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.
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.
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!”
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
The Unfriendly Zone: Example: closing ranks to deny someone entering your lane because you’re frustrated or upset.
Hostile Zone: Example: Tailgating to pressure another driver to go faster or get out of the way.
Violent Zone: Example: Making visible obscene gestures at another driver.
Less Mayhem Zone: Pursuing other cars in a chase because of provocation or insult.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
Joe and Emily live in Southern California with their three young children. Both work and must commute 2 hours daily on busy freeways, often not getting home until 7:30 PM, exhausted and depleted. Stressed, they have little patience for the antics of their young children resulting in constant shouting matches, defiance on the part of the children, continual yelling back and forth, and escalating family tension.
As this case example illustrates, stress is often an underlying cause of anger in family members. Sometimes the stress is caused by events outside of the family which family members then bring into the home; other times the behavior of family members causes stress and tension in the home. In either case, it becomes a problem when parents find themselves constantly yelling at their children or disagreeing with each other on parenting strategies. In the meantime their children continue to do what they please—or continue bickering and fighting with each other. Between the adults, stress can be a major factor in marital unhappiness and ultimately divorce.
How Stress can affect individual family members
Joe and Emily both suffered individual stress symptoms including fatigue, irritability, angry outbursts, headaches and a discontent with their lives. They began feeling increasing distant from each other. Their children were also stressed-out- being tired, irritable, cranky, and demanding of attention. They often fought with each other and actively did things to get each other in trouble with their parents.
Signs of the stressed family system
Just as individuals can become overloaded and stressed-out, so can families. To understand how this can happen, we must remember that families such as Joe and Emily’s are the basic building block of our society – and of most societies. Families consist of two or more people who share goals and values and have a long term commitment to each other. It is through the family that children are supposed to learn how to become responsible, successful, happy, and well-adjusted adults. When this no longer happens due to stress, we can say that the family unit becomes dysfunctional in that it no longer serves its purpose fully, easily or consistently.
We can recognize the dysfunctional family by noting that parents and children no longer turn to each other for support, encouragement, guidance, or even love.
Such family members may continue to live in the same house – but often don’t feel emotionally attached to each other, perhaps start living independent lives, and unfortunately don’t view their family as a warm place to retreat from the stresses and demands of the outside world.
Five Tips to Stress-Guard your family
Tip #1 – Teach your children “resiliency” — the ability to handle stress and respond more positively to difficult events. Specific ways children can practice “bouncing back” include having a friend and being a friend, setting new goals and making plans to reach them, looking on the bright side, and believing in themselves.
Tip #2 – Institute family rituals to provide stability. Have a way to leave each other in the morning, and to re-connect in the evening; have a Sunday morning ritual or a Friday night family pizza ritual. Rituals create a sense of security and predictability – both of which are excellent stress buffers.
Tip #3 – Model and teach your children conflict resolution skills. Your children learn how to handle conflict partly by watching their parents. All couples have conflicts; better parents model good conflict resolution skills for their children. These skill include compromise, calm discussion, and focus on problem-solving. If there is much sibling conflict in your home, encourage your children to find a way to resolve their own conflicts rather than jumping in and punishing one or another child whom you think (maybe wrongly) is the troublemaker.
Tip #4 – Practice stress inoculation basics. This includes proper nutrition for family members, exercise, and adequate sleep each night. The family may also want to look at time management—and how better time management might reduce both personal and family stress.
Tip #5 – Minimize criticism and take time each day to be supportive to each other. Excessive criticism is extremely harmful to both children and marital partners, while emotional support by family members is an extremely important buffer to family stress.
Leroy was a superstar in the Real Estate business, producing three times the monthly business of his nearest coworker. He was a driven, highly competitive young man who saw his manager as getting in the way of even higher production.
Tension turned to irritability. Yelling and shouting followed. On the day he was fired, he shoved his manager in front of alarmed coworkers who reported his behavior to HR. Anger management classes were required, along with a one month interim, before reinstatement would be considered. As this case example illustrates, workplace anger is costly to the employee, the company, and coworkers. Studies show that up to 42% of employee time is spent engaging in or trying to resolve conflict. This results in wasted employee time, mistakes, stress, lower morale, hampered performance, and reduced profits and or service.
Clearly, poorly handled anger, frustration and resentment sabotage business productivity. Was Leroy justified in his anger? What skills should he learn to prevent future episodes?
Skill 1 – Anger Management
Using anger management skills, Leroy can clearly learn to control his behavior and communicate needs in a socially acceptable manner without disruptions to work and morale. The issue here is not if he was justified in being angry; it is how to best deal with normal angry feelings. A key ingredient to managing anger is learning to change “self-talk”- that inner dialog that creates or intensifies angry feelings.
