ever did.

The second step is to move beyond self-esteem. It would seem that having better self-esteem would cancel out self-blame, but there is more to it than that. She suggests that the key is to step outside yourself and your own resources. To get your life into a positive perspective, it is important to find others who see your positive side and rely on them to guide you toward better feelings about yourself.

The problem with this approach is that the worse you feel about yourself, the more you are likely to isolate yourself from others or find others who constantly put you down. As a result, it will be difficult to find anyone in your circle to rely on to help you move in the right direction. If this is the case, it might be wise to seek professional help from a person who might not know you intimately but is familiar with the process of isolation and how to develop friends who can help you find your emotional balance.

Anger in relationships

You might think that expressing anger in relationships might be less likely than being angry with strangers. Yet the opposite is true. People supposedly close to you tend to be to the focus of your anger more than those you see less often and care less about.

How does this happen? No one plans for it. Part of the marriage ceremony includes taking each other for better or worse. I would dare say that the same goes for the beginning of any other type of relationship as well. If you thought the relationship was doomed from the start, you would be unlikely to even begin it. You might jump into a destructive reationship if you feel desperate to have another person in your life regardless of the trouble it might cause you.

Although you might have good intentions at the beginning of a relationship, you are very likely to annoy the other person sooner or later. You might not do it on purpose, but everyone likes to have things go their way. When they don’t go that way, it is annoying.

A pattern of unwanted behavior might develop. You and the other person in your relationship might find it hard to change your ways. You might insist on doing things your own way rather than the way the other person wants them done. Annoyance can escalate to anger and perhaps even to rage if the underlying conflicts remain unresolved.

Steven Stosny sees lack of compassion as the main contributor to anger in marriages and, by extension, other close relationships. He describes compassion in this way, “Compassion is sympathy for the hurt or distress of another. At heart, it is a simple appreciation of the basic human frailty we all share, which is why the experience of compassion makes you feel more humane and less isolated.” In his view, compassion is the basis on which we form our relationships and emotional bonds.

Through compassion with another, you come to appreciate the other person’s struggles, challenges, frustration and resulting anger. Compassion actually goes beyond this. Empathy is a broader term which includes understanding the desires, wishes and delights of the other person as well as his or her challenges and frustrations.

What distances you from each other is the sense one or both of you have that your feelings, joys and concerns are not understood or respected by the other. This perceived lack of caring can begin to feel like emotional abuse. Without sensing an emotional bond, you don’t have much incentive to share your feelings with each other. You tend to gradually draw away from the relationship and increase your resentment about not being cared for in what used to be a caring relationship. This trend helps  us understand the great number of marriages that end in divorce when people stop listening to each other.

***Stosny sees this strain as ultimately reaching the point of contempt for each other, a sense of betrayal of the bond you once had. It becomes easy to blame your partner for the distance and lack of caring. Blame may be directed toward you by your partner as well. He also mentions that compassion and contempt are both contagious. The more you feel and express either of these feelings, the more likely they are to be seen in your partner as well. Compassion or contempt is also likely to fuel your own feelings and actions for better or worse.

The more you focus on your partner’s betrayal of you, the more your partner will also feel betrayed by you. Without some change in this process, the days of your relationship are numbered. It won’t be long until one or both of you conclude that the relationship is no longer viable and decide to separate or divorce if your are married. In other relationships you might drift away from each other, or one of you might call an end to what you had together. As you might suspect, such a conclusion almost invariably raises the level of anger and resentment toward each other in the process.

Returning to a sense of compassion for each other’s feelings seems to be the only viable solution. Yet in the throes of anger and resentment, it will be difficult for either of you to let down your guard and work toward resolution of your conflict. Sometimes a dramatic life event can bring one or both of you to your senses. A woman close to me told me of the strain between her and her stepmother, which reached a breaking point when her father died. Years later, her stepmother’s son died.

The woman realized that she did not want to go through the rest of her life with this resentment between them. She arranged a lunch and the two of were able to put their differences aside and resume a healthy relationship.  Helpful friends can assist both of you in being more objective about each other. Yet friends also have their biased perceptions and might take one side or the other. At the extreme, professional counseling might the best way to try unraveling the web in which both of you are caught.

Anger with Friends

Just as differences can arise among relationship partners, friends can and usually do have disagreements from time to time. You might be a very patient person who tolerates a fair amount of conflict and tend not to become overly upset about it. You might be tightly wound and have what others see as thin skin although you might not agree with either of these ways of seeing you.

In any case, you are likely to feel anger directed toward your friends for any number of reasons ranging from slightly to severely aggravating actions toward you or for their actions which you assume they do to upset you. There are constructive options for responding to anger directed at friends, which we have discussed before.

Cherie Burbach suggests being aware of your reactions to your anger. She also lists things not to do when you are angry at a friend. Let’s consider them:

  • Pretend that you are not angry. If you could let go of the anger immediately or fairly soon, this might be a possibility. If you hang onto the anger and pretend you don’t, you set up false expectations for yourself and for your friend as well as leading you toward further conflict. If you stay angry, the incident which led to your anger was obviously important to you and might sit on the back burner waiting for you to add other dissatisfactions to the simmering pot. At some point the pot is likely to overflow, and you explode in rage. In addition, if you don’t express your anger to your friends, they will continue acting as though nothing is wrong, which there isn’t in their minds.
  • Blurt out exactly what you feel. We talked earlier about reacting immediately without thinking. In this case, you are liable to blast your friends out of proportion to anything they said or did. In this case you are likely blaming your friends rather than attempting to convey your feelings in a way which might allow you to arrive at a mutually acceptable understanding and solution.
  • Start “unfriending.” This approach might be familiar to you from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It means your posts will no longer be automatically sent to them and theirs will not appear on your site.Although you might not blast your friends, you are unilaterally severing at least part of your relationship. They may well react with anger or hurt feelings. In any case, without an explanation, they have no way of knowing about your feelings, what is behind your actions or how they might be able to resolve the issue with you.
  • Call up every other friend you have just to vent. If you are still in junior high school, this might seem like a valid response to anger although it will not get you anywhere, no matter how old you. In this case too, you leave little chance of resolving anything. You also run the risk of your other friends seeing you as a hothead. They might keep their distance from you so they can avoid becoming the object of your scorn as well.
  • Post about your fight even if you think you’re being sly. This is going beyond unfriending and takes your conflict into public view so the whole world can see your troubles. Once your conflict is a public matter, what do you suppose the chance is of repairing your relationship? Also, consider the possible effect on your reputation and other relationships.
  • Live your anger. This is about your worst possible choice for you and for your friendships in general. We talked about the negative effects of letting your anger take over your life. How many of your friends will look forward to being with you under these circumstances? How many new friends do you think you will make if you constantly present yourself as an angry person? You might attract other angry people. How satisfying do you think that will be in the long run?

You are probably aware of the saying that you choose your friends but not your family. There is a little more to it than that. Although you have some choice about your friends, how you act has an effect on whether others want to be friends with you, as we have just seen.

