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Become an optimist for better health and happiness

Friends Jane and Anthony have very different ways of viewing the world. Jane is a pessimist (“the glass is half-empty”) while Anthony is an optimist (“the glass is half-full”)

Let’s compare how they think about similar life experiences:

Scenario 1: A bad thing happens: both lose their jobs
Jane is devastated, convincing herself that she is all washed up, she can never catch a break, her boss was an SOB, it is useless for her to try to be successful, and she is not very good at anything.

By contrast, Anthony has a healthier inner dialog, telling himself that he probably wasn’t very good at that particular job, his skills and company needs did not mesh, and the firing was only a temporary setup in his career.

Scenario 2: A good thing happens: both find a new job
Now Jane, ever the pessimist, believes she was able to find a new job only because her industry is now really desperate for people, and they must have been short-handed.

The more upbeat Anthony sees that he landed a new job because his talents were finally recognized and he can now be appreciated for what he can do.
As this example illustrates, research by Dr. Marvin Seligman finds that optimists tend to interpret their troubles as transient, controllable and specific to situations.

When good things happen, optimists believe the causes are permanent such as traits and abilities. Optimists further believe that good events will enhance everything he or she does.

Pessimists, on the other hand, believe their troubles will last forever, will undermine everything they do, and are basically uncontrollable.
Even when good things happen to pessimists, they see these things as temporary and caused by specific factors (which will change eventually leading to a negative outcome)

Why is Optimism Beneficial?

Optimism and hope cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work and better physical health.
In fact, one long term study at the famed Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota found that optimists lived 19% longer in terms of expected life span than did pessimists.

Optimistic thinking skills are also a powerful antidote to anger. In fact, many participants in our anger management classes report their anger lessening as they learn to replace negative thinking and feelings with more positive ones.

How to think optimistically

There is now a well-documented method for building optimism that consists of recognizing and then disputing pessimistic thoughts.
Unfortunately, people often do not pay much attention to their thoughts and thus do not recognize that they may be destructive and leading to negative emotions.

The key to disputing your own pessimistic thoughts is to first recognize them and then to treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life is to make you miserable.

In effect, you can become an optimist by learning to disagree with yourself- that is, by challenging your pessimistic thinking patterns.

For skeptics, it is important to point out that optimistic thinking IS NOT the process of positive thinking in the sense of telling yourself silly affirmations that you really don’t believe.

Rather, it is the process of correcting distorted or faulty thinking patterns that create problems for you.

By teaching yourself to think about things differently (but just as realistically) you can morph yourself from a pessimist to an optimist – and tame that anger bee in the process.

How to deal with difficult people coping with the aggressive driver when he is a loved one

45 year old John terrorized his family when they were his passengers. He would yell at them if they complained about his driving.

He would ignore them when they showed signs of discomfort and even seemed to enjoy scaring his passengers with his maneuvers such as tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, passing other cars dangerously, and pulling too far into crosswalks so pedestrians are unable to safely cross the street.

John would show aggression in other ways too — like insisting on choosing the radio station, controlling the volume of the radio, and controlling the temperature, the fan setting and where the vents are aimed while driving. He refused to stop for restroom breaks on long trips.

John was anything but “passenger-friendly” yet he did not see himself as the problem. Statistics show that while 70% of drivers complain about the aggressiveness of others, only 30% admit to their own aggressiveness. John saw other drivers as “stupid, ” his family/passengers as “whiney,” and the roadway as his personal terrain. Unfortunately, we all pay the price for this kind of distorted thinking.

High cost of aggressive driving

According to recent statistics, aggressive driving is at the core of numerous fatalities, injuries and dollar costs associated with accidents. More specifically, it is linked to:

  • Fatalities (425,000 per decade)
  • Injuries (35 million per decade)
  • Dollars (250 billion per year)

The cost to the emotional well-being of family members is also very high. Often, family members develop a fear of driving with the aggressive driver. While they may not talk about it, passengers may lose esteem, respect and affection toward the driver.

Younger passengers may also be affected later in life by being exposed to this kind of driving behavior. By watching and then modeling their aggressive-driver parent, the child may develop similar attitudes and driving behaviors when he or she becomes a driver.

Driving under the influence

At its root, aggressive driving is caused by poor ability to handle angry feelings. The aggressive driver is, in effect, driving under the influence of impaired emotions. Studies list many reasons why driving arouses anger in aggressive drivers. Some of the most common are:

  1. Territoriality. The car is a symbol associated with individual freedom and self-esteem. Our car is our castle and the space around it is our territory. When other drivers invade our space the aggressive driver responds with hostility to protect his “castle.”
  2. Restriction. In congested traffic, you are prevented from going forward. This can lead to frustration, anxiety and an intense desire to escape the restriction.
  3. Multitasking. We become irritated at others when we see them driving poorly while talking on the cell phone, eating, or performing personal grooming.
  4. Poor life planning. We don’t allow enough time to get to our destination on a consistent basis so we “press” to make up for the lost time and then become stressed and angry at other drivers who we see as frustrating our mad dash.

What can you do as a passenger?

While aggressive driving behavior ultimately must be changed by the driver himself, the following are some survival tips that may help until that occurs:

Refuse to passenger with such a person until he or she changes.

Share with driver how you feel when they drive aggressively. For example: I feel anxious about how fast we’re going (instead of “you are driving too fast”); I’m upset about the way you swore at that driver and I am fearful how it will affect our children who heard you; I feel afraid when you approach pedestrians too fast; I feel bullied by you when you won’t stop for a bathroom break.

Encourage person to look at their “driving philosophy” and to develop more empathy regarding how others (like the family) are being negatively impacted by his or her poor driving behavior. That is, help him see himself through the eyes of his family.

This honest feedback from loved ones can be a powerful tool to encourage the aggressive driver to become a better citizen of the roadways.

Diffuse family anger by talking differently — to yourself!

Case #1: Jeanette and Tom had been married 15 years. Wanting to surprise him for his birthday, Jeanette bought (with her own money) Tom a big-screen LCD television.

Tom’s reaction? He instantly blew up and berated Jeanette for spending so much money, buying more television than they needed, and buying a bigger one than they had previously looked at together. Jeanette was dumbfounded at his reaction, as she truly thought this would be a gift that would greatly please her husband.

Case#2: Jim was having a friendly beer with his brother-in-law Jack when the discussion turned to Jack’s extreme success in life.

Wanting to complement him, Jim commented on how far he had come, how proud of himself he must be and how much he is an inspiration to others, given his background with alcoholic and dysfunctional parents. Rather than seeing this as a complement, however, Jack became offended and angry and began to berate Jim for having said such a thing that he was interpreting as a “put down.”

Anger is caused by our view of things

As these examples clearly show, people are not disturbed by things or events, but by the view they take of them—an observation made in the early 2nd Century by Greek philosopher Epictetus.

When an upsetting family event occurs, you have a choice of how you are going to explain it to yourself —what you are going to tell yourself about it—which will greatly influence how angry, stressed, or upset you will become over it.

Learning to change what you tell yourself – your self-talk – is a powerful tool to break a cycle of negativity that can often poison our minds when we get angry. We all have a voice in our mind that tells us messages and stories about family members and how they behave.

Tom, who exploded when his loving wife bought him a new television was telling himself things like: she has such poor judgment buying a bigger TV than we need; there she goes again, spending money excessively; why can’t she ever do what I want her to do? Why did I marry such a woman?

Of course, none of these things made any sense to Tom once he cooled down and became his rational self again. But, at the moment of anger explosion, all those self- statements seemed 100% real and true to him.

Jack who became offended at being congratulated for overcoming his past, was actually having the following conversation in his head: he is putting me down because I had alcoholic parents; he is saying I am not capable of being successful on my own instead of “overcoming” something in my past; he is mocking me because of how I grew up.

No wonder he became so upset at Jim’s innocent attempt at a compliment. Like many of us, he was responding to his perspective of what was being communicated —not Jim’s.

Three Steps to Change Self-Talk

Step 1 – Retreat and Think Things Over. Do not respond immediately to a family anger or stress trigger. Give your body and your mind a chance to calm down so you can think rationally. Research shows this may take at least 20 minutes.

Step 2 – Look at the evidence. The most convincing way of disputing negative self-talk toward a family member is to show yourself it is factually incorrect. Do not lie to yourself, but like a detective simply and honestly look at all the evidence around the issue at hand.