Skill 2 – Stress management
Leroy was clearly under a great deal of stress, much of which was self-imposed. Stress often triggers anger responses. Managing stress can help prevent anger outbursts, as well as reducing employee “burnout” and hampered performance. Effective stress-reduction strategies include learning breathing techniques, adjusting expectations, improving time-management, and finding a way to mentally adjust your mind-view and self-talk so that stressors loose their power to stress you out. Other effective stress-reduction techniques include watching your nutrition, getting proper sleep, and taking care of your body through exercise.
Skill 3 – Emotional Intelligence
Popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman, much research shows that increasing “EQ” is correlated with emotional control and increased workplace effectiveness.
What is “EQ” exactly? According to Goleman, it is “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” Fortunately, skills to improve your emotional intelligence can be learned. The critical EQ skills ones are empathy and social awareness. Empathy is the ability to see the world from the viewpoint of the other person. Lack of empathy is at the root of much anger and conflict because inability to see things from other points of view causes communication problems and frustration. It also causes employees, co-workers and managers to sense a lack of caring or concern for their well-being which is de-motivating in the workplace.
Social awareness is the people-skill of being sensitive to how we are coming across to others in the workplace. Many people are referred to anger management programs because they are seen by others as hostile, insensitive, or perhaps even degrading toward others. Persons with high EQ are constantly monitoring their own behavior as well as feedback from others as to how they are being seen by others. They then are flexible enough to modify their approach to get a different result, if needed.
Skill 4 – Assertive Communication
Communication problems frequently lead to misunderstandings, conflicts with coworkers and hurt feelings which may hamper concentration and work performance. Assertiveness is not aggression, but a way to communicate so that others clearly understand your needs, concerns, and feelings. It starts with the familiar advice to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements which can sound accusatory, and may lead to defensiveness instead of cooperation. Other communication improvements include acknowledging the concerns and feelings of others in your interaction with them, and being more sensitive to what others are saying to you “beneath the surface.”
Skill 5 – Acceptance
While sometimes workplace anger is manifest in “exploding.” other times it is born of grievances held by employees over any number of workplace issues. Much research shows that learning to accept and let go of the wrongs done to you can release your anger and resentment. This, in turn, may improve your health, and help you focus on your job instead of your negative feelings.
Is “acceptance” easy? Of course not. Nor does it mean that you think that whatever happened to you was right, or that you have to like the offending person. What it does mean is “letting go” of the negative feelings you now experience when you remember a negative experience or you encounter the offending person.
“Dr. Fiore,” the voice on the phone pleaded, “I need anger management classes right away. I blew up at my girlfriend last night and she said it’s over until I get help”.
As Kevin recounted the first night of class, he and his girlfriend had argued in the car over which route to take home from a party. Events progressed from mild irritation, to yelling and name calling.
Things escalated at home. He tried to escape, but she followed him from room to room, demanding resolution of the conflict. He became angry, defensive and intimidating.
Frightened, she left. Later, she left an anguished message saying that she loved him, but couldn’t deal with his angry, hurtful outbursts. Kevin said that he normally is a very “nice” and friendly person. But, on this occasion, his girlfriend had been drinking before the party. In his view, she was irrational, and non-stop in criticism. He tried to reason with her, but it just made things worse. Finally, as Kevin saw things, in desperation he “lost it” and became enraged.
How should Kevin have handled this situation? What could he have done differently? What actions should you take in similar situations?
Option 1: Time-out
Take a 20 minute time-out (but commit to returning later to work on the issue). Take a walk. Calm yourself down. Breath deeply. Meditate. Do something else for awhile.
New research by John Gottman, Ph.D., at the University of Washington indicates that when you and your partner argue, your pulse rate goes above 100 beats per minute, and you enter a physiological state called DPA (diffuse physiological arousal). Once there, it becomes nearly impossible to solve the problem. You lose perspective. Your reasoning ability, memory, and judgment, greatly decline.
Taking a time-out allows both of you to return to your normal state of mind. It is neither healthy or necessary for you to explode as a result of being provoked by your partner. Our recommendation: Turn the heat down rather than intensifying the pressure.
Option 2: Interact differently
Many couples like Keith and his partner develop patterns of behavior that create miscommunication and conflict. Do you interact in one, or more, of these ways?
Inattention – simply ignoring your partner when you shouldn’t. This is also called stonewalling, or being emotionally unavailable when your partner needs you, or not speaking to your partner for long periods because you are upset with them.
Intimidation – engaging in behavior intended to make your partner do things out of fear. This includes yelling, screaming, threatening, and posturing in a threatening way. Manipulation – doing or saying things to influence your partner, for your benefit, instead of theirs.