Friendly and not so friendly neighbors

What about neighbors? You don’t have control of who your neighbors are unless you own all the houses and apartments in your neighborhood. But that’s not likely. You do have a choice of which neighbors you would like to have as friends. Some people prefer to live in isolation from neighbors and limit their interactions to a wave or brief hello or just ignore their neighbors. You can’t make neighbors want to be your friends, but how you treat them certainly affects your chances one way or another.

How good a neighbor are you? That might be the best place to start. Think of what qualities you imagine others would like to see in you as a neighbor. Is your house quiet and peaceful without excessive noise to perturb neighbors? Do you treat your property with respect and make it a credit to your neighborhood? If you walk your pet, do you clean up after its business on others’ lawns? Do you act as a law-abiding citizen? Are you helpful in the face of a neighbor’s crisis?

If you want good neighbors, it might be best to make sure you are one and are seen that way by others who live near you. Your neighborliness will attract like-minded people in the neighborhood and give you the potential for worthwhile and mutually satisfying relationships with your neighbors.

We have established that you most likely have little control of who your neighbors are once you move in. There are some things you can do before this time. You can walk or drive around the neighborhood you are considering and try to meet some of the local residents. You can introduce yourself and tell people you are considering living in the neighborhood. Ask them what it is like to live there and what they think of their neighbors.

You can also see for yourself how people treat their property. This might be an indicator of how they might react to you as a neighbor. Some people like to be close to their neighbors while others are more comfortable with less interaction. If you meet some people who live there and share what living in that neighborhood is like for them, you are likely to get some sense of the neighborhood structure, which may or may not meet your needs and wishes.

Some issues you might with wish to address with potential neighbors are noisy people, especially late at night, very fussy people, slobs, people who don’t pick up after their pets and people involved in drugs or are generally antisocial. Informal conversations with people who already live in the neighborhood might give you some clues. If you have a particular house in mind, you might introduce yourself to the nearby neighbors and try to get a sense of what it would be like to live near or next to them.

Sometimes unsavory neighbors might move in after you are already established in your house. You might find them annoying at first and find yourself moving toward increasing levels of anger. In the mean time, they go on as if they are acting normally. In fact, they might think they are normal.

The problem might be with your level of tolerance. If they don’t know about your feelings, they are not likely to change anything. If you get angry without seeking a tactful solution, things can only get worse.

You have options. You can try to ignore it. This is at best a temporary solution. You can try talking with them in a reasonable way. If you don’t get anywhere with that approach, you can involve the police or community government, depending on the type of annoyance. You can also move to a different home. These are all courses you can take short of reaching a violent outcome. We will look at these in more detail in the chapters on responding to anger.

Anger at work

Three aspects of work might annoy you, even to the point of anger and the consequences following its expression. Avery Augustine describes three areas of conflict at work. These include problems with your coworkers, with your boss and with your work assignments.

The only sure way to avoid these problems entirely is to work alone and not have coworkers or a boss. It is up to you to decide your own type of work and how to approach it. Although you avoid the traditional work conflicts, you still might need to handle conflicts with suppliers, subcontractors and customers.

You have several options for handling work difficulties. The first is to ignore them. This is easier said than done. We will look at this approach in depth in the next chapter. For most people, ignoring conflicts and dissatisfactions often build and lead to an escalation of anger and the likelihood or at least the possibility of outbursts.

Unless your coworkers can read your mind, they may not know of your annoyance until you say something unless it becomes obvious by your actions. Before driving yourself crazy, gently let your coworkers know what they are doing that bothers you and why their behavior upsets you. It would also help to make a suggestion about how the situation could be better.

Bosses can be just as annoying. Confronting them might be more delicate. After all, the boss has the upper hand. The best way is to own the problem by saying you have a hard time completing or concentrating on your work when your boss acts in certain ways. As with coworkers, making a suggestion for how things could be better is usually acceptable. I have found from my experience that bosses don’t like to have problems dumped in their laps. Including a solution with your view of the problem is more likely to be heard and accepted than a mere statement of the problem.

Sometimes the annoyance is related to your work and not the people with whom you interact. Your work duties might be conflicting or unclear. If you are the only one doing this job, don’t expect anyone else to understand your difficulty or to even notice it. As with the other annoyances just mentioned, relating your confusion or feeling of conflicting expectations is not likely to be seen from your point of view unless you are clear about your confusion. You can suggest changes which will help you do a better job to the benefit of the company as well as to your peace of mind.

Political anger

Making fun of the government is a well-established American pastime, unless you happen to be a government worker and are the object of the anger. There have always been people angry at government. With so many different viewpoints, political persuasions, religious convictions and personal priorities, anger is not surprising.

More recently, anger has become almost a universal reaction, no matter which side of any particular issue appeals to you. We seem to have forgotten how to compromise. Not only do we all want things our way, we want to win and perhaps destroy or discredit those who do not agree with us. Many have come to see America as “my country” rather than “our country.”

The purpose of a democracy is to provide all of our citizens a chance to live a fulfilling life, have a chance at opportunities which our country holds out and live together in harmony. At times we have come closer to these ideals than at others. Even at the beginning of our country, liberty and justice for all included all white males but not necessarily women or people of different racial or cultural backgrounds.

Certainly we have made progress toward including everyone over the years. Women have earned the right to vote and hold office as well as achieving prominence in the worlds of government and business. We have passed laws to protect the rights of all citizens, at least on paper.

Despite this, animosity on the part of groups with relatively greater power, economic resources, and social standing has remained as part of the social fabric of our nation. People with less power, economic resources and social standing have felt angry about being left behind and not being taken seriously.

I have been thinking lately about why there is so much dissatisfaction these days. In my opinion, many people have developed an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They feel that they deserve to be well off and to have everything then want. This sense is fueled by the advertising industry, especially in TV ads.

The message is that you deserve everything you want, and it is someone’s fault if you don’t get it. If you don’t have what you deserve, becoming angry has come to seem appropriate. In the 2016 election cycle, anger and rage have been fueled by the inflammatory statements of Donald Trump as well as other candidates and their supporters. While he was wily in tapping into potential voter anger, time will tell whether he has an interest in actually addressing the needs of those he whipped into a frenzy.

So what is citizen and voter anger about? The BBC journalist Vanessa Barford, in her article, Why are Americans So Angry?, suggested five reasons she sees for American voter anger. Let’s take a look at them.

