Ever since Bruce Banner was accidently exposed to gamma rays, he turns into the Incredible Hulk when he gets angry. And he’s not the only one. There are a lot of angry people out there. I know this because I deal with them almost every day in my mediation practice.
I’ve learned tools and strategies to help my angry clients and those tools frequently prove very effective. Yet when I try to apply them in managing my own anger, I sometimes come up short. (Insert your short jokes here — I’ve heard them all.) One thing I know for sure, telling an angry person to calm down is never the solution.
We tend to categorize anger as a bad thing, don’t we? Not necessarily true, though. Sometimes angry feelings can lead to positive change. There have been many successful labor union strikes in our country’s history. And successful protests have paved the way for change ever since the Boston Tea Party.
We tend to consider anger and aggression to be one and the same. Also not necessarily true. Anger doesn’t need to be aggressive because it can be managed with the the right words. When I’m mediating a high conflict divorce case, I will talk with the angrier party privately to help him/her identify the feeling with specificity. Maybe he’s more frustrated than angry. Maybe she’s actually terrified. Helping people to understand what’s really manifesting the anger is the first step. The next step is helping them to express their anger in a healthier way.
What’s not necessarily healthy is venting the anger to a friend who might, inadvertently, stoke the flames. And suppressing the anger can be just as detrimental. Living in denial and/or silence won’t diminish the anger. Instead, unresolved anger can manifest itself physically. High blood pressure, ulcers, gastric distress, and tension headaches are some of the ways anger can negatively impact your health.
Identifying your own underlying issues that can be masked as anger is a good step to better management of your emotions. Easier said than done, right? Is there something that triggers you? I remember that my mom used to accuse my dad of following too closely to the car in front of him. When she would nag my dad about his driving, it often resulted in raised voices. As a little kid in the back seat, the yelling terrified me. Now, I seem to recall that my mom’s car was involved in a rear-end collision, and she must have been holding onto that fear.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could step outside of our anger in order to look for a solution? Are we capable of modifying our behavior in an effort to be proactive instead of reactive? I think so.
I also wonder whether men are generally angrier than women, or vice versa? If you have an opinion about this, please enter a single-word comment (“men” or “women”) and I’ll report the results in a later post.