Hostility – using sarcasm, put-downs, and antagonistic remarks. Extreme or prolonged hostility leads to contempt – a major predictor of divorce.
Vengeance – the need to “get even” with your partner for a grievance you have against them. Many dysfunctional couples “keep score,” and are constantly trying to “pay back” each other for offenses.
Criticism – involves attacking someone’s personality or character, rather than a specific behavior, often coupled with blame. Like contempt, criticism is a second major predictor of divorce.
Option 3. Positive interactions
Start by actually listening not only to what your partners says, but what he or she means. Partners in conflict are not listening to understand; rather, they listen with their answer running because they are defensive. Unfortunately, defensiveness is another predictor of divorce.
Stick to the issue at hand. Seems obvious but is very hard to do in the heat of battle. Focus and stay in the present.
Learn to forgive
Research by Peter Larson, Ph.D., at the Smalley Relationship Center, suggests a huge relationship between marriage satisfaction and forgiveness. As much as one-third of marriage satisfaction is related to forgiveness!
Communicate your feelings and needs. Tell your partner how you feel about what they do, instead of accusing them of deliberately offensive behavior. Use “I” statements rather than accusatory, or “you,” statements. Learn to communicate unmet needs so that your partner can better understand and respond to you. For instance, If you are feeling fear, it may be your need for emotional safety and security that is not being met; communicating this is far more effective than lashing out at your partner in an angry tirade.
“Dr. Fiore,” my 42 year old married patient (Mary) began, “my family expects me again this year to host Christmas dinner and I am just too exhausted; what should I do?” “Why not tell them how you feel,” I suggested. “Because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and I feel guilty if I don’t do what is expected of me.”
Lack of communication such as this among family members is the root of much conflict, hurt, and misunderstandings any time of the year – but especially during the holiday season which, unfortunately, if often a time of great stress.
Mary’s dilemma is all too common – she wants to be a nice person and avoid conflict with family members, but then feels resentment and other negative emotions when she is overwhelmed or feels taken advantage of.
Unfortunately, not being direct and emotionally honest with people we love or care about can have long-reaching consequences because it gives other people the wrong message about you, what you need, and how they should respond to you.
The elephant in the room
When you have unexpressed feelings toward another person, it is like you are both sitting on a couch with an elephant between you. Neither wants to acknowledge the elephant, but its existence is there between you. The elephant acts as a barrier to real communication. It also prevents positive feelings from flowing between you and the other person.
Assertive communication is the art of speaking in a reasonable tone with good eye contact using “I” messages (as opposed to “you” or blaming messages) while clearly stating your needs, feelings, and requests. If you are an effective assertive communicator, you will also invite the listener to work toward a mutually satisfactory resolution of the problem or conflict, without offending them.
Speaking of offending, an important point to remember is that you won’t offend people if you stick to communicating your feelings, as opposed to telling others what they should or should not do!
The assertive communication formula:
There are four parts to effective assertive communication: Here is the formula:
I feel____________ When you____________ Because______________ I need___________
Part 1: “I feel”— start be expressing how you feel about the behavior. Stick to one of the five or six basic emotions: “I feel overwhelmed;” : I feel angry,” “I feel hurt.”
Part 2: “When”—What specifically bothers you about the behavior or situation? Examples: “when the family expects me to do this every year;” when it is assumed I will do it,” when no one else volunteers.”
Part 3:“Because”— How does the behavior affect you? Examples: “I feel pressured to do something I really can’t do this year,” and “it makes me feel taken advantage of.”
Part 4: “I need.” This is the tough part for people like Mary who feel guilty simply letting others (especially family members) know what their needs are. What this really means is giving the other persona clear signal of what you would like them to do differently so they have an opportunity to change.
Examples: “I need for the dinner to be rotated among the family; I need for everyone to bring a dish and I’ll cook the ham; I need for my sisters to come early and help with the setup”
Does the formula work all the time?
Of course not, but it works a high percentage of the time and it gives you a much better tool to deal with the situation than using anger – which rarely gets you the results you want.
If it doesn’t work at first, try different variations by using your own words – keep at it because sometimes people don’t immediately respond differently to what you are saying because of your previous established communication patterns with each other.
Also make sure that your tone clearly conveys sincerity, clarity, genuineness, and respect toward the other and his or her opinions.
Responding to the current Covid-19 crisis and the need for social distancing, The Anger Coach continues to offer live anger managment classes- but online instead of in person.
As far as we know, this option is also accepted by courts as an alternative to in-person classes.
When are our classes held?
Virtual classes are held on Tuesday nights from 7:30-8:30pm (Pacific Time).
How many sessions are in the program and what is covered?