  • The first reason she lists is the economy. She quotes William Galston as saying, “The failure of the economy to deliver real progress to middle-class and working-class Americans over the past 15 years is the most fundamental source of public anger and disaffection in the US.” Some workers are frustrated because there has been little growth in average household income. Other workers are angry because jobs have dwindled or disappeared, There also does not seem to be the opportunity to find better paying jobs than in the past.
  • The second reason is immigration. The demographics of immigrants have changed. In the past, most of the immigrants were white. Recently, a greater percentage of immigrants were not white and the trend is toward a larger percentage of Hispanics than before. The fact that many of these immigrants are undocumented has also increased the fury.
  • The third reason has to do with Washington and the federal bureaucracy. Many Democrat and Republican citizens have little trust in the federal government, which they feel is the top problem in the United States because of representatives’ power. They tend to see elected congressmen and congresswomen as ineffective and unresponsive to the needs of their constituents and merely focused on their own power.
  • The fourth reason is America’s place in the world. The United States is seen as losing international respect compared to the way it was viewed in the past. We are not seen as being very effective in combating or negotiating with forces opposed to our view of how the world should be.
  • The fifth reason is that we are a divided, polarized nation. The two major parties in the United States are more polarized than they have ever been in the past. Republicans are becoming more conservative and Democrats more liberal. Finding common ground has become rarer and more difficult. Both parties have come to view each other with more suspicion and the likelihood of their compromising has decreased.

In my mind, this does not necessarily mean that we are all at each other’s throats all the time. Many people have tired of the stand-off and have disaffiliated with both major parties, labeling themselves as independents. Sadly, more people stayed away from the polls in 2016 than in other recent elections. The election was decided by less than half the eligible voters and even then several million more people voted against the president-elect than for him.

Many of the people who did not vote saw neither major candidate as qualified to lead our country and saw both major parties as incapable of finding a suitable candidate. Others viewed the whole political process as flawed and not serving the interests of our citizens.

Instead of a democracy, we now seem to be leaning toward an oligarchy in which a few wealthy individuals determine the course of our country’s future. It seems a sad state of affairs when the chief accomplishments of a president are his apparent fortune and his ability to conduct a successful presidential campaign as a television “reality show” star.

It seems we have allowed ourselves to become enthralled with television shows rather than the reality facing us on a daily basis. The environment, the plight of immigrants, the rage of our citizens and the pattern of violence televised on a daily basis all remind us that we have a job to do focusing on rediscovering how to listen to each other and once again work together for the common good.

Understanding, Confronting and Resolving Anger: A Series 4. Where does anger come from?

My take on anger

I wrote the following in my book Release Your Stress and Reclaim Your Life. I think it applies here as well.

On one recent morning in the gym locker room, I encountered a raging debate about guns. Well, not really a debate. The participants all agreed with each other. I did not hear anything rational being spoken.

Instead, a diatribe about gun possession ensued with each participant trying to top the others with their outrage over a recent New York State gun control law meant to address violent crime. Everyone sounded angry, but I wondered if it was just blustering or a flexing of testosterone-fueled emotions.

Anger does not come directly from experiencing or learning about a particular event. The anger comes from a combination of thoughts about a situation and feelings of great displeasure. When someone shows extreme anger, you might be tempted to tell him or her not to have a stroke. That’s not bad advice since blood pressure and heart rate usually rise to match the degree of anger felt and expressed.

So why do you get angry? The closest I could come to a satisfactory answer is that anger is an emotional response to a feeling of being wronged, denied or offended. In other words, you are not treated the way you feel entitled to be treated. People, the weather or God may disappoint you or offend you. It does not matter whether you are entitled to what you want. You have a sense in your mind of what is right and how you should be treated. Let’s look at a few examples.

Someone punches you for no good reason, at least none which makes sense to you. You have boundaries and you expect them to be respected. Being bumped crosses that boundary, punching is worse. You tell yourself this is not right and respond emotionally with a feeling of anger. The amount of anger you feel depends on the degree of intrusion into your life as you see it.

If someone brushes against you, it is likely that you will feel a much milder emotion which you could call annoyance. If you are physically harmed, you are more likely to feel angry. This feeling could escalate to outrage. What if, after such an incident, you noticed that the person who bumped you was blind? Would you still be angry? We don’t always consider the circumstances of what our experiences.

You also become angry when you are denied something to which you feel entitled. Lack of respect is a good example. You feel entitled to respect and become angry when denied that respect through what you view as prejudice.

Think about being made to sit in the back of the bus, using a separate water fountain or being barred from accommodations at a hotel because your skin is not the right color. With some historical perspective, most people learn to see such rules, formed from prejudice, as hateful. Yet prejudice and insensitivity have not vanished from our society.

Racial slurs, denigration of sexual orientation or disparaging your national identity can send you into a tizzy. Sometimes it happens so often that you become numb and smolder inside rather than erupting in an angry outburst.

You can also become angry when people attack your religious, political or social values. Their attacks might or might not be directed personally toward you, but you could still consider them as a provocation and react as though a personal attack was intended.

Possible Sources of Unexplained Anger

Sometimes anger seems to appear mysteriously in you or in others who also occupy your world. Where did the anger come from? A clear answer doesn’t always appear evident. Its origin might not be obvious but may arise from the inner workings of your mind or someone else’s. Let’s look at a few possible sources of anger. Margarita Tartakovsky offers some possible explanations. Let’s consider them.

  • You have weak boundaries. Perhaps you have difficulty saying no. You may try to deliver whatever others want from you. Perhaps you don’t stop to think whether you have anything useful to contribute, whether this is a good use of your time, whether the matter is important to you or whether you have other priorities which take precedence. Such people are often considered martyrs. They wear themselves out doing what everyone else wants them to do and then complain that people take advantage of them. Such people could use some help learning the appropriate use of the word no. It does not mean that you need to be mean about it, but there are plenty of polite ways to refuse a request or set limits on how much you are willing to do.
  • Maybe you aren’t getting enough sleep or you’re drowning in to-do lists. You might not be taking care of yourself or allowing others to demand more of your time than is reasonable. In the movie Dirty Harry, the main character makes the observation, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” That goes for women too. In order to be able to do anything well, you need to take care of yourself with good restful sleep, good nutrition and a balance of restful and enjoyable activities. Just above, we talked about trying to do everything that others expect you to do. Your to-do list might demand more of you than is reasonable.
  • Maybe it’s depression. You could be depressed and not realize it. Your relatives might see your depression before you see it or before you are willing to admit that it might be a possibility. Depression is a mental, emotional and physical condition which saps your strength and sometimes even your will to live. Being irritable is a common result of depression, and you might find others’ even reasonable expectations of you as well as the demands of your daily life draining and leaving you in a chronic state of irritability.
  • Maybe it’s anxiety. Anxiety is a state of feeling worried and on edge. After a while you may tend to second guess everything you do, fearing that you are not good enough. You might also fear that others will not be satisfied with what you do and will not appreciate your efforts. Anxiety causes stress, which drains your body and emotions leaving you to drag yourself through life in a chronic state of irritability. This in turn easily leads to anger and the unfortunate ways you might react to it.
  • Maybe it stems from wanting to control what is outside of you. You might become irritated by watching people act in ways you don’t think they should. In this case, you put yourself in the position of judge for other people and set yourself up for frustration and anger when your expectations are not considered. If you expressed them out loud, you might realize that you are expecting too much of others since God did not die and leave you in charge.

Tartakovsky refers to Julie de Azevedo Hanks’ observation that sometimes people are not aware of their anger because they do not pay attention to it and instead make snide comments designed to hurt others in a subtle way. Becoming aware of your anger is the first step toward making sense of it and learning to manage it.