For instance, when calm Tom remembered that his wife was excellent with money and rarely overspent. Jack remembered that Jim never disparaged him and, in fact, had always supported him throughout the years of their friendship.

Step 3 – Find alternative ways of interpreting the behavior of family members that is more positive—and more useful.
Tom was finally able to see his wife’s buying behavior as a sign of love and caring for him, rather than trying to hurt him or cause stress.
Jack was eventually capable of seeing that Jim was truly trying to complement him and that he truly saw Jack as someone to be admired because of how far he had come in life.

Six parental tips for your angry children

It was labor day when 8 year old Brandon’s mother heard a commotion from her child’s room. Seems that his 14 year old visiting cousin said something that upset Brandon which caused Brandon to strike the other boy. His mother Michelle hysterically called her therapist wondering what to do and how to handle the anger in her young son which seemed to be escalating as he became older.

Her therapist wisely explained that children become angry in a variety of situations. Common causes of childhood anger include: frustration, needing attention, feeling powerless, being misunderstood, not feeling good about themselves, feeling helpless, being belittled or made fun of, not having physical needs taken care of, having a parent take over instead of asking if the child wants help, being disappointed, having difficulty saying what they need, or being punished.

The problem of excessive childhood anger is growing. Yet many parents—like Michelle—feel they don’t have the tools to teach their children how to deal with normal angry feelings in an appropriate manner, without hitting or yelling at others, or losing control. Therefore, some parents ineffectively deal with their child’s anger by demanding that he or she stop being angry. Worse, some parents actually yell at or hit their child in attempts to “teach” their child not to be angry. That is like putting them alone in the woods unarmed with a raging black bear to teach them not to be fearful!

Alternatively, good parenting requires teaching children the practical skills needed for anger control. Although feeling angry is a part of life that no one can avoid because it is “hardwired” in our brains as a protective and survival mechanism, we can teach our children positive ways to cope with these normal angry feelings. Learning the tools of anger management empowers children, makes them more effective and pleasant human beings, and improves the world by decreasing hatred, violence and conflict.
Following are six tips for parents to help their children manage anger, based on our model of anger management called the eight tools of anger control”:

Tip #1 – Teach how to respond instead of react
Parents can teach their children the difference between feeling angry and acting on anger. Michelle explained to Brandon that feeling mad is neither good nor bad, but hitting someone out of anger is not OK. She then explained that we have choices as to how to deal with angry feelings. Encouraging your child to take time-out until they cool down, to keep a journal, draw, or talk out their emotions are positive outlets for feelings of anger.

Providing a means by which to channel feelings into positive actions is another tool to help your child deal with his or her angry feelings. Examples might include taking a relaxing walk, writing letters and cards, doing something nice for another person, or donating time to a worthwhile community project geared toward helping others.

In the short run, life at home will be easier when children learn how to work through anger. In the long run, children will continue developing ways to cope with anger as they become teenagers and adults, and will pass these skills along to their own children.

Tip #2 – Be aware of how your children are seeing you
Start by setting a good example. Children learn from observing your behavior. Be aware of the messages you are sending your child in terms of how you behave toward them, how you behave toward other people, and how they see you handling your own anger and stress.

Unfortunately, some misguided parents create hatred in their children by modeling prejudice, intolerance, disrespect or violence toward other people that may be different from them or have different word views. Teaching “empathy” (the ability to see the world from the perspective of another), openness, tolerance and understanding are extremely valuable anger-management tools to teach yourself and your children.

Tip #3 – Tell children personal stories of triumph
Your children need to hear stories of how you may have overcome hardship, adversity, or other life challenges. Research shows that hearing your stories of empowerment over rough times or situations can make your children feel more attached to you, and give them more hope for themselves to be able to overcome their life difficulties. Having more optimism and developing more positive attitudes can often reduce anger in children and adults alike.

Tip #4 – Be consistent in parenting
At any age, anger is often generated between the gap between what is expected and what actually occurs in reality. With children, it is especially important to outline exactly what the consequences are (positive and negative) for their behavior—and then stick to it! Consistency makes children feel more secure, less anxious, and less likely to react angrily if they don’t get “their own way.” Parental consistency between parents or other adults in your child’s life is also very important to create stability and a sense of predictability.

Tip #5 – Reduce family stress
Coping with family stressors is an important tool of anger management, as angry outbursts are much more likely to occur as personal and family stress levels rise. There are many ways to buffer family stressors such as maintaining regular rituals for eating together, sharing the day with each other, finding time to play together, and emotionally supporting each other.
Parents can also help their children learn to calm themselves or self-sooth when angry. It is often helpful to calm their anger by using the five senses: touching, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing. Squeezing play dough, splashing in water, running around outside, listening to music, painting a picture, tensing and relaxing muscles, taking slow deep breaths, or eating a healthy snack are all good responses to angry feelings.

Children who respond well to touch can be taught how to massage their own neck or arms as a self-calming technique. These same children also may find a great deal of comfort in stroking or caring for a pet. To reduce stress, try telling your child the following:

  • Let’s draw a picture about how you feel
  • A warm bath sometimes helps wash away angry feelings
  • When you feel hungry and irritable, tell me and I’ll find a snack for you
  • Sit down and take slow deep breaths until you have calmed down

Tip #6 – Teach your child how to solve problems
Parent can teach their older preschool, school-age and teenage children to problem solve as a “prevention” tool for getting angry. Michelle, for instance, taught Brandon to “stop and think” the next time he was angry—before losing control and striking other children. She also taught him how to listen to his cousin with both his eyes and ears, before getting upset so that he could “name” the problem and discuss what was upsetting him.
Turns out that Brandon’s cousin had made a disparaging remark about Brandon’s father who happened to be incarcerated. Once the issue was named, Michelle taught Brandon to think of different ways to solve the problem. They agreed on Brandon telling his cousin how much it hurt his feelings to hear “bad” things about his father. As a final step, they agreed to discuss how well their planned worked in a few days.

Most children will need adult help in thinking through this process and coming up with creative ways to solve problems. And it does take time. The advantage, however, is that after doing this process over and over, most children soon will become fairly good at identifying a problem and coming up with different options for solving the problem on their own. A child that has much practice in thinking of different ways to solve a problem is much more likely to solve a conflict in a positive way instead of just reacting with the anger response.

Five lessons on how anger can be a GOOD thing!

Lynn, age 40 was in the luggage station at the airport with her sister-in-law. They patiently waited for the airline to find their luggage—as did her husband circling the airport in his car in attempts to transport the women home.

After two hours, Lynn decided to take action; she angrily confronted a supervisor, indicating loss of patience and incredulity at their lack of concern over the issue.

Guess what? Presto! The luggage was found within about 10 minutes with ample apology from the supervisor.

Clearly the angry confrontation “worked” in the sense that it got the desired behavioral result and there were no negative consequences or “costs” to the angry expression.

While anger is NOT appropriate most of the time, there are circumstances when anger expression is in fact the right thing to do.

Lesson #1: Anger expression is good if it gets results without a high emotional, financial, personal or social cost.

John was a legal professional who had been unjustly accused of impropriety with one of his clients. She had filed a report with his professional licensing board.

John was traumatized and fearful, as this had never happened in over 25 years of practice as a family law attorney. After giving in to his feelings for several months (which almost incapacitated him) he decided to see a criminal defense lawyer and fight for his career.

Once he got past his hurt, humiliation and self-pity, he was able to get in touch with his anger in the form of “righteous indignation.” That transition energized and motivated him to protect himself and survive the unfair and untrue accusations against him which threatened his distinguished career.

Lesson #2 – Anger can be a good thing if it gets us past fear and paralysis and catapults us into appropriate action.

Lesson #3 – Anger can be a good thing if it switches us from apathy and inaction to positive intention and helps us refocus on our broader life goals.

Like the mythical desert bird that rose from its ashes, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a phoenix that emerged from tragedy.

Candy Lightner founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) in 1980 following the death of her 13-year-old daughter Cari in Fair Oaks, Calif., on May 3.

Sadly, Cari was walking to a school carnival when a drunk driver struck her from behind. The driver had three prior drunk driving convictions and was out on bail from a hit-and-run arrest two days earlier. Today, MADD is the largest crime victims’ assistance organization in the world with more than 3 million members and supporters.

Lesson #4: Anger is good if we convert it to a social positive and make an improvement in the world.

Shelly had a friend who was constantly late. This was very upsetting to Stacy, who never said anything about it. Instead, she began to make excuses not to see her friend.