The core program consists of 10 structured classes in which you learn the 8 basic tools of anger control. Each class is self-contained so you can join at any time, no matter what tool we are on in the sequence. The anger management tools you will learn are:
Tool 1– How to better deal with stress to be less angry
Tool 2- How to be more Empathetic to Reduce Anger
Tool 3– Learn how to Respond Instead of React to Anger Triggers. Learn how to “re-wire” your brain to better control anger.
Tool 4- Learn how changing your attitude and thinking patterns will decrease your anger.
Tool 5– Improve Communication skills and learn how to assert yourself to get what you need and deserve without getting so angry.
Tool 6- Examine and adjust your expectations to be more accepting and tolerant of others instead of irritable, verbally abusive and angry.
Tool 7– Be less angry by develop the skill of forgiving or letting go of hurts and injustices instead of holding grudges and needing to get even.
Tool 8- Learn the skill of immediately shutting down that part of your brain that creates your anger(your amygdala) when you are triggered- before it gets out of hand.
How Do You Enroll and how much does it cost?
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting enrollment. The start-up cost is $130 which includes registration, ebook used in class and the fee for the first night’s class. You will receive an invoice for this amount from Paypay which you can pay online with your card even if you don’t belong to PayPay.
Subsequent classes cost $35 each. After each class attendance, you will receive an invoice from Paypal for online payment of that class.
There is a special rate for couples: $150 initially for both; $50 for 2 ebooks and $50 combined class fee.
What happens next?
There are usually between 5 and 12 people in the class. Before each class you will receive an invitation from me to join the class through the online platform of zoom. You will need to download a zoom app to participate, but that is easy and you will receive instructions on how to do that. You can participate from any computer that has internet access. Or, you can participate through your smartphone (most participants have an iphone).
You do not have to reveal personal information in the class, although we do ask you to share from week to week how you are proigressing with your anger management.
Remember, this is a class–not therapy. The focus is on learning the anger management material and skills and how to apply these skills to your life. We take turns reading from the book and then learning from Dr Fiore about the topic at hand.
After completion you will receive a certificate of completion at no extra cost.
The Anger Coach now offers its acclaimed and widely-accepted anger management program online. Dr. Fiore, a Ph.D. psychologist with over 45 years experience, developed this completely web-based program with the same content as in his local person anger management classes.
Typical Participant Comments FROM OUR CLASS PARTICIPANTS:
“I can really control myself!”
“Now, I think before I speak.”
“I now know it’s OK to be angry, as long as its the right way.”
“I’m more patient than I thought.”
“I’m happier, not so stressed.”
“My employees often tell me how level-headed I’ve become.”
“I’m now able to think with greater clarity.”
“I am more calm in tough situations.”
“My kids tell me I’m a calmer, happier parent.”
“I should have done this years earlier.”
“They should teach this stuff to grade school kids.”
But, many clients are unable to attend in-person classes due to busy schedules, or cannot find classes that are conveniently located near their work or home. Now, of course, it is almost impossible to find in-person classes because if the Covid-19 restrictions on group gatherings.
Anger Coach Online is perfect for anyone who needs an anger management program for personal development, to satisfy a court requirement, or to comply with workplace requirement. Couples can also take the course together and apply the eight tools of anger control to their relationship or marriage – and not have to worry about the health dangers of group meetings.
Based on the popular ebook “Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century,” written by Dr Tony Fiore and Dr. Ari Novick, our innovative program teaches you the eight tools of anger control — and how to apply them to your life — from the convenience of your home or office computer.
Anger Coach Online is an accepted, comprehensive, affordable and proactive way to gain skills in anger management. We have two home-study online classes to choose from: Our core course is a 10-hour class and our newly developed 16-hour class. Both are completely internet based with no downloads needed to take either class.
It seems that anger is everywhere in our society. One just has to read the newspaper daily or watch the evening news to conclude that controlling one’s angry feelings is a major challenge for many adults, teens, and children.
Uncontrolled anger is a major factor in domestic violence and spousal abuse, in aggressive driving violations, in workplace rudeness and disruption, and in marital conflicts and family fights. Several large and respected studies have shown that one-third of couples studied at least one incident of domestic violence during the course of their marriage. The same study found that about 1, 500,000 children per year are severely assaulted (kicked, punched, beaten up, burned) in their homes.
Managing angry feelings requires mastering specific thought and action skills and then practicing these skills on a daily basis. The costs to persons who do not learn how to regulate their negative emotions are high and include increased risk of relapse, loss of relationships, conflicts at work, loss of respect in the eyes of loved ones, and lowering of self-esteem.
A particularly high cost of anger is on your children. The effect of children witnessing extreme conflict in the home can be devastating—more harmful most of the time than a parental divorce. It is estimated that between 2.3 million and 10 million children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year in the United States alone.