More Thoughts on the Cause of Anger

Tristan Loo offers another definition of anger. He sees it as “a strong emotion of displeasure caused by some type of grievance that is either real or perceived to be real by a person.” He notes that you can become just as angry about an imagined slight or offense as you might with real words or actions intended to harm you in some way. Loo points out that anger is not a bad thing at times, such as when you are under attack. Yet if you grab onto it mentally and won’t let it go, it becomes part of your personality, and becomes destructive to you and to those around you.

Here we begin to understand that it is not what someone else says or does which creates your anger. It is how you interpret what happened and what significance you give it in your own life. You might be unaware of this process within you and might blame someone else for making you angry. In reality, you make yourself angry by what you tell yourself about incidents you see as responsible for your anger. We will look at this process in more depth a little later.

Internal Sources of Anger

As we have seen, the things we become angry about might begin with what happens within us or outside us. Let’s consider Loo’s lists of provocations to anger. First is a series of internal provocations:

  • Emotional reasoning–Most people think of reason as an intellectual process, using logic to seek understanding and reach rational conclusions. Rather than seeking an understanding based on facts, emotional reasoning is the process of viewing events, statements and actions of others from the sole point of view of how they affect you and how you feel about them. This often leads to misunderstanding of situations by not taking into account the other person’s motives and any circumstances outside your immediate awareness.
  • Low frustration tolerance–You might be in a state of chronic anxiety, which keeps you tense and makes it more likely that you will react with annoyance to anything that does not go your way.
  • Unreasonable expectations–You might have strong feelings about how others should act toward you or speak to you. This involves ignoring circumstances in which others see themselves, seeing only your own viewpoint. All you care about is whether others live up to your expectations. You don’t consider circumstances which might influence a reasonable person to act in a way differing from your expectations.
  • People rating–This involves attaching negative labels to others, perhaps because of some slight or difference of views. When you view others through this lens, you are more likely to interpret anything they say or do in a negative light.

External Sources of Anger

Countless external events and circumstances can incline toward anger. Loo groups these possibilities into four categories:

  • The person makes personal attacks against you. No one likes to be attacked. We have looked at attacks which place you in danger. You will understandably react strongly while finding ways to avoid the attack or to combat it. Verbal or written attacks can also produce anger. Your reputation is at stake and someone is undermining it.
  • The person attacks your ideas. Someone disagreeing with you might be unpleasant but is to be expected at times in the course of daily life. Putting down your ideas as wrong or ridiculous is sure to offer you an opportunity to react with anger.
  • The person threatens your needs. This usually results from someone else being angry with you. Threatening to interfere with your survival or well-being is even more likely to invite your anger especially if you see the other person as capable of following through on the threat.
  • You get frustrated. Your ability to manage frustration in any particular circumstance is weakened by any number of factors. Loo lists four contributors:
  1. stress and anxiety
  2. pain
  3. drugs and alcohol
  4. recent irritations

All of these can lower your ability to deal successfully with the sources of frustrations. The more of these that apply to you, the harder the task will be.

In the next post, we will consider types of anger and targets of anger.

Understanding, Confronting and Resolving Anger: A Series 3. Anger in Perspective

I don’t think that anger is always a bad thing. It can be used in unhealthy ways or in healthy ways. Leon Seltzer suggests that two unhealthy ways of handling anger are “avoiding anger and conflict at all costs,” and “escalating into endless cycles of fighting, complaining and blaming.” Neither approach is constructive. In the first, you deny your own anger and let it build up inside as you fail to acknowledge it. In the second, you let your anger fly out of control to the point where few people will be able to tolerate your company for very long.

Seltzer suggests several steps toward handling more appropriately:

  • Speak up when an issue is important. It doesn’t help to hide your feelings when an issue is important to you. This does not mean that you should explode at others. It does mean that it is appropriate to state your position calmly. Before you do, make sure you understand the other person’s position the best you can.
  • Strike when the iron is cold. If you are too fired up, you might not react rationally and instead just blurt out your feelings. If you do, you can expect the other person to get angry too. Then where are you? It might be better to simmer down, think about why you were upset and discuss the issue with each other at a later time.
  • Ask yourself the hard questions. These are the questions which explain your anger based on your beliefs, your goals, what will allow your thoughts to be heard and how you can proceed calmly. Obviously, you can’t answer any of these questions in the heat of anger. You need to step back and consider your inner workings. This process is sometimes referred to as mindfulness, which we will discuss down the road.
  • Broaden your focus. What other issues are weighing on you at the moment? If you are about to explode in anger, it’s a safe bet that there might be more on your mind than the immediate situation. What else might be troubling you right now in addition to the main problem?
  • Identify and change your part in the dance. If you are engaged in a conflict or about to enter into one, what the other person plans to do is outside your control. But you can control your part in any conflict, including withdrawing from it when it serves no purpose other than both of you venting your spleen.
  • Move slowly and start small. Ease your way into a conversation which promises to become heated. Starting a conversation with an attack will not win you any points.

Seltzer recommends Harriet Lerner’s book, The Dance of Anger for further exploration of the issues related to conflict in relationships. He sums up her suggestions in one statement, “It all starts with the realization that beneath your vulnerability-protecting anger (as well as your partner’s) are such emotions as fear, sadness, helplessness and humiliation.”

He points out that although this is a good beginning, understanding what’s behind your anger is just a start. What you do about these findings, how you handle your feelings, and how you act are more important in the long run. This is not an easy process and will take quite a bit of patience with yourself as well as with whom you are in conflict. You can start by taking responsibility for any of your behavior which might have upset the other person. Here is a little story which shows what I mean.

A Story              

The day after the 2016 presidential election, I ventured out the door after a period of being stunned. I ran into a man I knew on a limited basis. As usual, he asked how I was doing that day. I told him I was not doing very well. His very upbeat demeanor suggested that we had voted for different candidates.

We tried having a conversation about politics and in particular the election, both voicing our reasons for voting the way we did. I don’t think the conversation resolved anything or led either of us to alter his views. I left his company resolving to be cordial in the future but avoiding political conversation, which only served to upset both of us.

This approach worked for several weeks. One morning when we met, he surprised me by apologizing for being overly strong in his statements in our last conversation. I tried to recall whether I had said anything which might have offended him and apologized just in case. He assured me that I had not said anything to offend him and again apologized for his tone in our last conversation.

We were able to agree that the campaign and election were upsetting for many people including both of us. We also agreed on being upset and worried about the great divide between the two halves of our fellow countrymen as a result of the election. We shared our fears about what this conflict would mean for the future of our country.

As I left our conversation, I felt the best I had since the election. Neither of us changed our minds and did not try to change each other’s. We were able to share our mutual fears and hopes for the future. I realized that I did not need to see an enemy in everyone with whom I disagree.

Most of us want the best for our country and for each other. We just have different ideas about how to get there. At one time our leaders with different positions were able to sit down to find compromises with which we could all live. This does not seem to be the case right now however.

