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Six Parental Tips For Your Angry Children

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

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

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

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

Following are six tips for parents to help their children manage anger with the help of aberdovey lifeboat, based on our model of anger management called the eight tools of anger control”: Continue reading “Six Parental Tips For Your Angry Children”

Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?

Silenced

“How did your week go, Samuel?” I asked my married patient who  consulted me for anger management and anger management skills to deal with his wife.

“Much better,” he replied, “because I kept my mouth shut this time when I desperately wanted to argue with her because I knew I was right. I decided to apply one of the anger management tools you taught me.”

“What did you do instead?” I asked him.

Sam replied: ” I took your advice and simply left the house, went into the back yard for 10 minutes to cool off, then came back in and everything was OK. I didn’t argue with her over the issue because it wasn’t that important. I didn’t have to win this time; I just let it go.”

We continued our therapy session pet hair vacuum guide by agreeing that “talking” about an issue doesn’t always solve it. In fact, sometimes it makes it worse. In intimate relationships, sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say.  Believe it or not, over-asking about the issue sometimes becomes the issue.

Have you ever had this conversation with your partner?

“What are you upset about?”

“I’m not upset.”

“Yes, you are. tell me why you are upset. Was it something I said?”

“OK. if you insist. I am upset because you keep asking me if I’m upset.” Continue reading “Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?”

Anger Management In Action: Relationship Blowups Can Be Costly

Conflict 10“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 anger management 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. he had not yet learned anger management skills.

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 oxiracetam 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 anger management skills would have helped? What actions should you take in similar situations?

Continue reading “Anger Management In Action: Relationship Blowups Can Be Costly”

Anger Management In Action: Need More Respect From Your Family?

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. She needed anger management to help deal with her feelings.

Case #2- Bill, a 34 year old husband complained that his critical wife was always angry at him. He sought anger management to learn how to deal with his angry wife. 
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.She needed anger management to learn how to better deal with her ex.
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 to which they react.. In our case examples:

  • By automatically doing whatever her husband and children requested, Elizabeth was “teaching” them that there are almost no limits to what she would do for them.
  • With his behavior, Bill was actually teaching his wife that the way to get attention from him (even if it was negative attention) was for her to create drama.
  • Betty was so intimidated by her husband, that her defensive “attitude” was “teaching” him that to deal with her, he had to push back with the contempt and disrespect that he constantly showed her.

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

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

Four ways to change what you teach others
1. Try a softer-start-up. Marital research shows that the first few seconds of an interaction can predict the final outcome of the encounter. Try being softer, more polite, more respectful, less hostile, or more empathetic—and see how this change in your approach actually teaches others to respond better to you.

2. Take a time-out before dealing with the conflict or situation. Conflicting or arguing family members often work themselves up to a point at which problem solving is impossible. The solution is to retreat and give yourself time to calm down and think things over. This takes at least 20 minutes, often much longer. Before taking your time out, it is important to tell the other person that you will commit to returning soon to deal with the conflict, after you are calmer—then be sure to do it!

3. Acknowledge that you see how they must be seeing the situation. Called “empathy,” this response on your part teaches others that you care about their feelings and viewpoints, and opinions. Acknowledgment doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with their viewpoint—only that you see it. Sometimes, your family needs to know that you care about them and respect their opinions before they listen to what you say.

4. Set limits and boundaries for your family members. Limits and boundaries are basically rules regarding acceptable behaviors toward you as well as what you are willing or not willing to do.

If you feel others are taking advantage of you, ask yourself what you may be doing ( or not doing )to give the message it is “ok” for them to do whatever they are doing. Often you can change their behavior toward you by teaching them different rules of being with you. The easiest way to do this is simply to respond differently yourself.

For instance, they make you the core of a nasty joke. Being a nice person, you pretend it doesn’t bother you( even though it does), so you laugh with everybody else. As an alternative, try not laughing with them, which is a way of teaching them that they have crossed a boundary with you.

To learn more about this tool of anger control as well as seven others, attend our local anger management classes. More information below.  

