Control that Temper
Control that Temper
By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
When Mary's (a fictitious character) husband forgot
their anniversary, she was furious. She really launched into him, called him
most names in the book, and wound up sleeping alone in tears. Six months later,
since this was her usual way of reacting when angry at her husband, Mary was
Anger is usually the result of frustration. When
we fail to reach a goal or get what we want, when we are blocked in our attempts
to fulfill our needs, we often - but not always-react with anger.
That frustration is often the result of our own
thoughts or assumptions, however. When we are angry at another person it is
because we assume that he (or she) has wronged us. He has not acted in a way
we believe he should have acted. According to our standards, he has either done
something he ought not to have done or failed to do something he should have
done.'. And we persuade ourselves that it is terrible, awful, and unforgivable
that the person acted the way he did.
In many situations, anger is not a basic emotion
but is a cover-up instead for an underlying emotion. When hurt or frightened,
we sometimes react with anger rather than these primary emotions. Mary was deeply
hurt by her husband's failure to remember their anniversary, and perhaps frightened
by the possibility that this was a sign he had ceased to love her. But it was
easier, in the short run, for her to be angry then to admit these doubts to
herself or to him.
There are two extreme, harmful, and ineffective
ways to handle anger. The first is never or rarely to express angry feelings
for fear of those feelings or for fear of hurting someone. People who suppress
their anger in this manner may be subject to depression and psychosomatic symptoms
such as backache, headache, and ulcers.
The second way is to quickly and perhaps violently
act out angry feelings without restraints or inhibitions. People who handle
anger in this manner are often in may fights, perhaps drink too much, drive
recklessly, and have unhappy spouses. If violent or criminal enough, many of
them can be found in prison.
Now obviously, there is a middle way to handle
anger between these two extremes, a way of restraint and moderation in which
angry feelings are expressed, either directly or indirectly, in a safe, acceptable
manner. Anger is acknowledged and accepted, and not avoided or acted out uncontrollably.
If temper control is a problem with you, there
are several things you can do about it.
First, if you realize the potentially harmful effects
of unchecked anger, you will be better motivated to control, it. If not expressed
properly or constructively, anger can hurt other people. It is probably the
major cause of marital pain and divorce. And what is more important to you -
your marriage or your anger?
Also, realize that allowing yourself to express
your anger freely may temporarily reduce those feelings, but will probably
predispose you to temper tantrums whenever you become upset. In other words,
uncontrolled temper can become a habit.
Second, the old advice about counting to ten or
going for a walk or doing whatever you can to distract yourself is still sound
counsel. But if this is not possible, if you feel you have to let your anger
fly, then do so in a safe, indirect manner. Beat a rug, go jogging, go down
into the basement alone and shout at a wall. This method of controlling anger
has its drawbacks, however, as when a person punches a wall and either puts
a hole in it or breaks a knuckle. Better that your anger should be controlled.
Third, reward yourself for controlling your temper
in anger-producing situations, and punish yourself when you fail to control
your temper. I have an agreement to pay my wife $25 each time I lose my temper
and break something in anger. Since I am such a tightwad, this usually works.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, try
to reduce your anger by working on the one person who is solely responsible
for it - yourself. No one forces you to be angry or makes you angry. You do
it yourself by what you assume or tell yourself that you have been wronged by
the other person, that he should not have acted the way he did, and that his
behavior is unjustifiable and unforgivable.
Now granted that some anger is justifiable and
should be expressed, as when someone obviously and deliberately violates our
rights. But in Mary's case, she could have reacted to her husband's faulty memory
with understanding, forgiveness, or a frank expression of her hurt and fear
rather than with anger. Unfortunately, her choice of the latter reaction eventually
cost her marriage.
About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with
Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book,
Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available
directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com,
all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors
copyright and website hyperlinks.
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