She was on the verge of losing a valuable friendship. One day she mustered up her courage and decided to tell her friend that being late was difficult for her, making her feel unimportant, angry and resentful.

The friend’s response? Contrary to Shelly’s fears, the friend did not bolt! Rather, she decided that she valued Shelly’s honesty— then apologized profusely and began arriving on time.

Lesson #5; Appropriately asserting yourself rather than holding in anger often facilitates a closer relationship. It is very difficult for people to choose the option to change their behavior if they don’t know you are upset with them.

Explosive rage: Does anger management training help?

Everyone has heard of road rage incidents wherein usually calm and responsible people “snap” and commit an aggressive or violent act. Turns out, that “losing one’s temper” can occur in many different life situations and cause serious emotional or physical harm to others. It is a pattern in which tension builds until an explosion brings relief, followed later by regret, embarrassment, or guilt. Called “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” (IED), it is defined by attacks of impulsive rage that seem out of proportion to the immediate provocation and has serious consequences such as verbal abuse, threats, property damage, assaults, and injury.

How common is it?

As reported in the September, 2006 edition of Harvard Mental Health Letter recent research on IED is showing that this condition is more common and more destructive than anyone had supposed. One study showed that people with more severe cases (at least three rage attacks in one year) averaged 56 life-time attacks resulting in an average of $1600 worth of property damage and 23 incidents in which someone required medical attention.

Who is most likely to have these episodes?

According to research, the percentages suffering from this disorder are about the same for men and women, blacks and whites. Only age made a difference. Younger people were more likely than older people to show these uncontrolled rage episodes. As you might suspect, persons who suffer from IED are more at risk for other emotional problems because of the increased stress in their lives.

What causes the attacks?

Behavior patterns such as rage attacks are complex and often are a combination of what is going on in your brain chemistry, what is occurring in your life and also what emotions your thinking patterns are causing.

Scientists do not yet have the answers as to what triggers rage episodes but it may have to do with brain chemistry problems as well as the outlook that people have about life as well as attitudes about how to handle life frustrations and stress.

What treatments help?

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Anger management through a combination of cognitive restructuring, coping skills training and relaxation training look promising.” This means that to control rage, people need to learn how to think differently about life events, and to learn specific skills to deal with common anger “triggers.” One of the recommended skills is that of learning to deal with stress through relaxation training.

Other skills that we our anger management clients have found to be extremely useful include:

  • Developing empathy toward others (seeing the world as they see it)
  • Taking charge of how you respond to stress, rather than just reacting instinctively
  • Changing self-talk to create different emotions in response to anger triggers
  • Learning to communicate assertively rather than with anger
  • Letting go of resentments, grievances and grudges
  • Retreating to think things over and calming down before blowing up in rage

How can you find a program for you?

Anger management programs are becoming more common across the country. The following resources provide directories of qualified providers, some of which teach the specific skills listed above:

In addition, there are a variety of home-study and online programs appearing on the internet. The quality of these programs vary a great deal, so it is prudent and wise to pick one that is authored by credible mental health professionals and is approved or certified by state agencies (although unfortunately most states do not approve or disapprove anger management programs) or other professional bodies.

Six tools to repair emotional damage in your marriage

Rudy and Marjorie were on the verge of divorce. Married 12 years, they had constant verbal battles ending in what therapists call emotional disengagement— meaning that they simply ignored each other for days on end.

Emotionally, they were simmering inside and also lonely for each other, but were unable to reach out and communicate these feelings. They were in a “cold war” with both waiting for the other to make the first move to melt the icy atmosphere.

This couple suffers a common marital malady—lack of skills to repair emotional damage done to each other.

According to marital research, almost all couples fight; what often separates the “masters” of marriage from the “disasters” of marriage is the ability to repair the subsequent damage.

Acquiring good repair skills gives the couple a way to recover from the mistakes they may have made. These repair skills provide a “fix” for the damage caused in attempting to communicate to each other in a way that caused emotional hurt to one or both of them.

It is common for partners to make relationship mistakes – after all anyone can have a bad day, be under too much stress or just use poor judgment in dealing with a situation.

Rather than emotionally disengaging from each other or staying angry, try to “fix it” if you are the offender.

And if you are the receiver of the damage, your challenge is to find a way to accept your partner’s repair attempt— that is, to see your partner’s repair attempt as an effort to make things better.

Repair Tool #1—Apologize

A simple sincere and heartfelt apology can sometimes do wonders for a relationship, especially if your partner sees you as a person who never admits they are wrong or at fault. Say things like: I’m sorry; I apologize; What I did was really stupid; I don’t know what got into me.

Repair Tool #2—Confide Feelings

Be honest and share the feelings that are underneath the anger such as fear, embarrassment, or insecurity. Your partner may respond to you quite differently if they see those other emotions, instead of just the anger.
Confiding what is in your heart and in your mind can make a huge difference in promoting understanding, closeness, and intimacy.
Say things like: I was really afraid for our daughter when I got so angry; I didn’t want to hurt you; I just lost my cool.

Repair Tool #3—Acknowledge Partner’s Point of View

This doesn’t mean you have to agree with it; just acknowledging it can decrease tension and conflict because it shows your partner you are at least listening to them. It also demonstrates empathy—the ability to see things from their vantage point instead of only yours.
Say things like: I can see what you mean; I never looked at it that way.

Repair tool #4—Accept Some of the Responsibility for the Conflict

Very few conflicts are 100% the fault of either partner. Instead, most conflicts are like a dance with both of you making moves to contribute to the problem. Inability to accept any responsibility is a sign of defensiveness rather than the openness required for good communication. Say things like: I shouldn’t’ have done what I did; I guess we both blew it; I can understand why you reacted to me that way.

Repair tool #5—Find Common Ground

Focus on the issue at hand and what you have in common rather than your differences. For instance, you might both agree that raising healthy children is a common goal even though you differ in parenting styles. Say things like: We seem to both have the same goal here; we don’t agree on methods but we both want the same outcome.

Repair Tool #6—Commit to Improve Behavior

“I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it if you continually repeat the offensive behavior. Backup words with action. Show concrete evidence that you will try to change. Say things like: I promise to get up a half hour earlier from now on; I’ll call if I’m going to be late; I’ll only have two drinks at the party and then stop.

How to control anger by forgiving grievances

Thirty-two year old Elizabeth cried during her anger management class as she related how one year ago her 19-month-old girl was permanently brain-damaged as the result of medical error at the hospital in which she was delivered.

She definitely had a legitimate grievance toward the hospital and the medical staff and felt that she could never forgive them for what she saw as their incompetence. She clearly was not yet ready to forgive—and she needed her simmering anger to motivate her to do what she felt she needed to do legally and otherwise to deal with this horrific situation.

Yet, even in this tragic situation, at some point in the future—when she is ready—Elizabeth might elect to find a way to forgive. For her to be able to do this, after a certain amount of time, she will have to take the step of separating in her mind two things:

  1. blaming the hospital for what they did and
  2. blaming them for her resulting feelings about the situation

Elizabeth cannot change what was done to her daughter, but she can change her current feelings about it and she can change how she lives the rest of her life. If she continues to hold an intense grievance, she is giving all the power to what happened in the past to determine her present emotional well being—almost like being victimized again while remaining in her emotional prison.

Should you forgive?

The answer to this question always comes down to personal choices and decisions. Some people in our anger management classes feel that certain things cannot and shouldn’t be forgiven while other participants feel that ultimately anything can be forgiven.

As an example of what is possible, the staff of the Stanford Forgiveness Project successfully worked with Protestant and Catholic families of Northern Ireland whose children had been killed by each other. Using the techniques taught by the Stanford group, these grieving parents were able to forgive and get on with their lives.

On the other hand, Dr. Abrams-Spring who wrote a classic book called “After The Affair,” cautions that forgiving a cheating partner too quickly or too easily can be an indication of your low self-esteem. In her view, forgiveness must be earned by the offending partner and not given automatically.

As you struggle with your decision to forgive or not (and remember – it is a decision), keep in mind that recent studies show that there are measurable benefits to forgiveness.

Two reasons to forgive

Forgiving Is Good For Your Health. Studies show that people who forgive report fewer health problems while people who blame others for their troubles have a higher incidence of illness such as cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Forgiving is good for your peace of mind. Scientific research shows that Forgiveness often improves your peace of mind: One such study done in 1996 showed that the more people forgave those who deeply hurt them, the less angry they were. Two studies of divorced people show that those who forgave the former spouse were more emotionally healthy than those who chose not to forgive. The forgivers had a higher sense of well being and lower anxiety and depression.