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Anger Management In Action: Forgiveness.Let the Past Go

 

Struggling with resentment
Struggling with resentment

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

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

Yet, even in this tragic situation, at some point in the future—when she is ready—Elizabeth might elect to find a way to forgive. For her to be able to do this, after a certain amount of time, she will have to take the step of separating in her mind two things: (1) blaming the hospital for what they did and (2) blaming them for her resulting feelings about the situation.

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

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

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

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

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

Two reasons to forgive:

  • Forgiving Is Good For Your Health. Studies show that people who forgive report fewer health problems while people who blame others for their troubles have a higher incidence of illness such as cardiovascular disease and cancers.
  • Forgiving is good for your peace of mind. Scientific research shows that Forgiveness often improves your peace of mind: One such study done in 1996 showed that the more people forgave those who deeply hurt them, the less angry they were. Two studies of divorced people show that those who forgave the former spouse were more emotionally healthy than those who chose not to forgive with Service Dog Vest. The forgivers had a higher sense of well being and lower anxiety and depression.

Three tips to forgive

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

  • Tip 1- Remember, forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience to complete. You must be ready. Realize that this is for you – not for anyone else.
  • Tip 2- Realize that forgiving does not mean you are condoning the actions of the offender or what they did to you. It does mean that you will blame less and find a way to think differently about what happened to you.
  • Tip 3- Refocus on the positives in your life. Remember that a lift well lived is the best revenge. People who find a way to see love, beauty and kindness around them are better able to forgive and get past their life grievances.

More tips on how to handler resentment in our book. Click below

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Anger Management In Action: Three ways to Deal With A Passive-Aggressive

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Thirty-three year old Roberto had promised his wife Tina that he would be home after work in time for her to attend her weekly “women’s group” at her church. Having only one automobile, Tina was completely at the mercy of Roberto’s promise.

You guessed it! Roberto did not show up until 8:45 PM—way too late for Tina to attend her meeting. Rather than being apologetic, however, Roberto explained to Tina (who was outraged at this point) that he “couldn’t help it” because “I had to help a friend out who’s car had broken down”. He lamented “How could I let Michael down? He was best man at our wedding”.

Was Tina being unreasonable in her anger? After all, Roberto was helping out a mutual friend. Yet, looking deeper into this situation, turns out that Roberto really didn’t want Tina to attend those meetings because it was “putting ideas into her head”.

Yet, he couldn’t just forbid Tina from attending, so he handled the situation in an underhanded way—sabotaging her attendance in a way that would still make him look good.

After all, he could argue, what reasonable person would get mad at someone who was late because he was helping out a friend?

.

The anatomy of passive-aggression
Passive-Aggression is a psychological mechanism for handling hostility or anger in an underhanded or devious way that is hard for others to prove like how to lose weight fast. Sometimes the passive-aggressive is aware of what he or she is doing, and other times not.

Yet, the result is the same—things are sabotaged by the passive-aggressive and it somehow is never their fault. A really good passive aggressive is very slippery with excuses, justifications, or alternative reasons for why things go awry.

Passive-Aggression may not be expressed directly in behavior—but in words or humor. Sarcasm which communicates hostility is often a tool of the passive-aggressive person, as are jokes made at your expense.

Some common examples of passive-aggressive behavior:

    When conversing with someone who is angry at you, they leave out important information which gives you the wrong impression.
    Talking behind the back of a co-worker in a harmful way—gossiping.
    Exaggerating the faults of your spouse (behind his or her back) to your parents while maintaining “sweetness” toward your spouse.
    Playing dumb or inadequate to frustrate someone or gain advantage.
    Upset with your wife’s weight, you “affectionately” call her “pork chop” in public in a way that appears playful on the surface.

Dealing with passive-aggressive behavior is extremely challenging because a really good passive aggressive is very slippery.

Often, too, you may not be sure if you have been the victim of passive-aggressive behavior—or not. You may be feeling angry and upset, but not sure why or if it is justified.

How do you tell? One way to identify it is to look for patterns in someone’s behavior— not just isolated incidents. For instance, if Roberto generally is dependable and is home on time for Tina to attend her meetings, the one “miss” may not be motivated by passive-aggression. However, if he often sabotages Tina’s attendance while denying he is doing so, a behavior pattern is evident.

Another way to tell is to catch someone in a lie or inconsistency in stories. Explains thing one way now and another way later after he or she forgets what they told you in the first place.