Yet, if we who elected these leaders talk with each other in terms of our mutual interests, we might be able to set a good example for them. None of us can singlehandedly change the tensions, disagreements and hostilities evident among our country’s citizens or elected representatives. Yet we can begin by building bridges between ourselves and those with whom we come into contact on a daily basis. That is at least a start.

Anger and Aggression

We have been looking at where anger might lead us. As we just saw, anger is only a feeling and by itself causes no one any serious problems unless you let it fester without finding any good way to deal with it.

The psychologist Howard Kassinove shares a definition of anger which is a little different from the one we considered earlier when we were considering anger as just a feeling. “Anger is a negative feeling state that is typically associated with hostile thoughts, physiological arousal and maladaptive behaviors.” Here anger is still acknowledged as a feeling, but one which often evolves beyond feelings to negative thoughts and problematic behavior.

As we saw, anger is not good or bad in itself but a feeling that, in some situations, can be useful in protecting ourselves. Alerting yourself is also useful in the face of real danger, preparing you for “fight or flight.” When you become preoccupied with feelings of anger and the changes in your body and mind linger beyond a useful time limit, anger can become destructive.

Your heart rate and blood pressure can rise and become problematic if anger becomes a chronic feeling. In addition, your immune system is compromised, your digestion is affected, your nervous system becomes fatigued, your body heals more slowly and you are at higher risk of ulcers, heart difficulty and possibly increased risk of developing cancer.

We talked about ways to avoid going overboard in your reaction. If you don’t have the skills to deal with your anger constructively, you might be tend to become stuck with thoughts of attacking the person who provoked or possibly plan revenge. We looked at the possibility of interpreting others actions as demeaning, disrespecting or attacking your sense of yourself.  Continuing to dwell on such thoughts can easily lead you to lashing out in response to the person you feel attacked you.

You might react by screaming at the other person, demeaning him or her in an attempt to defend yourself. You might also feel provoked to physical aggression in an effort to protect yourself and your reputation. However, these responses are not likely to result in others learning to respect you. At the extreme, you may well find yourself facing criminal charges depending on the level of your angry response to what you see as an attack.

Kassinove refers to research suggesting that most aggressive incidents are preceded by angry feelings. Yet relatively few incidents end up with physically aggressive behavior. Most people learn ways to stop short of becoming physically aggressive when experience anger.

Kassinove agrees with Seltzer that anger is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is an “appropriate response to injustice” and plays an important role in social justice movements designed to defend groups such as the disabled, as well as those suffering from racial, gender and other forms of discrimination.

He holds that anger can play a part in letting others know we have an important issue on the table. Yet in my experience, people are more likely to step back or confront you rather than listen to what you have to say especially if your anger turns quickly to hostility. Anger can contribute to your statements but needs to be couched in terms which are acceptable to others if you want to be taken seriously and expect to resolve anything.

He cites the positive feelings which accompany being able to express your feelings. True progress toward a mutually satisfying agreement occurs when both sides are able to move past the expression of anger. Then they can seek to understand the other person’s feelings of being hurt or belittled, which we discussed earlier.

One question which lingers is why some people are more prone to become angry and express themselves in aggressive ways. Some people seem more sensitive to annoyance and react sooner and more sharply than others. Some people learn aggressive ways of reacting to anger as children by watching how parents, older siblings and other relatives react to their anger. It is possible that others might be born that way.

Children see aggressive responses to anger by other children in school, in their neighborhood or in adults with whom they interact. There are also some indications that violent video games, movies and music might contribute to aggressive responses to anger although there are no definitive studies of this issue, at least not yet.

Controlling Aggression

As we have seen, anger is a normal emotion and can be helpful in some situations, such as those related to survival and self-protection. We have also seen that resorting to aggression is often a strong temptation when you feel angry. Aggression might be appropriate to ensure your safety but in most situations is not necessary and just inflames the situation.

Steven Laurent presents a series of tips on reducing anger and therefore limiting the possibility of reacting to anger with unneeded aggression. I will list a few of his suggestions and my comments about them:

  • Understand that anger is a problem. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that anger is sometimes a problem. We have seen that anger is a normal human emotion. As long as it is limited to a brief emotional response, does not take over your life and does not remain for a long time, it is nothing to worry about. If your anger quickly escalates into rage, it may well be a problem for you. If you continue to brood about what angers you, it can affect your body as we have seen and also create lack of emotional balance in your life.
  • Monitor your anger. It is useful to be mindful of many things in your life including your emotions. The more aware you are, the better chance you have of changing patterns which make life more difficult for you and for those around you. You might have a feeling that your anger is a problem, or you might hear this from others who are affected by your anger. Laurent suggests keeping a log of upsetting events, the anger they cause and how you react. It sounds a bit tedious but might be a good way to track how well you manage your anger if you think it might be a problem. It is easier to see patterns when you write them down in an anger journal. Writing also gives you a chance to think about what you are doing rather than reacting automatically.
  • Feel the anger and don’t do it anyway. Laurent suggests here that you be aware of your anger but don’t rush into a response. He prefers that you think about how you feel and why that feeling arose. Waiting to react until after you have had a chance to consider the situation also helps you see what alternatives you have available. Writing down what you think in your anger journal would also help keep you stay aware of the process of your thinking.
  • Look after yourself. Several things can make it more difficult for you to manage your anger constructively. One is your health. When you feel run down physically, you will have less ability to think clearly about how to react. The same is true if you are in a bad emotional state or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
  • Understand the ultimate source of your anger: “shoulding.” Here you tell yourself how things should be, especially other people and how they interact with you. Most people have fairly clear expectations of how they would like others to treat them, which is fine. When you set yourself up as the judge of how people should react, you are more prone to react with anger and see it as your job to correct or even punish them. Along with that goes the suggestion to be less judgmental of others. We will see more about “shoulding” in a latersection.
  • You most likely have a good idea of how you would like to react in any given situation, at least one you have faced before. Yet surprises wait along the way to throw you off balance. If someone asked you why you reacted a certain way, you could probably tell them why. Instead of judging people who act in a different way from you, consider that they might view things differently from you. You would find it easier to be less judgmental if you took the time to understand why others feel and act the way they do.
  • Get your facts straight. One of the main contributors to anger at others is faulty assumptions you make about them. You might assume that others have hostile intentions toward you, are aware of what your needs and desires are, or know what is likely to arouse your anger. In reality, none of these assumptions may be true.

The better you are able to use suggestions such as these, the less likely you are to let your anger get the best of you. In addition, your chances of moving toward aggressive behavior are also lessened.

Anger and culture

Most of the studies done on anger, including Art Markham’s, have focused on Americans and Europeans. Markham observes that people who most often express their anger with little restraint also show a high degree of stress. A study in 2015 determined that the Japanese show a relationship between stress and degree of expressed anger despite the many differences between cultures. One Japanese pattern is the cultural expectation that people of lower status will not openly express their anger in the presence of higher status individuals. One finding of his study was that higher status Japanese people who expressed their anger had fewer indications of poor health. In that sense, it appears healthier to express anger rather than hold it in.

