On Controlling Anger- 4 Simple Steps

Monday Musings for Monday April 21, 2014

Volume IV, No. 15/172

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Preventing Anger From Erupting

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

(Editor’s note:  This article ran in the op-ed page of the Sunday May 25, 1980 edition of the Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, NC)

The recent eruption of the Mount Saint Helens volcano reminded me of how some people deal with their anger. Anger exists. Everyone needs to recognize, understand, and channel this ever-present emotion so that it does not become destructive. The fellow, who went to the Texas clock tower and gunned down 42 people several years ago, is a good example of how a human volcano can erupt, and indeed cause more destruction than a true volcano.

It is a serious and damaging condition not to be able to express anger. We either allow it to fester so when it is expressed it becomes explosive; we turn it inward so it turned into depression, ulcers and heart attacks; or we take it out on other people who did not cause it; or we learn to resolve it which is obviously the most reasonable and healthful way to deal with anger.

I am outlining four basic steps in resolution of anger. They are:

The first step is to recognize the anger. People often speak of being disappointed, frustrated or let down, or hurt when they are actually repressing anger. Also the anger may be denied because we feel guilty about it, that it is not nice or we are afraid to express it.

The second step in the resolution of anger is to recognize the real source of your anger. This may require professional help.

After you recognize your anger and know where it is coming from; the third step is to try to understand the reason for your anger. Some people feel so guilty about their angry feelings that they try to over-compensate or deny them. An example is the saccharin sweet person who is not really sweet at all but a bitter individual, and, because we sense this, we find such people uncomfortable to be with.

The fourth step is to deal with the anger realistically. A confrontation with the person provoking the anger may be reasonable.

A word about confrontation: When you try confrontation you should say “I am angry at the way you’re treating me” rather than “you are no good, you are evil and I am angry at you.” By verbalizing how the behavior is affecting you, you are not “wiping out” the other person, but making them aware of your feelings and clearing the air so that the bad feelings do not fester and turn into depression and ulcers. If confrontation is impractical or impossible, and you must put up with the situation, you should find other outlets for the energy. Some useful outlets are strenuous exercise, beating on a pillow, beating on a dummy or other inanimate objects, which does not affect damage. Whatever you do, don’t suppress your anger. It’ll turn into depression, ulcers, heart attacks, stroke, etc. Ninety-five percent of all hospital beds are occupied by folks who don’t have the simple skills of resolving their anger as outlined above.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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