Finally, match their words with their actions. If they don’t match (says one thing but does something else), or the person uses constant excuses or justifications for their behavior which don’ t add up inyour mind, consider that you are in the hands of a passive-aggressive person.

What should you do to deal with passive-aggression once you have identified it?

Tip #1- Directly confront the behavior and ask if the person is angry at you. For instance, ask “You called me pork chop tonight. Do you have issues with my weight?”

Tip #2. Be on guard and don’t trust what the person says or commits to. Develop a Plan B. For instance, Tina could have arranged for someone else to pick her up for the meeting in case Roberto didn’t make it home on time.

Tip #3. Use assertive communication skills to let a person know how what they do affects you and makes you feel. Try something like “I heard you repeat something that I told you in confidence. That really hurt me; please don’t do.

For news and more about events, event planners and more, visit JugglingInferno.com.

For more on passive-aggression, click on the ebook below for instant download:

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Anger Management In Action: Handling Anger on the Road

Road Rage 3Anger on the road is seen everywhere! Could road anger be a medical condition?

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 anger attacks violated both civil and criminal laws.

Is it real?
This study has created much controversy regarding exactly what is delicate about angry road rage and how it differs from plain bad, inconsiderate behavior. Undoubtedly, criminal defense attorneys from firms like the Barber Law Firm in Dallas, will be arguing in both civil and criminal courts that indeed it is a medical condition!

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. All this lead to the need of being cured. A good attorney will refer you to a doctor, like http://diamondhousedetox.com/, 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 including knowing some of the 22 home remedies for ringworm. Cognitive training is an important element in many anger management programs, which a few states now require for “road rage” behavior and/or aggressive driving.

Some anger management classes and programs teach specific cognitive and behavior skills to control aggressive, inconsiderate, and dangerous driving behaviors. These skill include:
Managing life stress better, including time-management skills.developing empathy for other drivers, learning healthy “self-talk” phrases, and adjusting expectations of others on the road.

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Anger Management In Action: In Trouble at Work?

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Leroy’s Story
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. At work, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, but you don’t have to explode over it or be mean spirited in the process. Leaning new self-talk when things go wrong or others don’t do what you think they should can go a long way toward controlling that temper. Click here for a humorous example of how self-talk can change your life.

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 –Adjusting Expectations
Anger is often caused in the workplace by a discrepancy between what we expect and what actually happens. Sometimes the problem is simply that your expectations are too high of yourself or others; or you have the wrong expectations to begin with. If you are frustrated with employees, remember that if they knew what you know, or they had the dedication you have, guess what? They would be doing what you are doing. Frustrated with co-workers? Try viewing them in a different light so that you can accept them they way they are, if there is no realistic way of changing things.

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Control Your Anger – Self-Talk in Action

In our Anger Management Local Classes, as well as in our online programs, we teach participants the value of changing your “self-talk” in order to dial down those angry feelings triggered by any number of events in our world. The following story about a grandfather and his  spoiled out-of-control 3 year-old grandson illustrates this beautifully – and with just the right amount of humor. Here it is:

A woman in a supermarket is following a grandfather and his badly behaved 3 year-old grandson.

It’s obvious to her that he has his hands full with the child screaming for sweets in the sweet aisle, biscuits in the biscuit aisle; and for fruit, cereal and pop in the other aisle.

Meanwhile, Granddad is working his way around, saying in a controlled voice,

“Easy, William, we won’t be long . . . easy, boy.”

Another outburst, and she hears the granddad calmly say,
“It’s okay, William just a couple more minutes and we’ll be out of here. Hang in there, boy.”

At the checkout, the little terror is throwing items out of the cart, and Granddad says again in a controlled voice, “William, William, relax buddy, don’t get upset. We’ll be home in five minutes; stay cool, William.”

Very impressed, the woman goes outside where the grandfather is loading his groceries and the boy into the car.

She said to the elderly gentleman, “It’s none of my business, but you were amazing in there. I don’t know how you did it. That whole time, you kept your composure, and no matter how loud and disruptive he got, you just calmly kept saying things would be okay. William is very lucky to have you as his grandpa.”

“Thanks,” said the grandfather, “but I’m William …. the little monster’s name is Kevin.”