Three tips to forgive

It is common for angry people to think, “I want to forgive and I know I should, but I don’t know how.”

Tip 1- Remember, forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience to complete. You must be ready. Realize that this is for you – not for anyone else.

Tip 2- Realize that forgiving does not mean you are condoning the actions of the offender or what they did to you. It does mean that you will blame less and find a way to think differently about what happened to you.

Tip 3- Refocus on the positives in your life. Remember that a lift well lived is the best revenge. People who find a way to see love, beauty and kindness around them are better able to forgive and get past their life grievances.

Sports parents who lose control

Pennsylvania — A parent body slammed a high school referee after he ordered the man’s wife out of the gym for allegedly yelling obscenities during a basketball game.

The referee was treated at a hospital for a concussion and released after the attack. Charged with simple assault, assault on a sports official, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct was a 47 year old father.

Kentucky – A father of a T-ball player was briefly jailed after an outburst against an umpire during a game involving 5- and 6- year-olds.

The accused threatened to beat the umpire moments before walking onto the field and starting a fight with an official., according to the criminal complaint. A girl who was playing in the game suffered a minor injury when she was struck in the face during the scuffle.

Every day in America and around the world, sports officials are physically and verbally harassed. Most incidents do not require police or medical assistance, but in some cases, the harassment turns violent.

The fact that such behavior occurs at sporting events involving youth participants is appalling in itself, but the frequency in which these reports now occur is even more disturbing.

NASO (National Association of Sports Officials) receives more than 100 reports annually that involve physical contact between coaches, players, fans and officials. The nearly 18,000 member organization is not the “clearinghouse for bad behavior,” says NASO President Barry Mano, but it is the belief by NASO that the reports it receives is only the “tip of the iceberg.”
Loss of control by parents has long-term negative effects on the lives of the children, the school, and the parents themselves, as the following story illustrates:

Florida—A Parent enters the soccer field to check on his son, who has been injured in a skirmish for the ball. Angry that a more severe penalty had not been levied on the opposing player, the parent confronts the referee and shoves him to the ground.

After the school had to forfeit the game, the parent was later banned from attending all extracurricular activities involving the school for at least one year and possibly through his son’s graduation.

What causes parents to lose control?

According to sports psychologist Darrell Burnett, Ph.D., often such parents are reliving unrealized dreams through their children. They somehow get caught up in the win-at-all cost frenzy.

The core problem comes from parents being too invested, emotionally and financially, in their children’s games. They sometimes have misplaced self esteem. Another factor, according to Dr. Burnett, is a general attitude in our society encouraging us to retaliate when frustrated rather than using negotiation skills: “somebody pushes their buttons and away they go.”

Can these parents change?

Yes, if they desire it. Learning to manage sports anger is a process of applying two of the eight core tools of anger control: (1) Adjust expectations of performance to realistic levels and (2) communicate displeasure you may have with assertive communication skills.

Specific tips for Sports Parents

  • Keep a moderate level of intensity – not completely detached, but not overly aggressive.
  • Adjust your expectations to a realistic level by putting the sporting event into proper perspective. Also:
  • Don’t yell at the coach or child. If you have an issue, discuss it assertively at the appropriate time.
  • Don’t try to coach from the sidelines. Again, if you have an issue with the coach, your child, or other children, discuss it privately.
  • Stay interested, supportive and positive.
  • Praise the effort and the progress as achievement, not just the outcome.
  • Model good sportsmanship.

How to cope with a loved one driving under the influence of impaired emotions

45 year old John terrorized his family when they were his passengers. He would yell at them if they complained about his driving.

He would ignore them when they showed signs of discomfort and even seemed to enjoy scaring his passengers with his maneuvers such as tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, passing other cars dangerously, and pulling too far into crosswalks so pedestrians are unable to safely cross the street. He had no awareness that his driving was not legal, that he was breaking many laws, or that he was behaving like a criminal.

John would show aggression in other ways too — like insisting on choosing the radio station, controlling the volume of the radio, and controlling the temperature, the fan setting and where the vents are aimed while driving. He refused to stop for restroom breaks on long trips.

John was anything but “passenger-friendly” yet he did not see himself as the problem. Statistics show that while 70% of drivers complain about the aggressiveness of others, only 30% admit to their own aggressiveness.

John saw other drivers as “stupid,” his family/passengers as “whiney,” and the roadway as his personal terrain. Unfortunately, we all pay the legal and emotional price for this kind of distorted thinking.

High cost of aggressive driving

According to recent statistics, aggressive driving is at the core of numerous fatalities, injuries and dollar costs associated with accidents. More specifically, it is linked to:

  • Fatalities (425,000 per decade)
  • Injuries (35 million per decade)
  • Dollars (250 billion per year)

The cost to the emotional well-being of family members is also very high. Often, family members develop a fear of driving with the aggressive driver. While they may not talk about it, passengers may lose esteem, respect and affection toward the driver.

Younger passengers may also be affected later in life by being exposed to this kind of driving behavior. By watching and then modeling their aggressive-driver parent, the child may develop similar attitudes and driving behaviors when he or she becomes a driver.

Driving under the influence

At its root, aggressive driving is caused by poor ability to handle angry feelings. The aggressive driver is, in effect, driving under the influence of impaired emotions. Studies list many reasons why driving arouses anger in aggressive drivers. Some of the most common are:

Territoriality. The car is a symbol associated with individual freedom and self-esteem. Our car is our castle and the space around it is our territory. When other drivers invade our space the aggressive driver responds with hostility to protect his “castle.”

Restriction. In congested traffic, you are prevented from going forward. This can lead to frustration, anxiety and an intense desire to escape the restriction.

Multitasking. We become irritated at others when we see them driving poorly while talking on the cell phone, eating, or performing personal grooming.

Poor life planning. We don’t allow enough time to get to our destination on a consistent basis so we “press” to make up for the lost time and then become stressed and angry at other drivers who we see as frustrating our mad dash.

What can you do as a passenger?

While aggressive driving behavior ultimately must be changed by the driver himself, the following are some survival tips that may help until that occurs:

  1. Refuse to passenger with such a person until he or she changes.
  2. Share with driver how you feel when they drive aggressively. For example: I feel anxious about how fast we’re going (instead of “you are driving too fast”); I’m upset about the way you swore at that driver and I am fearful how it will affect our children who heard you; I feel afraid when you approach pedestrians too fast; I feel bullied by you when you won’t stop for a bathroom break.
  3. Encourage person to look at their “driving philosophy” and to develop more empathy regarding how others (like the family) are being negatively impacted by his or her poor driving behavior. That is, help him see himself through the eyes of his family.

This honest feedback from loved ones can be a powerful tool to encourage the aggressive driver to become a better citizen of the roadways.

Five steps to adjust your expectations

Dateline: January 4th. Orange, Ca. Anger management class participants review anger triggers of the week:

“My boyfriend openly flirts with other women in front of me.”

Jane, age 23, engaged to be married

“a work group back East didn’t finish their project on time, which made our progress look bad – I blew up!

Jim, age 40, an IT professional

“I get so mad at everyone that my daughter won’t let me see my grandchild. Now I am angry at my daughter too”

Joe, age 46, successful business owner and young grandfather

“I am constantly yelling at my 2 teenagers because they won’t do what I tell them to.”

Mary, a 38 year old mother

“I can’ stand that he never picks up his cloths, and he doesn’t do things around the house he says he will.”

Nancy, a married 28 year old successful writer who goes into period rages toward her equally successful husband

“I can’t stand it when people cut in front of me on the freeway—it makes me crazy.”

Alex, a 50 year old salesman in class because of road rage

In all these cases, the root problem of anger isn’t what happened to all these basically normal people. Rather, it is how they assessed or evaluated what happened to them.

Anger resulted by mentally comparing the behavior of others to what you expected them to do or to be. Sometimes that is a reasonable thing to do, but often it is not because we have too high—or wrong— expectations of ourselves and those around us.

Another way of saying this is that anger is caused by the discrepancy between what we expect and what we get. After all, the official definition of “expectation” is “eager anticipation.”

It is important to figure out exactly what “reasonable” means in terms of having reasonable expectations of yourself and others. If expectations are too low, you will feel cheated in life—or worse—that you are “settling”. On the other hand, if expectations are too high, then the reality of the experience will suffer from the comparison, and you may experience disappointment and other negative emotions.