Although many adults believe that they have protected their children from exposure to domestic violence, 80-90% of children in those homes can give detailed descriptions of the violence experienced in their families.
What is Anger?
We view angry feelings as a normal emotional reaction to frustration in our everyday world. It is natural to become angry when we have a goal and this goal is blocked in some way. Anger isn’t just one emotion, but a family of emotions that are related to each other both in our brains and in our behavior. People often give a variety of names to their angry feelings, which range from mild irritation to rage.
Once anger begins, it generates changes in our expressions, our faces, our voice, and changes in the way we think. It also creates impulses to action. In fact, the purpose of emotions such as anger is to organize and mobilize all of our bodily systems to respond to our environment in some way.
Anger, like all emotions, is regulated by that section of our brain called the “limbic system” (located in our mid brains beyond our inner ear) Emotional memories are stored in the “amygdala” and other structures which are located in this limbic system.
You may experience anger now in your life which may actually be caused by a mixture of what is triggering it now and experiences you have had in the past—even if you don’t remember them. This “old anger” is activated by your brain in its attempt to protect you— even though the original danger is no longer present.
It is up to the thinking part of the brain, our frontal lobes, to find a way to deal with the angry feelings the amygdala and other brain structures have set in motion. Fortunately, as thinking human beings we have the unique ability among mammals to have choices regarding how we will deal with our feelings.
My Model of Anger Management
In our view, anger management is NOT about never getting angry—that would be an impossible and ridiculous goal because angry feelings are “hard-wired” in your brain and probably serve a protective and survival function.
Rather, anger management is about learning how to regulate and express those natural angry feelings in a way that makes you a more effective human being. Persons who manage their anger well have better relationships, better health, and more occupational success than those who manage their anger poorly. They also get more of their needs met without antagonizing loved ones or colleagues.
Learning to manage anger involves mastering the eight tools of anger control that we have found to be highly effective in our local anger management classes. This model of anger management is not therapy and does not dwell on the past or the underlying reasons for anger. Rather, our approach is psycho-educational, skill-building, and practical drawing on recent research and findings in neuroscience, marriage/relationships, stress management, and the emerging science of happiness and optimism.
The Eight Tools of Anger Control
Tool 1 – Recognize Stress Stress and anger tend to go hand and hand. The higher one’s stress level, the easier it is to allow our anger to get out of control. It is a challenge for most of us to manage our stress levels in a complex world with many demands and expectations. Learning stress management techniques us an effective way to reduce the physical, behavioral, and emotional problems caused by too much stress.
Stress is often the trigger that takes us from feeling peaceful to experiencing uncomfortable angry feelings in many common life situations. 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”. Before your stress response turns into anger or aggression, use stress management strategies to get it under control.
Tool 2 – Develop Empathy Have you ever been in a restaurant and noticed that the customers at the table next to you were speaking louder than anyone else? It was as if they had no idea that they were being so loud and intrusive to the rest of the patrons. This lack of awareness is often a sign of not being emotionally or socially alert. Or, have you ever been in a situation where you tried to express your feelings and it backfired in some way?
Some of us are very good at knowing how we feel and expressing it, while others struggle to do so. It is crucial to express emotion in order to relate to those around us. Our ability to know how we are feeling as well as our ability to accurately sense the feelings of those around us help us make positive connections with others. This characteristic is often called “empathy.”
To empathize is to see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, and to feel with the heart of another. Lack of empathy leads to poor communication and a failing to understand others. To manage anger, it often helps to see our anger as a combination of other people’s behavior and our lack of empathy toward them or their situation.
Tool 3 – Respond Instead of React Many times we become angry because we find people and situations that literally “push our buttons”, and we react just like a juke box that automatically pulls down a record and starts playing when you make a selection. Rather than reacting to anger triggers in this fashion, you can learn to choose how to deal with frustrating situations — to respond rather than automatically react like that juke box.
There are many advantages to learning to how be more flexible in dealing with the stresses and frustrations of life. At the top of the list is a sense of empowerment. It just feels good and powerful to know that you are in charge of your response, rather than being controlled by other people or circumstances. Many people notice their anger level going down as their feeling of empowerment goes up.
Tool 4 – Change That Conversation With Yourself “For some reason whenever I get upset I am always putting myself down” said one woman in an anger management class. “Even my friends tell me I am just too hard on myself”, she said. When I get upset, I will often say things like, “I’m such a loser”, or, “if I don’t make it on time, everyone will think I’m a jerk”, the woman explained. “Sometimes I even tell myself that I am worthless and stupid when I make mistakes.”
