The first in a series of articles dedicated to understanding, appreciating, and coping with our anger.
“Sticks and Stones.” I am sure most of you have heard this saying and think you know the ending. It is said to go “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I think our parents taught us this, thinking it would help us ward off teasing by others. Unfortunately, this misguided saying is far from true. You see, in reality, sticks and stones may break my bones but WORDS CAN DO SERIOUS DAMAGE. Broken bones heal and yet harmful words may stick with and haunt us.
Many clients come to me struggling with their anger and just want to “fix it.” They hope a few tools will do the trick. Sometimes, this is all it takes. More often though, it is not that simple. As we delve into a quick history, it becomes clear that their anger has been around for a long time. In fact, it has grown over time. Realistically, we cannot expect life-long patterns to be broken overnight. I firmly believe it is valuable for me to help clients understand where their anger comes from. For most of us, anger is directly related to deep-seeded pain from growing up, and I want to help look at sources of pain throughout our lives.
When clients bring up how:
1) their parents weren’t there for them
2) their parents handled their own anger inappropriately
3) they were never taught or encouraged to communicate their feelings
4) they don’t show sadness and believe tears are a sign of weakness
I know how that translates into unresolved sadness and pain which, if not expressed, tends to come out as to anger.
I tend to hear people say “if I don’t think about it, the thoughts/feelings will go away.” This is not the case. In fact, stuffing our feelings will only last so long. Like a volcano, when we stuff our feelings and hold them down, they will eventually erupt or leak out. Exploding over someone spilling something or cutting in front of you, and then not understanding why you are getting that upset, is a problem. When I hear how angry someone gets over “nothing,” I want to look at where the anger is really coming from.
Our anger does not just appear out of thin air. More often than not, when we focus on how the anger has come to be, I can help clients grasp at least a few deeper issues within their past that may be tied to current anger. Of course, I am always wanting to explore with them how their denial of sadness and pain (to generalize, something that, especially we guys, don’t like to show) may have found a way into anger (a feeling we guys may be more expected and comfortable showing).
Too often, clients believe others are “making” them angry. Thinking about your anger (feelings, thoughts, actions, etc.), this in indeed yours. Own it! No one makes us do anything unless we decide to do it. No one makes me sad, happy, angry or anything. The other person can do something, that I may not like, and then I get to choose how I want to respond. Yes, at times, someone’s behavior will lead me to feeling upset but, again, I decide if this will happen. I am indeed in control. Why give up yours? Own your feelings. This will help you understand how many choices you have and how to next respond (or not).
It is important for me to normalize client’s anger. Typically, when I ask people if anger is bad, the answer I hear is “YES.” No, I say. Anger is a normal feeling. It is just what we do with anger that can be positive or problematic. Be clear on this; we all get angry. We all get happy, sad, anxious, etc. sometimes. Feelings are a normal part of our existence and we need to express them.
Upcoming articles here, will focus on not only how to face our pain and best express it, but also on tools to best cope with painful feelings and the anger we may have inside. To start, though, I want to highlight how imperative it is to learn how to calm both the mind and body. One of the best ways to do this is via a commonly used tool known as deep-breathing. Sounds simple but you would not believe how we may fail to take the necessary full breaths, especially under stress.
Taking a slow, deep breath through your nose, holding it a second or two, and then slowly expelling the air through your mouth should not be just a few second process. When we focus on this and take the time needed, it will be difficult to be angry as it helps stop the racing thoughts that tend to go hand-in-hand with anger. Again, this is not a race. Just the opposite. Calmly breathing helps the body and trains our minds to slow down. Furthermore, we don’t want to wait until we are upset to do this. The more we are calming ourselves during the day, the less likely we are to get hyped up in the first place. Try practicing this a few times daily and get ready for more next month.
© Copyright 2010 by Stuart A. Kaplowitz, MFT, therapist in Chino, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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