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Cure for an Anger Problem

“The Anger monkey, it was believed, spit pheromones like a cobra spit venom. The monkey’s spit didn’t poison their victims but triggered anger responses instead. Recently, however, tests on the flying primate’s secretions showed nothing in them that would cause an anger response. It’s the fear they inspire that makes people angry.” — the Scarecrow

I help ex-felons manage their anger. When they first come to me, almost all of them say they cannot control it. Their anger, they believe, is an autonomic reaction to the things that others do, and not in any way related to their own thoughts and behaviors. That belief isn’t held by just those with criminal records, either. I have also worked with married couples and individuals at our church and found that they, for the most part, believe the same thing. For me, the hardest part of anger management coaching is convincing clients that anger is manageable.

Anger is a healthy emotion when it drives you to excellence. It’s not healthy when it causes problems with your relationships.

At birth we all have the machinery of anger but in but there is no program for controlling how its functions.  That program is almost entirely created by our experiences as we grow up. We learn what to be angry at, low long to stay angry at it, how we express it and how intense it gets. Certainly, some people are born with anger machinery that is more robust than that of others. Still, it’s the same for most everyone. The most important thing about anger is that it’s learned and can be re-learned.

Anger is a secondary emotion driven by fear. Fear of losing something, material or emotional or relational; financial fears; fear of being hurt or killed; fear of looking stupid or not fitting in, of being disrespected; fear of losing a spouse or loved one. Just about all anger can be traced back to some kind of fear.

Fear lives in the world of self-focused thoughts. Comparing yourself to others will ultimately lead to feelings of inferiority and fear and ultimately anger (or despair – some people don’t get angry, they get depressed.) When you think about yourself and your thoughts turn negative, fear rises.  And with fear, comes a greater likelihood of becoming angry.

One way to fix an anger problem is no secret: Harness those self-focused thoughts and strive to become more positive.  Positive thinking works because it neutralizes fear. It’s hard to be afraid when you can see and believe in the best outcome from the events and situations you are going through.

Positive thinking leads to fear’s greatest enemy; empathy. When someone offends you it’s easy to become self-focused and start dwelling on how it has hurt you. Empathetic thinking brings understanding that the offense has little to do with you and much to do with circumstances in the offender’s life. Understanding that makes it hard to be angry.

And the greatest thing about being empathetic is that it can drive you to excellence. Understanding the people around you and developing the wisdom to become an effective and positive force in their lives is what life is all about. And that’s what the flying monkeys are trying to stop you from doing.

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