A crucial tool in dealing with angry feelings is that of challenging that conversation with yourself. Like the woman described above, you are constantly telling yourself all kinds of things which cause you to have certain feelings or emotions—even though you may not realize it. Learning to change that “self-talk” empowers you to deal with anger more effectively in terms of how strongly you feel the anger, how long you hold onto your anger, and how you express your anger.
Tool 5 – Communicate Assertively Good communication skills are an essential ingredient to anger management because poor communication causes untold emotional hurt, misunderstandings, and conflict. Words are powerful, but the message we convey to others is even more powerful and often determines how people respond to us and how we feel toward them.
Anger expressed toward others is often a misguided way of communicating a feeling we have or a need that is not being satisfied by other people or situations. Assertive communication—as distinct from aggressive communication— is a set of skills to honestly and effectively communicate how you feel and how you are responding to things—without getting angry or hostile about it.
Tool 6 – Adjust Expectations Have you ever been told your expectations are too high? Anger and stress can often be caused when our expectations are too far apart from what is realistic to achieve. In other words, anger is often trigg
ered by a discrepancy between what we expect and what we get.Learning to adjust those expectations—sometimes upward and other times downward—can help us cope with difficult situations or people, or even cope with ourselves. In marriage, research shows that much anger is caused by trying to solve problems which are unsolvable and perpetual. Successful couples learn to live with each other around these issues rather than getting angry about them.
Tool 7 – Forgive But Don’t Forget! Anger is often the result of grievances we hold toward other people or situations, usually because of our perception and feeling of having been wronged by them in some way. Resentment is a form of anger that does more damage to the holder than the offender. Holding a grudge is letting the offender live rent free in your head. Making the decision to “let go” (while still protecting ourselves) is often a process of forgiveness – or at least acceptance – and is a major step toward anger control.
Tool 8 – Retreat and Think Things Over! Jim and Mary Jones loved each other deeply, but often went into horrific verbal battles over any number of issues. However, they were unable to give each other “space” during an argument insisting they solve the issue immediately. Even worse, Mary often physically blocked Jim from leaving and would follow him from room to room demanding discussion. Needless to say, this is a dangerous practice as it can escalate levels of anger even further and cause partners to do and say things they don’t really mean and may later regret!
Research shows that we are pretty much incapable of resolving conflicts or thinking rationally in an argument when our stress level reaches a certain point. To avoid losing control either physically or verbally, it is often best to take a temporary “time-out” – and leave. This tool of anger management works much better if (a) you commit to return within a reasonable amount of time to work things out, and (2) you work on your “self-talk” while trying to cool down.
How does anger do its damage and contribute to heart trouble? In this brief article, I explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms that are problematic ways of handling frustration and anger. I also present 8 helpful hints to better manage negative emotions and protect your physical and mental health.
How does Anger Affect our Bodies?
First, here’s how the physiological mechanism of anger works, according to the nation’s top heart-brain research centers, such as the Cleveland Clinic: Emotions like anger and hostility stimulate the “fight or flight” response of your sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
These chemicals significantly speed your heart rate and your respiration. Your blood pressure goes up, and your body is hit with a burst of fight-flight energy. That’s often what triggers someone to fly into a rage, to begin yelling and even throwing things.
This heightened state of physiological activation is designed to mobilize you for real emergencies, but can become habitual. Chronically high levels of stress hormones cause extra wear on your cardiovascular system.
Even the walls of your arteries can be damaged by the frequent anger response, because of the extra load of glucose and fat globules secreted into the blood stream.
The Good News
The good news is that anger and hostility as a risk factor can be changed for the better, just as blood pressure or cholesterol can be modified. Of course, stress can’t be measured as easily as cholesterol, but you can learn to take responsibility for your emotional responses and modify them for the better. Here are a few tips to interrupt storms of explosive anger or relieve yourself of self-damaging, imploded anger.
Recognize, as early as possible, when you’re beginning to feel angry.
Pause, before saying something or doing something impulsively. The time-worn advice– “count to ten”– is still wise.
Put the situation into perspective. Ask yourself if this issue will matter 5 years from now.
Say to yourself: “If this is as big a deal tomorrow as it is now, I’ll deal with it then, when I’ve cooled off a bit.
Realize that, even though someone else’s behavior might have triggered your upset, blaming them for it won’t help you take responsibility for handling it well enough to regain your emotional balance.
Understand that acting angry is not the way to show that you really care about something or someone.
You may understand the nature of your problems with anger, but if you can’t put your insight into practice, it’s time to consult with an experienced therapist. Even a brief investment in counseling can produce remarkable results.
Finally, remember to take this to heart: a change of heart comes from a change of mind about how you handle frustrating situations.