5 Steps to adjust your expectations

Step 1 – Decide what is “reasonable”.
This may be tricky because different people have different ideas of this. One way to do it is to think about it when you are calm and cool – many things that seem “reasonable” when you are worked up seem ridiculous and petty in the cold light of day.

Step 2 – Eliminate the word “should”.
Fact is, we can’t control other people, try as we might. People behave the way they behave for their own reasons. Instead of “shoulding” on yourself, try changing your vocabulary to words like “I would prefer if….,” instead of “They should….”

Step 3 – Recognize limitations.
People often behave badly toward us because they are limited or have a problem – not because they are purposefully trying to make us miserable. Of course, we want them to live up to our expectations, but in truth they are fallible people who may not be able to – or they have a different agenda in life than meeting your expectations.

Relationships also have their limitations. Marital research shows that a high percentage of relationship issues are basically unsolvable and perpetual. The wise couple accepts this and finds ways to live around the issues, rather than getting into repeated conflicts over them.

Step 4 – Be tolerant of other views.
Rather than convincing yourself others are “wrong,” tell yourself that they simply see things differently than you do. No need to get angry over this because they may be as convinced of their “truth” as you are of yours.

Step 5 – Explore ways to get needs met.
The underlying reason we often get angry at others is because our basic needs are not being met as a result of the situation or the behavior of the other.

Rather than getting angry, we need to consider two other ways to deal with the situation— ways that are far more effective.

First, learn to honestly communicate your needs to others which are not being satisfied due to your frustrated expectations.

Second, find other ways to get your needs met. Finding alternative ways to become a happier (and less angry) person is a journey in self-development which begins by taking responsibility for your own needs and finding workable and acceptable ways of satisfying those needs.

How optimism can help—or hurt—your marriage

Beth and Tom were happily married for over 25 years— no small feat in today’s world. At first, their friends could not understand how their marriage succeeded, due to numerous perceived shortcomings.

However, closer scrutiny of their marriage revealed that it was their thinking patterns—the ways they explained and interpreted their partner’s behavior to themselves—that strengthened, rather than weakened, their marriage.

Tom’s lack of self-confidence? No problem! This only made Beth feel very caring toward him. His stubbornness and obstinacy? Again, Beth explained this to herself as “I respect him for his strong beliefs, and it helps me have confidence in our relationship.”

Beth’s jealousy? Tom told himself: “this is a marker of how important my presence is in her life.”

Beth’s shyness? No problem! Tom liked it because “she does not force me into revealing things about myself that I don’t want to…this attracts me to her even more.”

Marriage and health

Numerous studies have shown that the health of your marriage plays a major role in determining your overall physical health. Healthy marriage—healthy body!

Hold on to your illusions

Being able to see things in your mate that your friends don’t is a very positive predictor of marital success according to recent research by a professor at the State University of New York. Remarkably, satisfied couples see virtues in their partners that are not seen by their closest friends.
In contrast to this “illusion” by happy couples, dissatisfied couples have a “tainted image” of each other; they see fewer virtues in their mates than their friends do.

The happiest couples look on the bright side of the relationship (optimism). They focus on strengths rather than weaknesses and believe that bad events that might threaten other couples do not affect them. But, what if you are an optimist and your partner is a pessimist? That can work!

Or, the other way around? That can work, too.

However, two-pessimists married to each other place their marriage in jeopardy because when an untoward event occurs, a downward spiral may follow.

Pessimistic scenario

Unlike Optimists, pessimistic partners make permanent and pervasive explanations to themselves when bad events occur. (Conversely, they make temporary and specific explanations to themselves when good events occur.)

See what happens when Susie is late coming home from the office. Husband Jim explains to himself that “she cares more about work than about me!” Susie explains to herself that Jim is sulking because “he is ungrateful for the big paycheck I bring home!” and tells him so.

Jim defends himself by saying: “You never listen to me when I try and tell you how I feel!” Susie, being a pessimist, responds: “You’re nothing but a crybaby!”

Optimistic scenario

Either partner could have stopped this negative spiral by interpreting events differently. Jim could have interpreted Susie’s lateness as a sign of what a hard worker she is and noted she is usually on time. Jim could have seen that her lateness had nothing to do with her love for him, remembering all the times in the past that Susie has put his needs first.
Susie, if she had been an optimist, could have seen his sulking as a temporary state rather than a character flaw and tried to pull him out of it by pointing out that she really wanted to get home earlier, but her big account unexpectedly dropped in at 5:00 o’clock.

The Optimistic Marriage

The message is clear from both clinical experience and research: optimism helps marriage. When your partner does something that displeases you, try hard to find a believable, temporary, and specific explanation for it, i.e.: “He was tired;” “She must really be stressed,” instead of “he’s always inattentive,” or “he’s a grouch.”

On the other hand, when your partner does something great, amplify it with plausible explanations that are permanent (always) and pervasive (character traits), i.e.: “She is brilliant,” or “She is always at the top of her game,” as opposed to “The opposition caved in,” or “What a lucky day she had.”

Four ways to think like an optimist and improve your your health

Even as a child, James was described by teachers and his parents as a happy optimist. As the story goes, one day his parents decided to play a joke on him and test his attitude by requiring him to spend an afternoon cleaning deserted stables at what had been a local racetrack.

Returning after two hours, James’ parents observed him singing while happily shoveling manure. Astounded, they walked closer, only to hear him saying to himself over and over, “There has to be a pony in here somewhere.”

James did naturally what researchers are increasingly discovering: optimistic thinking skills are a powerful antidote to anger partly because the optimist has better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work, better physical health and better relationships. Who couldn’t admire and love a person with such a great attitude?
But what if you are not naturally optimistic? How can you become an optimist if you now insist on seeing the glass as half-empty instead if half-full?

The good news is that, according to psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, optimism is a learned mental skill. As a past president of the American Psychological Association, he has plenty of research to back up his theory.
To become an optimist, according to Seligman, you must master the skill of arguing with yourself!

Four ways to argue with yourself

At its core, optimism is a style of interpreting events that occur in your world – it is a your personal theory or explanation of why both good things and bad things happen to you.

While everyone experiences both setbacks and victories in the normal course of life, optimists – in contrast to pessimists – have a very distinct style of explaining things to themselves.

Said another way: It is your belief about what happens to you that determines your reaction, more than the event itself. The knack of disputing your beliefs is a thought-skill, the mastery of which will morph you into the optimistic style of thinking. There are four ways to do this:

  1. Look at the evidence. According to Seligman, the most convincing way of disputing a negative belief is to show it is factually incorrect.
    Most of the time you will have “reality” on your side. Your role is that of a detective as you ask “what is the evidence for my belief?”.
    For example, is it really true that you never succeed in anything? (Very doubtful. Everybody succeeds some of the time). That you are the worse parent you know? ( Can you remember any success you have had as a parent?) That you are an incurable glutton? (Can you sometimes resist food?) That you are incredible selfish? (How many times have you been unselfish?) Using this skill of looking at the evidence, you can defeat pessimism with more accurate perception and recall of what is really true.
  2. Consider alternative causes. Most events in the world have more than one cause. Pessimists latch onto the most insidious; optimists tend more to give themselves a break. For example, a marital breakup usually has many causes which probably contributed to its downfall. You can blame yourself. You can blame your partner. A more optimistic interpretation is that neither partner failed as an individual; it was the relationship (the combination) that failed.
  3. Put events into perspective. If the facts are NOT on your side and you cannot honestly see other causes to a negative event, you will need to look at the implications of your beliefs to become an optimistic thinker. Is the event really as catastrophic as you may be making it in your mind? (hint: few things are). Usually, the implications or long-term effects of your misfortune aren’t as awful or devastating as you may be seeing them.
  4. Is your belief useful? Even though a belief may, in fact, be true, it may not be useful. Some beliefs cause more grief than they are worth. You may tell yourself you are a failure, for instance. This belief will likely cause to you stop trying. Instead, substitute a more useful belief like “Just because I failed once doesn’t make me a failure.” Then, behave accordingly with your new belief.

Five tips to raise the optimistic child for better mental health

I had just completed a session with 17 year old Julie with severe depression and a firm belief that she was a total failure, she would never be able to change anything in her life, and all her shortcomings were her fault.

Where, I asked myself, did such a young person acquire this negative and fatalistic thinking?