The rationality of anger

Gary Warmerdam agrees that anger and fear are natural reactions to believing you are in the presence of physical or emotional threat to you. He sees fear as more closely related to the flight response and anger related to emotional energy designed to fight against a threat.

He also reminds us that threats can be real or imagined. There might be a real danger facing you, or you might just think there is. Real threats usually arise and subside quickly. Imagined threats are created by ruminating on the possibility of harm, sometimes long after a real threat is gone. Yet the sense of fear and anger can be the same whether you are responding to a real or imagined threat.

The degree of fear and anger that results from either type of threat is tied to the activity of your imagination and the beliefs which you hold about being harmed. Anger is a natural response to threat in the animal world as well as in the human one. In this sense, anger is a rational response to threat. Yet anger often arises before you have a chance to do any thinking about the situation you face.

Once you have a chance to process what is happening, you can use your thought processes to decide whether there is a need to respond with fear and anger. Still the beliefs, assumptions and interpretations of events you have learned from past experience have a considerable effect on how you react to a perceived threat, whether real or imagined.

Emotional pain can arise whether or not there is any real physical threat facing you. This pain arises through your imagination, and you can find yourself consumed with anger even when everything around you is calm. You can even become angry about emotional pain you fear will take place in the future.

Warmerdam also points out that you can misinterpret events and arrive at feelings of hurt and anger as a result. This most often happens when you see a person act in a certain way and assume that his or her motive is to harm you in some way. Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book, The Four Agreements, warns us of the dangers of making assumptions that lead to troubling emotions we could otherwise avoid.

So far we have had a chance to examine some definitions of anger, what it consists of and where it might take us. Next, let’s take a closer look at where anger comes from.


Understanding, Confronting and Resolving Anger: A Series 2. The Nature of Anger

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel

in which it is stored

than to anything on which it is poured.

~ Mark Twain~

Anger surrounds us these days. I started with that observation in the last post. It has not changed since you were here last. It shows up on the nightly news, on talk shows and the newspapers as well as on the Internet. It shows up in interactions on the street even to the extent of extreme violence. Unplanned events in our daily lives invite us to summon and express our anger. It is as if we have become an angry culture. How do we make sense of anger? How do we find alternative ways of dealing with our own and others’ misfortunes besides giving vent to our anger in destructive ways? That is the challenge I pose for you and invite you to explore with me in this series.

Let’s start with the nature of anger. The psychologist Charles Spielberger sees it as “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.” We see immediately that anger is an emotion. It is something we feel. Where it comes from is a more complicated issue which we will address a little later.

Like other emotions, anger exists at a variety of intensities. In response to irritation, you might roll your eyes and let it go. At the other extreme, in response to a strong irritant, you might explode in a screaming outburst or a physical attack on another person.

Yet anger in itself is still only a feeling. Just because you feel angry does not mean you will express it in ways that others can even notice. Your body will know you are angry and respond with its own physical reactions as we shall see. But that does not mean others will necessarily know you are angry. It is possible to be quite angry without making it obvious to others. However, the stronger your angry feeling, the harder it will be for you to hide it from others.

You might not want to show your anger. It could embarrass you. You might be afraid it will hurt someone else’s feelings or cause emotional or physical damage. You could also fear someone else’s response to your anger. Some people learn to control their anger while, for others. Hiding their anger as well other feelings becomes quite a challenge.

Your body’s reaction to anger

Let’s look at what happens in your body when you become angry. Without anything to upset the balance, also know as homeostasis, most people exist in what psychologists call a state of equilibrium, a normal state of being at peace where nothing is happening in your life to disturb you. When something unusual or unexpected takes place, your body goes on alert to handle the new situation.

Your inner balance can be upset by a thought you have, such as a memory or some change in your body like a headache or sudden pain. Something might also happen outside your body such as when another person attacks you verbally or physically, or perhaps when an accident happens for which no one is at fault.

You might not even understand with is happening at first, and you aren’t aware whether it is something inside or outside the confines of your skin. Your body’s first task is to react to what has happened. In order to do this, your senses go on high alert, your heart rate and blood pressure increase and your body releases hormones to help you respond to a possible crisis. Your body often reacts before you have a chance to assess the situation in your mind.

You might discover that what happened is no big deal and not worth responding to. Then your body returns to equilibrium. Or you might discover that there is a real threat. Your body and mind will then switch immediately into high gear to either fight off the attack or avoid being harmed.

The Process of Becoming Angry

Anger is most likely not your first response to an attack. Your first instinct will be to protect yourself by escaping or fighting the intruder suddenly appearing in your space. This might take place instinctively as it does with other animals. As you begin to face what is happening to you, your first reaction after self protection is usually one of fear, especially before you fully understand what is happening to you.

Once you start to understand the situation, your mind tries to decide where the danger lies. Fear and anger both result in physical responses followed by emotions. Fear directs you toward the possibility of being harmed in some way and you start reacting to the threat before you fully understand it. Anger often follows fear, especially once you identify what or who is threatening you and whether the threat is real or a figment of your imagination.

So far we have considered immediate threats that come to your attention. This is the simple case. You identify a threat and react to it by avoiding or repelling it. Once the immediate sense of threat is resolved, your body returns to its normal state of equilibrium.

Some threats are not so simple. The threat may not be an immediate one. You might experience something reminding you of a past situation in which you became angry or otherwise off balance. What you feel now may have nothing to do with direct harm to you in the present. Yet the memory might bring back the feelings of fear you had at an earlier time. Suddenly these feelings are back, uninvited.

Another possibility is that you might have experienced a traumatic event or series of them in the past. Memories of these experiences can be triggered by only marginally related current events which in turn trigger the troublesome emotions associated with those earlier memories.  If this happens often enough, you might find yourself in a constant state of worry or anger, which bubbles to the surface at the slightest provocation.

As we saw before, your anger can result from something happening in your immediate environment which troubles you. Anger can also result from your imagination, how you interpret others’ actions. You may or may not be accurate in your understanding of what happened during past incidents in your life as threatening life. Regardless of the origin of your anger, there are various ways to handle it.

Expressing your anger (or not)

I just mentioned ways in which your body might respond to threats. I also mentioned the close relationship between feelings of fear and anger. Some people don’t want to show their anger and take great pains to conceal it. This might be because they are embarrassed to show their anger or perhaps they were punished as children for displaying it. Others are quick to show their anger and don’t care much who sees it or takes the brunt of it.

As part of a response to threats, anger is a perfectly natural response. I am talking now about the feeling of anger. What about how you react to your anger? One possibility is to express it. You might express your anger by lashing out at others. With this approach, others will certainly know you are angry but might have no clue as to why you are angry or what they might have done to provoke your outburst.

You can also express your anger in a calmer way. You can talk calmly about what annoys you, whether it is triggered by someone else’s actions or by your own thoughts. With this approach you stand a much better chance of coming to an understanding of your anger as well as of having others understand why you are upset. Perhaps understanding why you are upset may allow them to help you deal constructively with your anger.