To sum it up, stressful reactions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, or mood instability can add up to increased risk for all kinds of medical problems, including heart trouble. Taking care of your emotional health will pay off with big dividends in maintaining your physical health and well-being.
Dr Alan Levy is an seasoned psychologist who practices in Costa Mesa, California. His website: alanlevyphd.com
Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.
Jim and Sally have been married for 10 years. They argue so much that friends invite them for dinner a lot because they provide the evening’s entertainment with their bickering and constant conflict. Their arguments are over many of the same issues over and over again. They just seem to trigger angry responses in each other and it is never ending. Watching them reminds one of seven year olds fighting in the sand box.
If you took a picture snapshot at any point in time you might think that one of them is the culprit starting the fights. But, taking a snapshot at another point in time might give you a different impression, as you observe the “victim” actually now provoking their partner.
Truth is, they are in a strange, intimate dance with each other even though they probably don’t realize it. Psychologists might say that we are observing the battle of part of the brain called the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system. It is in the amygdala that hurts, pain and anger are stored. Its purpose is to protect you from harm, even though the threat is not physical but the verbal assaults of your partner. So, it immediately prepares you for fight and survival. You are programmed to attack back,to protect yourself.You are reacting on a nervous system level but may not be aware of this fact. It happens so rapidly that things can spin out of control before you know it. And the anger dance begins.
The “Issue” Is Not The Only Issue It may appear that you are fighting over the kids,who should do the dishes, or how much money you should spend on a new car. But you are also fighting on deeper levels often without your awareness. My experience with many scores of couples is that you are really fighting because you are triggering in each other old ways of feeling or behaving toward someone you love which you learned as a child from caretakers or others. Under stress, your brain reverts back to that earlier learning, never mind that you are now an adult professional, a responsible community member, and a parent. So, instead of being a reasonable human being, you become that petulant child who is not getting his way, you grind on your partner over minor infractions to wear him or her down (just like you wore down your parents), or you openly rebel to communicate feeling hurt and rejection.
In the heat of battle. many partners forget to pay attention to the damage they may be doing to the relationship itself in how they are fighting or arguing. They focus on winning the battle, but lose sight that they may be losing the war. What good is winning the argument if you are pissed at each other afterward or experiencing feelings of hurt for days or weeks? Successful couples broaden their lens and see that they must always be aware of how what they do or what they say will affect the relationship itself. Successful partners know that even if they conflict or disagree with the benefits of softening your water, they have each other’s back and they feel secure in knowing that they will be there for each other, regardless of the outcome of the specific argument.
<strongThe Dance of Security Feeling secure in a relationship seems to be a basic human need. Secure functioning should be a major goal of any intimate connection. When there is secure functioning, partners protect each other at all times, in both public and private. They notice how they are affecting each other. When they emotionally injure each other, they know how to make quick repairs. Secure functioning partners are skilled at being able to quickly change their own emotional state and positively influence the emotional state of their partner. They think in terms of what is best for both of them not only as individuals but also as a couple.
Problem is, partners often come into relationships with different styles of feeling secure. This is because of different backgrounds and different ways of learning how to “attach” to loved ones. Unless partners learn to deal with each other’s styles of attachment, they will trigger INSECURITY in each other which often leads to anger and other negative emotions. Jim, for instance , doesn’t believe in talking in public about personal things; he believes in strict boundaries. He is self-contained and doesn’t turn to others for emotional support or problem-solving. Sally, on the other hand, loves to talk and to share everything with everybody, especially after a few glasses of wine. Talking and getting feedback from others helps to regulate her emotions and feel good and connected with others. She firmly believes that Jim should love her no matter how she behaves in public; if he shows disapproval, this means he doesn’t really love her (in her thoughts). She doesn’t see that she is doing anything wrong.
Clearly, they are working against each other. That which reduces her anxiety, increases his, and vice versa. She becomes more and more angry and resentful as he pulls away and increasingly avoids her. He doesn’t deal with anger directly, so he starts to “passive-aggress” her by snipping,jabbing, innuendo and sarcasm. She fights back by denying him sex later that night. He complains. The next day she accuses him of not loving her for her and says that he is emotionally unavailable and she can’t stand it any longer. The dance is on but it is anything but a fluid tango….it is more like a war dance.
Putting the Pieces Together Partners come in all sizes and shapes emotionally, many with ragged edges which we sometimes don’t see until later when the dating hormones settle down. At this stage, sometimes partners worry they are fundamentally incompatible with each other, that they may have made a mistake or that they were deceived by the other who is now clearly showing a different side to their personality. In couples therapy, we explain to the partners that they are probably going through a developmental period in which they are challenged to learn how to function as individual yet learn to do things differently so as not to trigger insecurity and anger in the other.