The answer soon became apparent when I invited her parents into the session. They began discussing numerous life events and explaining them in ways that their children were learning. The car got dented because you can’t trust anybody these days; Mom yelled at brother because she was in a bad mood; you can’t get ahead in this world unless you know somebody.
As a parent, your own explanatory style is on display and your children are listening intently.

Why would you want your child to be an optimist? Because, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, “pessimism (the opposite of optimism) is an entrenched habit of mind that has sweeping and disastrous consequences: depressed mood, resignation, underachievement, and even unexpectedly poor physical health.”

Children with optimistic thinking skills are better able to interpret failure, have a stronger sense of personal mastery, and are better able to bounce back when things go wrong in their lives.

Because parents are a major contributor to the thinking styles of their children’s developing minds, it is important to follow the following five steps to ensure healthy mental habits in your children.

Five steps for parents

Step 1 – Learn to think optimistically yourself. What children see and hear indirectly from you as you led your life and interact with others will influence them much more than what you “teach” them directly. Model optimism for your child by incorporating optimistic mental skills into you own way of thinking. This is not easy and does not occur over night, but with practice almost everyone can learn to think differently about life’s events – even parents!

Step 2 – Teach you child that there is a connection between how they think and how they feel. You can do this most easily by saying aloud how your own thought about adversity created a negative feeling in you.
For example, if you are driving your child to school and a driver cuts you off, verbalize the link between your thoughts and feelings by saying something like “I wonder why I’m feeling so angry; I guess I was saying to myself, “Now I’m going to be late because the guy in front of me is going so darn slow. If he is going to drive like that he shouldn’t drive during rush hour. How rude.”

Step 3 – Create a game called “thought catching.” This helps your child learn to identify the thoughts that flit across his or her mind at the times they feel worst. These thoughts, although barely perceptible, profoundly affect mood and behavior. For instance, if your child received a poor grade in school, ask “when you got your grade back, what did you say to yourself?”

Step 4 – Teach your child how to evaluate automatic thoughts. This means acknowledging that the things you say to yourself are not necessarily accurate. For instance, after receiving the poor grade your child may be telling himself he is a failure, he is not as smart as other kids, he will never be able to succeed in school, etc. Many of these self-statements may not be accurate, but they are “automatic” in that situation.

Step 5 – Instruct your child on how to generate more accurate explanations (to themselves) when bad things happen and use them to challenge your child’s automatic but inaccurate thoughts. Part of this process involves looking for evidence to the contrary (good grades in the past, success in other life areas, etc).

Another skill to teach your child to help him or her think optimistically is to “de-catastrophize” the situation – that is, to help your child see that the bad event may not be as bad or will not have the adverse consequences imagined. Few things in life are as devastating as we fear, yet we blow them up in our minds until small glitches become mental catastrophes.

Conclusion: Parents can drastically influence the thinking styles of their children by modeling the principals of optimistic thinking, teaching the connection between thoughts and feelings, how to evaluate automatic thoughts, and how to dispute negative beliefs that led to pessimism and depression.

Recommended Resource: “The Optimistic Child” by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, 1995. (ISBN: 0-06-097709-4)

How to control your emotions on the road

Dateline: December 4th. Orange County, California. A 29 year old man was shot to death, an apparent victim of road rage. According to newspaper accounts, he had a reputation for never backing down from a fight.

The man and his half brother were heading home from a plumbing job when the trouble began. Driving in a criminal fashion, three men in another car zoomed in front of their car. These men started hurling profanities and flashing obscene gestures at the brothers, who returned the insults.

Things escalated until an illegal gun was pulled. Rather than backing down, the man got out of his car and began walking toward the gunman. Two shots rang out, missing the man who then continued to walk toward the gunman until he was shot and killed.

While this tragic incidence is illustrative of an extreme case of aggressive driving, there are thousands of lesser cases in the United States yearly. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, incidents of aggressive driving have increased by 7% every year since 1990; however, few courts mandate anger management treatment for traffic offenders.

Five Zones of aggressive driving

Research by Dr. Leon James at the University of Hawaii reveals five categories of aggressive driving. Which zone do you or a loved one fall in?

  1. The Unfriendly Zone: Example: closing ranks to deny someone entering your lane because you’re frustrated or upset.
  2. Hostile Zone: Example: Tailgating to pressure another driver to go faster or get out of the way.
  3. Violent Zone: Example: Making visible obscene gestures at another driver.
  4. Less Mayhem Zone: Pursuing other cars in a chase because of provocation or insult.
  5. Major Mayhem Zone: Example: Getting out of the car and beating or battering someone as a result of a road exchange.

Do aggressive drivers see themselves as such?

According to Dr. James and his research team, drivers who consider themselves as almost perfect in excellence (with no room to improve) also confessed to significantly more aggressiveness than drivers who see themselves as still improving.

What this means is that despite their self-confessed aggressiveness, 2 out of 3 drivers still insist on seeing themselves as near perfect drivers with almost no room to improve.

These drivers see “the other guy” as the problem and thus do not look at their own aggressive driving behavior.

What causes aggressive driving behavior?

While there is no one standard definition for aggressive driving, many psychologists see anger as the root cause of the problem. Regardless of the provocation or the circumstances related to problems on the road, it is ultimately our emotional state, our stress levels and our thinking patterns that either cause us to drive aggressively or lead us to be the victims of others.

In short, many of get us get in trouble because we are driving under the influence of impaired emotions, especially anger.

Like drunk driving, aggressive driving is more than a simple action or carelessness; it is a behavioral choice that drivers make.

It is normal and natural to feel angry when certain events frustrate us on the road. But, how do you deal with these angry feelings to cope with the situation more effectively?

Two ways to cope with impaired driving emotions

Research clearly shows that reducing stress and changing your self-talk can help you cope. It is important to learn these skills so you will not need the services of a criminal attorney for a road-rage related offense:

  1. Reduce your stress. Driving is emotionally challenging because unexpected things happen constantly with which we must cope. We often drive under the pressure of time, or the pressure of congestion and delays which add to our general stress level. Suggestions include listening to relaxing music or educational tapes on the road, leaving 15 minutes sooner, and getting up earlier so you are less rushed.
  2. Change your perspective with different self-talk. Learn to view the situation differently. Anger and stress are caused more by our perspective of things than the things themselves. Much research shows that what we tell ourselves also much to do with the emotions we create, including anger. Suggested self-talk statements that will reduce anger and stress on the road are:

Traffic delays are a part of living here. I must accept what I cannot change.
I will allow more time from now on to take into account traffic delays.
I do not need to take personally the bad or aggressive driving patterns of other drivers. They are not doing this to me personally; they don’t even know I exist as a person.

The person driving badly may be having a bad day and I need to be more tolerant or empathetic. Perhaps it is an old person doing the best they can. Perhaps it is a young mother trying to get to the babysitter on time after work. It could be someone who just came from the doctor’s office with bad news about their health.

Getting upset will not change the traffic situation; getting upset will only make me more miserable.

Anger in the American family – four steps to teach family to treat you better

Case #1- Elizabeth, a 40 year old homemaker was always feeling angry and “used” by her family, constantly saying that everybody took advantage of her. She felt that she worked like a slave but her family showed no appreciation or acknowledgment of her many efforts.

Case #2- Bill, a 34 year old husband complained that his critical wife was always angry at him. He spent his life trying to cope with her outrages which often escalated him into defensive anger which didn’t happen anywhere but in this relationship.

Case#3- Betty, a 42 year separated mother struggled with her soon to be ex-husband’s contempt and disrespect every time she angrily called him to discuss details of their divorce.

These three cases bring up the question often asked by participants in our anger management classes: Is it possible to control how family members treat us? The short answer is “no” — but often we can teach them to treat us better!

Believe it or not, we are constantly teaching our family how to treat us— both by our responses to their behavior, and by the behavior we display to them which they react to. In our case examples:

By automatically doing whatever her husband and children requested, Elizabeth was “teaching” them that there are almost no limits to what she would do for them. With his behavior, Bill was actually teaching his wife that the way to get attention from him (even if it was negative attention) was for her to create drama.

Betty was so intimidated by her husband, that her defensive “attitude” was “teaching” him that to deal with her, he had to push back with the contempt and disrespect that he constantly showed her.

The dance of anger

Our interchange with family members is often like a carefully choreographed dance. They make a move. You make a move in response to their move. They then respond to what you said or did and ….well, you get the idea!

How do you change the dance? Start by seeing yourself as a teacher—of how you would like your family to treat you.