Another option is to suppress your anger. There may be times when this is a healthy approach. Expressing your anger is not appropriate in every situation. You might be able to control your anger and discuss it later when the opportunity arises when your feelings can be better understood and addressed by you and others. However, constantly suppressing your anger and never acknowledging or dealing with it creates a state of chronic stress which has negative effects on your body as well as on your emotional state.

Constantly suppressing your anger also can lead you to have outbursts in response to all the anger you have built up inside over time which may go well beyond the current situation when you explode with pent-up rage. You might also be inclined to express your anger subtly through what psychologists call passive-aggressive behavior. This means finding sneaky ways to get back at people for what you think they have done to you. Unfortunately such an approach keeps you and the other person from fully understanding why you became upset and what might prevent this from happening again.

With practice, you can learn to delay expressing your anger, think about what bothers you and what could be different next time the situation arises. Then, when you talk about what made you angry, you will be more likely to have a productive conversation rather than a shouting match. This is also a healthier approach for your physical and mental health. We will look at possibilities for managing anger in later posts.

You learn many of your responses to anger during childhood. Leon Seltzer wrote about this in his article, “Anger: When Adults Act Like Children–and Why.” Seltzer relates how young children react to not getting what they want, whether it is a toy or a positive emotional response from their parents. A child’s impulse is “either to dissolve into tears, and possibly retreat to his or her room, or stay engaged by puffing up with self-righteous anger.” No matter how young children react, they do not yet have the capacity to stop and think about their anger before reacting to it. Without being taught alternatives, children and teens, as well as adults continue to react in a way that might have seemed to work for them in the past or at least got them beyond a difficult situation.

Seltzer also points out that children’s angry outbursts are usually a response to feeling hurt physically or emotionally. Telling children that their behavior is bad or unacceptable does nothing to address their feelings of being hurt. Of course, children have no understanding of this process and might become more upset when their inner feelings are ignored even though they don’t understand what is happening. A better approach might be to help children understand their feelings of being hurt and to help them find healthier ways of handling it.

Adults are often similarly perplexed by their own outbursts. They may fail to see that their anger is related to feeling hurt for one reason or another. Without such understanding, there is little of a constructive nature an adult can do about feelings of being hurt or of being angry for that matter.

By adulthood, most people learn ways to express their feelings other than by having tantrums. Of course, not all people learn how to restrain themselves and as a consequence might tend to be avoided by others whenever possible when they are angry.

As an adult, you might be tempted to react as a child from time to time, and maybe you will lose control of your emotions on occasion. Seltzer points out that sometimes adults, like children, are inclined to strike back as a way of defending themselves. It might get others to back off, but it does nothing toward reaching an understanding about more appropriate ways for both of you to act in the future.

In the process of striking out verbally or physically, you might assume that the other person is deliberately trying to hurt you, and you see your outburst as a way to protect yourself. Yet you might be entirely wrong. The other person might have had no idea that you would feel attacked by what was said or done or may have had no intention of harming you. Another possibility is that the other person is acting in response to his or her inner feelings of being hurt or under attack rather than to what you did or said.

Even if you do explode, you will have time later to examine your own feelings, thoughts and conclusions. Once you have taken a look at your own motivations, you can spend some time trying to understand why others said what they said or did what they did. The best way to resolve such a situation is to discuss it calmly with the other person when you both settle down. Then you may be more ready to talk calmly about your own part in the outburst and listen to the other person’s side. You might find that the two of you are not so different after all and your words just got in the way.

The same is true of children, yet they have had less experience trying to understand their own inner workings, let alone what is going on in an adult or another child. Yet with the help of an understanding adult, children can come to make better sense of their own emotions as well as those of others. Many schools have already adopted such an approach by helping children listen to each other as well as approaching their feelings in a more constructive way.


In the next post we will find some perspective for anger.


Understanding, Confronting and Resolving Anger: A Series 1. Charting Our Course

Anger seems to surround us these days. Living in our country these days can mean risking your life just by stepping out in public. We hear daily reports of adults and even teens attacking and killing others, sometimes strangers and sometimes those well known to them. They seem to blame others for their lives not being the way they would like them to be. On the surface there is no simple explanation for this pattern and the attacks seem almost random. Anger consumes the lives of these destructive people. They are angry about having their lives disrupted and about the world not being the way they think it should be.

Have you heard or read of any relaxed, happy murderers? I didn’t think so. On the surface, anger as an explanation seems obvious. Yet truly understanding anger and knowing what to do about it are complex issues. In this series of posts, we will look at the nature of anger, sources of anger, types of anger, how you respond to anger, and alternatives to anger. We will also look at narcissistic rage and constructive anger on opposite poles of acceptability. You may wonder how it is that I have anything useful to say on the topic. First I will share a little of my family history. I will also share what I have been doing professionally as it relates to anger.

About family anger

I don’t see myself as an angry person nor does anyone else see me that way as far as I know. Most families have their own tone with regard to anger. My extended family showed two distinctly different tones. I grew up with both as models on which to base life.

My father’s family

My father’s family was quick to anger and liked to argue about everything. A normal conversation could escalate into a shouting match in a matter of seconds. I especially remember holiday gatherings. My grandfather, father, and uncles were embroiled in one argument or another in the living room. The kitchen was quiet for a while. Then emerged the sound of screams from the kitchen which turned out to be an argument about whether the turkey was done.

Despite the arguments, my father’s family was not uncaring. They were all generous with their money and time. They were available in a crisis and ready to jump in whenever an emergency arose. More often than not, my aunts were very nice to me but could easily be incited to angry outbursts toward each other. Most of my uncles were quick to anger toward their children and their nephews and nieces. My father’s oldest brother was a priest and was always the voice of reason in the midst of family arguments. He was also adept at diffusing arguments with his humor. His mother, my grandmother, was dour and in my opinion preoccupied with the trials of her diabetes. I don’t recall her being angry but remember her rigidity in enforcing her Germanic family rules.


My mother’s family

My mother’s family was the direct opposite of my father’s. I lived with my mother and grandparents for the first few years of my life while my father was away in the navy during World War II. I never remember hearing a harsh word being spoken among any of them. Humor and joy were the focus of all their interactions as they recounted stories of relatives from the past.

At a party after my grandfather’s funeral, the topic turned to whether he ever showed any anger. Someone recalled an occasion when two of my uncles as young boys chased each other through the house after my grandfather told them to stop. He got up to chase them and then realized he could never catch them and sat back down with a chuckle.

Life with my parents

I grew up in the midst of angry as well as harmonious ways to live as a family. My father brought with him to my immediate family his tendency toward anger, learned from his family. In contrast, my mother was the calmest and most reasonable and caring person I have ever known. Fortunately, my three brothers, my sister and I all followed the example of my mother and her family. I have always been grateful for this.

My father was not always angry. If he was, I don’t think my mother would have married him. I recall the early days of our family and don’t remember him as being an angry person when I was young. When I was eight, we moved to the suburbs. Around that time, I remember him becoming increasingly impatient and angry. I never did find out why and no one else in my family offered an explanation which made sense to me.