The simplified principle is this: Instead of trying to change your partner,find a way to give your partner what they need so they will be more motivated and eager to give you what you need. Both of you will feel more secure and will co-create what Dr. Stan Tatkin calls “the couple bubble.”
In our case example, Sally and Jim both have hard-wired (and different) styles of attachment and ways of regulating their emotions to feel comfortable. It is highly unlikely that either can change this. They can greatly decrease their levels of conflict, however, by accepting the differences between them and doing things to make the other more emotionally secure. Each needs to ask himself/herself what they are doing to make their partner feel better, not worse. They need to further ask themselves why they are doing things (like bringing up personal marriage thing in public) that they know emotionally (and socially) harms their partner. Or why Jim doesn’t share more with Sally when he knows that she needs this to feel secure inside and feel loved. If we love someone, shouldn’t job number one be to try to make them happy (within reason) and be a source of need satisfaction for them (as long as it is reciprocal and we are getting it back)?
Tell that to Sally and Jim who argue constantly and fight like cats and dogs over almost every issue. Both are highly successful, intelligent and verbal so there is no end to issues over which to fight. If perchance they do run out of issues temporarily, they creatively start fighting about fighting. They need anger class 101.
Let’s listen to the dialogue for a moment: with one accusing the other of being unfair or talking “with that sneer of yours,” or “shouting at me.” while the other insists they are not shouting.
As a couples therapist, and someone who has conducted over 1000 anger classes in Southern California and a calgary naturopath, I sometimes want to say to one or the other: “Why don’t you just keep your mouth shut so avoid an argument? Partners often inflame each other, escalate anger, and talk themselves into major fights which could easily be avoided with the practice of temporary silence. This is known as the tool of “Retreat and Think Things over” in out system of anger management.
As Lao Tzu is quoted as having said:
“Silence is a Source of Great Strength.”
But, back to Sally and Jim who continue the argument:
Yes, Jim says, but I am right and she knows that I am right, so why should I silence myself?” “The restaurant WAS where I said it was – NOT where she kept insisting (wrongly) it was located.”
“Oh Lord, It is so hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way”
…….Mack Davis song, 1980
Know anyone who ALWAYS has to be right, like Jim? Not only do they always have to be right, they have an irrepressible urge to point out when they factually know that you are wrong. So,like Jim, they correct you, contradict you, argue with you, contest everything you say, and then later remind you that “I told you so” if there is any evidence that you are wrong and they were right.
The frustrating thing is, often these people ARE right, or partiality right as http://stridestrong.com says. But, few important issues in the world are about absolute right or absolute wrong. They are about shades of each. Only very rigid people divide the world into absolute rights or absolute wrongs. Partial truths often drive arguments because of mis-communication or misunderstanding.
“Black and White People” vs “Gray” people.
“Black and white” people see the world in absolutes. It is either this way or that way. “Gray” people see in between possibilities, and understand that “truth” or “reality” in many cases is a matter of perception..not a matter of fact. Often, “black and white” people marry “gray” people and the fight is on.
Some common examples: Jim sees wife Mary as stubborn and unbending. She sees herself as morally right, principled, and duty-bound to do things Jim does not agree with. As another example, Mary sees Jim as lazy, not ambitious, and negligent in his household duties. Jim sees himself as evolving to the place in life where he can enjoy life, have fun with the kids, and generally appreciate his good health and financial freedom.
Who is right and who is wrong in these examples? Honestly, is your experience that the world most people live in is black and white, or do most issues fall in the gray area?
Four ways to deal with a partner who sees the world differently than you do.
1.LET IT GO.
For some people, it is part of their personality and their ego. They cannot stand not to be right, correct an injustice, or make sure you know the right way to do things. It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves to be right and to prove you wrong. You should not be around a person like this unless you are super-secure. Let them be right in their own minds, if they have to. Let it go! (Most times). If they swear it is noon; calmly show them a clock showing it is 1pm. Do you want to learn more? Then just click here and read the website.
2. AGREE TO DISAGREE
On many issues in a relationship (research shows 69%), you are never going to agree anyway. So, agree to disagree and don’t bring the subject up unless the “house is on fire.” (or unless it is really doing damage to someone)
3. SEPARATE IN YOU REMIND THE ISSUE FROM WHO YOUR PARTNER REALLY IS. Personally, I like many people even though they are diametrically opposed to things I truly believe in. If you get irritated over one slice of behavior displayed by your partner, try to see him or her as a total person.
4. DON’T TALK AN ISSUE TO DEATH TRYING TO PERSUADE YOUR PARTNER OF ITS TRUTH OR YOUR RIGHTNESS. Sometimes the more it is talked about, the worse it gets. Let the issue get some rest. MAybe it will recover sooner.