Four ways to change what you teach others

  1. Try a softer-start-up. Marital research shows that the first few seconds of an interaction can predict the final outcome of the encounter. Try being softer, more polite, more respectful, less hostile, or more empathetic—and see how this change in your approach actually teaches others to respond better to you.
  2. Take a time-out before dealing with the conflict or situation. Conflicting or arguing family members often work themselves up to a point at which problem solving is impossible. The solution is to retreat and give yourself time to calm down and think things over. This takes at least 20 minutes, often much longer. Before taking your time out, it is important to tell the other person that you will commit to returning soon to deal with the conflict, after you are calmer—then be sure to do it!
  3. Acknowledge that you see how they must be seeing the situation. Called “empathy,” this response on your part teaches others that you care about their feelings and viewpoints, and opinions. Acknowledgment doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with their viewpoint—only that you see it. Sometimes, your family needs to know that you care about them and respect their opinions before they listen to what you say.
  4. Set limits and boundaries for your family members. Limits and boundaries are basically rules regarding acceptable behaviors toward you as well as what you are willing or not willing to do. If you feel others are taking advantage of you, ask yourself what you may be doing (or not doing) to give the message it is “ok” for them to do whatever they are doing. Often you can change their behavior toward you by teaching them different rules of being with you. The easiest way to do this is simply to respond differently yourself. For instance, they make you the core of a nasty joke. Being a nice person, you pretend it doesn’t bother you( even though it does), so you laugh with everybody else. As an alternative, try not laughing with them, which is a way of teaching them that they have crossed a boundary with you.

Anger in the workplace – key management strategies

Joe, a 15 year city employee with a good record began missing work, and showing irritability with supervisors and customers alike. He then started to shout at customers who frustrated him.

As complaints mounted, his supervisors “wrote him up” but did not try to discover the reasons for his drastic change of behavior. Finally, when mildly teased by a co-worker, Joe attacked and hit him. At this point, he was suspended and ordered to anger management classes.

Dealing with angry employees is not only challenging for managers, but extremely expensive in terms of wasted employee time, increased turnover rates, mistakes, and high levels of personal stress and illness. By contrast, proper handling can promote personal growth in the employee, reduce employee stress, and promote increased workplace harmony.

How prevalent is the problem of workplace anger?

In 1993 the national Safe Workplace Institute released a study showing that workplace violence costs $4.2 billion each year, estimating over 111,000 violent incidents.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 500,000 victims of violent crime in the workplace lose an estimated 1.8.million workdays each year.
This presents an astounding $55 million in lost wages for employees, not including days covered by sick and annual leave and a loss of productivity that has direct consequences for an employer’s bottom line.

Joe’s assault on his co-worker did not occur all at once. Anger storm clouds had been forming for quite some time. What signs should a supervisor or manager look for and how should it be dealt with? According to Workplace Violence, there are four levels of anger expression which need to be dealt with at the lowest level, to prevent escalation:

Four levels of workplace anger

  • Level 1 – Employee upset. Sensitive to criticism, and irritable. Displays “passive-aggressive” behaviors such as procrastination of work, expressing sarcasm, being late to meetings.
  • Level 2 – Behavioral symptoms escalate. Angry remarks are expressed. Employee is openly critical of others and the company. More emotional, less rational. Absenteeism and tardiness is common.
  • Level 3 – Escalating physical, emotional and psychological arousal. Raising voice, throwing things about, slam door, threats.
  • Level 4 – Assaultive behavior and or destruction of property.

Anger management training for supervisors and managers can help them as individuals and give them better skills to manage difficult employees, before the situation rises to a Level 4 crisis.

Key management strategies:

Strategy 1– Know your resources
Company resources include EAP (employee referral program), and HR (human resources). Community resources include psychologists, substance abuse programs, and anger management programs.

Strategy 2 – Assertive Communication
This means that you express your thoughts, feelings and opinions directly in an honest, open, straightforward and sincere manner. It also involves learning to actively listen to employees and being aware of non-verbal communication that goes beyond his or her words.

Strategy 3 – Set Limits
When you set limits with others in the workplace both parties know what they can expect from each other. When you clarify individual expectations, you avoid misunderstandings that can occur and thus avoid potential conflicts. For example, instead of asking support staff, “will you get this report to me as soon as possible?”, verbalize a specific time you need it.

Strategy 4 – Establish Consequences
In the real-world workplace, you may encounter conflicts with employees who are uncooperative or are unwilling to comply with the rules or policies of your company. As a manger, you may have to take an action that states to the employee the likely outcome of continuing problematic behavior.

Be sure to deliver consequences so they don’t sound like “threats,” but still get the message across.

How to deal with an adult bully

Sixty-four year old Bill was a married retired executive who sought anger management help on the insistence of his wife Ann. After 24 years Ann could no longer tolerate his bullying behavior toward her, their children, and their friends. He would often relate in an insulting, “get in your face” way using a loud, intimidating voice that frightened her.

She often felt like a little girl who was being scolded. He gave her orders with no thought for her feelings or how others were reacting to his behavior. If he did not get his own way, he would often pout or withhold needed finances from her.

Tactics of the adult bully

As this case illustrates, emotional bullying occurs when someone tries to gain control by making others feel angry or afraid. It is often characterized by yelling, and name-calling, sarcasm, mocking, putting down, belittling, embarrassing or intimidating. Ann said that they had no friends because of Bill’s behavior. He was forced into early retirement by his company due to alienation of upper management.

Bullies often have personality disorder

Like many bullies, Bill had a deep sense of insecurity about himself. He completely lacked empathy or the ability to perceive how he was negatively affecting others.

He honestly didn’t see himself as the problem and was constantly in dismay when others around him were devastated or offended by his behavior. Bill had what is known as a “narcissistic” personality disorder. He was only capable of interpreting events from his perspective. Pre-occupied with himself , he had little regard or understanding of the feelings of others.

Can bullies change?

While research shows that most bullies are unable to make deep changes to their personality, they are sometimes able to modify their behavior to the extent that they are more tolerable.

Usually, the motivation to change is inspired by outside influences such as employers, spouses, or children . Bill, for instance, desperately wanted his wife back as he truly loved her to the extent he was able to experience love. Other bullies we have seen in anger management classes decided to change at the threat of losing their job. Jim, a line supervisor in a chemical plant, fell into this category.

The case of Jim

An “old-school” manager, Jim often yelled and threatened employees to motivate them to produce more, thinking his behavior would be seen as positive by the company executives.

Unfortunately, too many employees complained, resulting in his being referred to Human Resources for intervention. Turns out, Jim didn’t want to be seen as a bully, had no awareness others were seeing him that way, and most certainly didn’t want to lose his job of over 25 years.

Thus, he was highly motivated to acquire more effective skills to relate to employees while still maintaining a high rate of production.

He did well in anger management as he learned our tools of anger control— particularly the tool of “empathy” which includes increased social awareness (seeing how he is coming across to others) as well as more sensitivity to the feelings of others.

Unfortunately, not all bullies are as responsive to intervention as Jim was. Many bullies remain bullies because they don’t see themselves as the problem. In this case, you may have to learn how to cope with their behavior, if you are in an unfortunate situation such that you need to continue to be with them but survive.

Four Ways To Cope

Focus on the positive attributes of the bully and try to ignore the negative parts. For instance, Bill had a very sweet and generous side to him when not being a bully— a side Ann could learn to focus on to survive the unpleasant times.

Be confident and look your bully in the eye. Speak in a calm and clear voice while asserting yourself by naming the behavior you don’t like and state what is expected instead.

Create a distraction or change the subject. Try using humor or a well-chosen word to disarm the bully. Give the bully’s ego what it needs. For instance, Ann learned to praise Bill more and give him more credit and acknowledgment for things he did do well. While this tactic is a little manipulatory, it never- the- less worked well to decrease the number of times Bill bullied her. And it allowed Ann to survive a difficult situation.

How to be less angry in your marriage – Tips on how to become allies around issues

Tom and Mary have been married for 10 years. Both are employed. Let’s listen in on an angry conversation they are having in their kitchen while making dinner:

(curtain up)

Mary: Would it have killed you to stop off on your way home to buy me some Valentine flowers?

Tom: You should have seen the traffic. It was horrible. I didn’t have time to stop. Besides, last week you never picked up my dry cleaning like you promised.

Mary: That’s the feeblest excuse I ever heard! I’ll tell you what it REALLY is. You forgot to get me something because you don’t care anymore.

Tom: How can you say that? I just built that bookcase for you, didn’t I? And didn’t I just change the oil in your car last Saturday?