He stayed that way for most of his life. I don’t know what made my father’s family angry or what provoked my father to become an angrier person in mid-life after a relatively peaceful period. I have talked with relatives and friends of our family who did not see him as angry. Maybe he saved it for home. Shortly before he died, he developed Alzheimer’s disease and returned to the gentler person he must have once been. I was happy to have time with his quieter and more peaceful self in his final days and opportunity to cherish these last memories I have of him.

My psychology practice

I graduated from the University of Illinois with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. During my career, I worked at a college counseling center, a school for delinquent boys, two mental health centers and in private practice. I was trained in Client Centered Therapy, approaching clients with empathy, respect and genuineness aimed at helping them understand their thoughts and feelings and work toward more positive interactions with others. I continued using this approach in general but added marriage counseling, cognitive behavioral approaches and hypnosis, mostly for work with sexually abused clients. I learned that Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), developed by Albert Ellis, Ph.D., was the most straightforward and effective approach to helping people deal with their anger. We will take a closer look at this method in a later post.

My goal for this series

I hope to gain further insight into anger, where it comes from and what it does to people as I walk with you through this book. I also hope to have a better personal insight into anger as we proceed. You are welcome to join me in this journey. Perhaps you will also gain a better understanding of how anger has affected your life and what you can do about it. Maybe you will also gain a better understanding of how you can help build a more peaceful and productive community and nation. Think about what you wish to gain.

Back to Back and Belly to Belly:­ Where Do We Go Now?



Enemies are people whose story you haven’t heard, or whose face you haven’t seen.
~ Irene Butter~

Take a moment to let your imagination loose. If you were tied back to back with someone and both of you looked straight ahead, what could you both see clearly? Nothing! You can’t see what is behind you. If you are tied together facing belly to belly, is it possible to feel neutral toward each other? Not likely! It would probably depend on how well you knew each other. Lately it seems like we are in both situations at the same time. Either way, the arrangement is most likely uncomfortable on both sides.

Getting back to reality, what can you do to manage your discomfort? You might start by introducing yourselves to each other. Most people start with something safe to see what reaction they get. If they receive a positive response they might try something a little more personal. If something uncomfortable arises, they have the option of a conversation, including listening to each other and explaining themselves.

In today’s politically, socially and morally charged climate, it is easy to wonder if those you encounter are potential friends or enemies. Is that what you want them to wonder about you? Most people don’t. I dare say most people want to be understood, taken seriously and respected. If you are determined to get along with other people, don’t wait for them to make the first move. Take the initiative yourself. If you don’t want to take that chance you can always bristle like a porcupine, warning others not to get too close to you.

Why are we at each others’ throats? On the surface it appears to be a matter of anger with political parties engaged in a struggle for power, racial and ethnic divides and a battle between genders as well as conflict over religious, moral and ethical principles. We have always had differences among groups on these as well as other issues. There have been times when we have been able to talk about these differences and to some extent arrive at a modicum of understanding if not agreement. At other times we have ended up in war.

Finding bridges among groups seems more difficult than ever these days. But why? The anger behind our conflict has its chief source in fear. What are we afraid of? Scott Bonn writes in Psychology Today about General Strain Theory. According to this theory, fear “leads to anger which in turn leads to violence. Such strain results from losing something of value or it can result from failing to attain something of value.”  This could involve loss of a job, loss of financial security or a relationship turning sour.

For lack of any constructive alternatives to handle actual or feared losses, some people end up on the road to anger and possibly violence as a way to express their anger and rage. Some people grew up in families where they never saw good ways to handle fear and loss. They are more likely to follow the path I just mentioned.

So what do we do to get along better and avoid the strain? Here are some suggestions:

Action steps  

  •  Start by finding out what is important to others.
  • When they are ready, ask what bothers them.
  • Mention what is important to you.
  • Talk about what bothers you.
  • Find ways to work together toward mutual goals.

.In a Divided Era, One Thing Seems to Unite: Political Anger


Ken Storey was in a pique, the kind that often seizes and overwhelms the better judgment of people who follow politics closely these days.

Hurricane Harvey was about to douse Texas with deadly flooding, and Mr. Storey had identified the culprit: Republicans. “I don’t believe in instant Karma but this kind of feels like it for Texas,” he tapped out on Twitter, between bites of a taco over lunch. “Hopefully this will make them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them.”

Those 145 characters, which soon bounced around among conservative activists online and became the subject of several Fox News segments, would cost him his job as an adjunct sociology professor at the University of Tampa, incite death threats, strain his relationship with his parents and, nearly a year later, leave him living on two part-time jobs that pay less than a third of what he used to earn. His rent, car payments and electric bills are all past due, he said in a recent interview.

(Excerpt from Jeremy Peters’ article in the New York Times- read more)

Anger and Its Aftermath

Are you angry right now? If not, when was the last time you felt angry? How did you get angry? My guess is something happened to which you take exception. Someone or something – God, nature, someone you know, a stranger – did something which made you angry. If you can set aside your anger for a moment and think about it rather than indulging it, you will begin to realize that it is not the result of what happened or who did it. It is the result of what you tell yourself about what happened.

If someone bumps into you, listen to what happens in your mind. You may tell yourself that the person is clumsy, stupid or trying to upset you. Your anger arises when you tell yourself that the person should not have done something and that you have a right to be angry about it. So far there is an incident and what you tell yourself about it. If you tell yourself you have been wronged, you are likely to feel angry as a result.

Sometimes you have been wronged deliberately and you have a good reason to be angry. Sometimes you experience an inconvenience or worse which was not intended to harm you. In this case, you are less likely to feel anger. If you find yourself feeling angry, the next question is what to do about it. You have some choices.

You might try to discover whether you were harmed on purpose. If not, you can forgive the person who harmed you accidentally. If you decide you were harmed on purpose, you have other choices. These range from trying to ignore it to reacting in anger and seeking revenge for what was done to you.

How you react also depends on how you tend to think of others. You might see people as generally well intentioned and as a result do not make much of a fuss. You might also have had life experiences which incline you to view others as hostile making you more likely to feel angry and seek a way to even the score.

You have quite a range of choices of how to respond to anger. At the mild end, you can tell the other person you did not like what he or she did. At the other extreme, you can pull out a gun and shoot the other person. There is obviously a wide range of consequences for you and for the other person depending on how you respond. Yet many people do not stop to think about how to react to their anger or about the consequences of how they respond. Indulging angry impulses can have disastrous consequences for you as well as for the target of your anger.

Some people don’t find a good way to handle their anger and instead pile one grudge upon another until the load becomes too much to bear. Then they explode in anger in a way far more severe that the immediate incident requires. Again, dire consequences await all concerned. You can avoid this by being aware of your angry feelings and how they arose, examining your options and choosing an appropriate response.

Action Steps   

  • Try to understand your anger before acting on it.
  • Write about your anger to clarify how you feel and what you can do.
  • Make sure someone is at fault instead of harming you accidentally.
  • Discuss the matter with the other person instead of reacting impulsively.
  • Look for common ground whenever possible.

For more on anger, see my Amazon book, How to Transform Your Anger and Find Peace.