Mary: Fine! (said with a hollow and sarcastic tone)
Tom: Anything good on TV tonight?

(curtain down)

After this interchange, the children came into the room which resulted in Mary and Tom focusing on them and thus avoiding each other the rest of the evening. Although neither could admit it, they were both miserable and lonely, wanting to connect with each other but not knowing how.

Turning each other into strangers

Even though they loved each other, Mary and Tom had effectively turned each other into strangers, feeling miles apart emotionally while sitting at the same table, sleeping in the same bed, and living in the same house.
Both felt misunderstood, angry, resentful and unappreciated.

Turning each other into enemies

In contrast, Dennis and Nancy , married only 6 months, found themselves constantly at odds with each other. Let’s listen in on their latest fight:

(curtain up)

Nancy: You left the toilet seat up again, just like a little boy. I almost sat in the water at 3AM this morning.

Dennis: You would think that an intelligent woman like you would remember to look to see if the seat was up or down before sitting down.

Nancy: You are inconsiderate and selfish and purposely do things to irritate me.

Dennis (to Nancy): I forgot! Get off my back.

Dennis (to himself): Why should I give in her to? Last week she wouldn’t even have sex with me after I bought her that expensive Valentine’s gift.

(curtain down)

Anger is a “fall-back” position

In both these marriages, anger is seen as “fallback” behavior—what the couple resorted to when they were unable to express themselves to their partners in any other way. Their goal wasn’t to fight: it was to be heard by the other, to control the other, or to get the other to change some problem behavior.

The crossroads moment

Truth is, at any moment in your relationship with your partner, you can elect to either antagonize them, alienate them, or turn them into an ally.

Solve the moment—not the problem

Anger in marriage is often generated by couples trying to solve an unsolvable issue. Many issues are unsolvable if attacked directly—this is true no matter who you are married to.

These issues are “perpetual” and successful couples find a way to be with each other despite these differences.

Rather than demanding change, (which often leads to frustration and anger), try instead opening up an honest dialogue around the dispute to develop deeper understanding of why both you and your partner feel as you do.

Seeing things from their point of view can do wonders to soften conflicts and decrease tensions, even if the original issue remains. Often your partner will try harder to change if they see that you are trying to understand them better.

You may also find that you too try harder to “soften” your anger if you feel that your partner is trying to understand your feelings around the issue.
Being on the same side of the issue—allies— is the key to dealing with it, even if the actual problem is never solved!

Recognize stress before it turns into anger

After a stressful day as a computer programmer, Jim pulled into his driveway. The children’s toys were scattered on the walkway to the house.
He immediately began noticing slight tension in his muscles and apprehension in his stomach.

Entering his house, his wife ignored him while she talked with her sister on the telephone. His heart started beating a little faster.

Looking around, he noticed disarray; nothing was picked up, the house was a mess. Irritation and frustration started to settle in. Finally, as his feelings grew, he exploded and began yelling at his wife and children.

Stress may trigger anger

Stress is often the trigger that takes us from feeling peaceful to experiencing uncomfortable angry feelings in many common situations such as the one described above.

Stress is most easily defined as series of bodily responses to demands made upon us called stressors. These “demands” or stressors can be negative (such as coping with a driver who cuts in front of you on the freeway) or positive (such as keeping on a tour schedule while on vacation).

Stressors may external to you (like work pressure) or internal (like expectations you have of yourself or feeling guilty about something you did or want to do).

Whether the stressor is external or internal, scientists have discovered that the major systems of the body work together to provide one of the human organism’s most powerful and sophisticated defenses; the stress response which you may know better as “fight-or-flight”.

This response helps you to cope with stressors in your life. To do so, it activates and coordinates the brain, glands, hormones, immune system, heart, blood and lungs.

Avoid Jim’s destructive behavior toward his loved ones. Before your stress response turns into anger or aggression, use these strategies to get it under control:

Read your personal warning lights

Becoming aware of your stress response is the first step to managing it. This means listening to your body, being aware of your negative emotions, and observing your own behavior when under stress.

For instance, notice muscle tension, pounding heart, raising voice, irritation, dry mouth, or erratic movements.

What you see is what you get

For a potential stressor to affect us -stress us out – we have to first perceive it or experience it as a stressor.

Gaining a new perspective on the stressing situation can often drastically change the effect it has on us. Our stress response can indeed be a response (something we can control) instead of a knee-jerk reaction (which is automatic).

Examples: Cut off on the freeway? “It is not personal. That guy has a problem. I will stay calm.” Bullied by a co-worker? “If I react, he wins. Later, I will privately let him know how I feel about what he did. If that doesn’t work, I’ll discuss it with our manager.”

Stress-Guard your life

You can also make many life-style changes to reduce or minimize feeling stressed-out, even if you can’t change some of your actual stressors
For instance, manage your time better, establish priorities, protect yourself from toxic relationships, find a way to manage your money better, or consider changing your job or occupation.

Other stress-guards include those you have probably heard before, but maybe need to do more frequently such as:

  • Getting adequate rest.
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol intake.
  • Living in a way consistent with your core personal values.
  • Developing social networks of friends and support.

Rage behind the wheel: Can we help it?

Recent headline: “Road Rage may be due to medical condition called Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)”

What is the science behind this?

The study, reported in the June (2006) issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry was based on a national face-to-face survey of 9,282 U.S. adults who answered diagnostic questionnaires in 2001-03. It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Results? About 5 percent to 7 percent of the nationally representative sample had had the disorder, which would equal up to 16 million Americans . That is higher than better-known mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The average number of lifetime attacks per person was 43, resulting in $1,359 in property damage per person. About 4 percent had suffered recent attacks. Many of these attacks violated both civil and criminal laws.

Is it real?

This study has created much controversy regarding exactly what is “medical” about road rage and how it differs from plain bad, inconsiderate behavior. Undoubtedly, criminal defense attorneys will be arguing in both civil and criminal courts that indeed it is a medical condition!

Take the two following headline which were published recently:

News Item #1: “Police search for shooter following road rage incident”
Date: June 10, 2006. City: Indianapolis, Indiana.
The event: At an intersection, two drivers were involved in a confrontation when one of them opened fire on the other at a stoplight.

News Item #2: “Man, 21, charged in road rage shooting.”
Date: May 21, 2006. City: San Antonio, Texas.
The event (according to news reports): “Around 3AM Samuel Hitchcock, 21, Daniel Pena, 17, and another man were driving when a pickup passed them on an inside lane, striking Hitchcock’s side mirror. Hitchcock followed the truck into a residential area to gather information and the truck made a sudden turn, stopping. Hitchcock pulled up next to the truck. Pena, who was in the front passenger seat told police the truck’s driver pulled a gun and started shooting at them, striking him and killing Hitchcock.

Are all cases like this due to Intermittent Explosive Disorder? Very unlikely! Some are and some are not. This is why it is important to have a professional assessment of each case of “road rage” to determine the underlying cause, such as IED — or some other problem.

Other causes that could come into play would include: alcohol or drug intoxication, stress, depression or bipolar disorder and, of course, bad, selfish or inconsiderate behavior. A good attorney will refer you to a doctor who specializes in diagnosing mood disorders to determine the specific cause in each situation of apparent road rage.

Road rage vs aggressive driving

The person who weaves in and out of traffic, tail gates, or cuts in front of you may not be showing “road rage” per se, but inconsiderate aggressive driving. He is not angry at you; he probably doesn’t even know you exist, being preoccupied with his own selfish needs.

IED seen in other life areas

It is also important to remember that persons who do indeed suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder may explode in many other situations besides road rage. Often they “blow up” at spouses, children, co-workers, or customer service employees.

Remedies for road rage

If road rage is indeed due to IED, there are two treatments that can help both adolescents and adults: (1)medications , and (2) cognitive training. The medications usually involve SSRIs (a type of anti-depressant). In my opinion, most people who show rage on the road do not need medication, but some do and will benefit greatly from them.

Cognitive Training means learning to think differently about driving, aggression on the road, and other drivers. Cognitive training is an important element in many anger management programs, which a few states now require for “road rage” behavior and/or aggressive driving.
Some anger management classes and programs teach specific cognitive and behavior skills to control aggressive, inconsiderate, and dangerous driving behaviors.

These skill include:

  • Managing life stress better, including time-management skills.
  • Developing empathy for other drivers.
  • Learning healthy “self-talk” phrases.
  • Adjusting expectations of others on the road.