Is Forgiveness Manly?

The following article is reprinted with permission from The Art of Manliness. Of course, forgiveness is tool #7 in our toolkit of anger management tools in both our local classes and in our online programs. Click here to watch our video of forgiveness as well as our other anger management videos, then read the following article which deals with the question of “Is it manly to forgive?

Enjoy………..

Is It Manly To Forgive?

“No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick — on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I reerected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!”

In the Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allen Poe paints a haunting picture of one man’s mission of revenge. After bearing a “thousand injuries” and a grievous insult, Montresor decides he must punish his antagonist, Fortunato, “with impunity.” “A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser, says Montresor. “It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

And so under the guise of seeking his opinion on some amontillado, Montresor lures Fortunato deep into the cold, damp catacombs. When they arrive at a niche in the walls, Montresor chains Fortunato to a rock and slowly begins to wall up the enclave brick by brick, leaving the stunned and confused nobleman inside to die a slow and agonizing death. Montresor’s revenge is complete.

***

The idea of justified revenge is one of the most common themes in masculine literature, movies, comic books, and video games. From the Count of Monte Cristo, to The Punisher, to Red Dead Revolver, revenge is often the driving force behind our most popular stories.

For thousands of years we have cheered the manly and heroic character who personally sought to avenge the wrong done to him or to his loved ones. The more perfect and complete his plot for revenge, the colder the dish served, the more delicious and admirable we find it. When the evil doers finally get their comeuppance, we are filled with vicarious satisfaction.

The great satisfaction we derive from stories of revenge is quite understandable. Revenge played a healthy role for much of our evolutionary history. Within tribes, revenge ensured that misdeeds were punished and deterred would be wrong-doers from committing egregious acts in the first place. Eye for an eye. It was a rudimentary but effective way to mete out justice. And since it was men carrying out this basic form of law enforcement, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that our brains appear to be hard-wired for revenge.

So if the desire to seek revenge comes so naturally, why should we attempt forgiveness? Is forgiveness even manly?

What Does It Mean to Forgive?

As men I think we often resist the idea of forgiveness both because it seems contrary to the idea of justice and because it seems like an action born of weakness. After all, many people equate forgiveness with letting someone off the hook for their crime and allowing them to get away with wrongdoing. Doesn’t the lack of just punishment encourage the person to commit the same act again and put us in the position of condoning their crime? And if so, is forgiveness for suckas? For whipped push-overs?

But true forgiveness shouldn’t involve ignoring the issues of justice. It does not preclude justified anger. It shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card you bestow upon everyone willy nilly. It is not something you agree to simply to avoid conflict. It should not involve being a doormat who allows someone to hurt you over and over again. It is not the same as reconciliation, and it does not mean that you forget what has happened, nor that you automatically trust a person again.

What it does mean is that you let go of both your ill-feelings towards the offender and your need to personally balance the scales of justice. It’s a process whereby the antagonism you feel for the offender is replaced with compassion.

Sound sissy? It’s not. In fact, summoning the strength to forgive someone can increase your manliness is a variety of ways-

Forgiveness:

Shows Maturity

The reason it’s easy to cheer for revenge in a movie is that typically the plot is set up in a very black and white way. The hero is an admirable and virtuous guy; the villain is pure evil and kills the hero’s family simply because his heart is a black lump of coal.

Of course the real world is rarely so simplistic. Seeing things in black and white is generally reserved for children.

At a certain point the boy must become a man. Maturity involves the ability to step into another person’s shoes and see things from a different perspective. It requires a mind that understands the human condition and recognizes people as truly complex creatures, with frailties, failures, and checkered histories.

You need not condone the wrong someone did, but you should try to understand it, and them. Okay, your dad was a dick, but why was that? Probably because his dad was a dick to him and that’s all he knows about being a father.

Did your friend do something completely out of character? What was going on at the time? Was he acting out of the hurt of his recent break-up?

Sometimes people do wrong us randomly. And perhaps these offenses are the most difficult to deal with. But even then the person typically has a screw loose; something is just not right upstairs.

Forgiveness can change your whole perspective on life and people. We come to see others as fellow travelers in this world; everyone’s walking around with various wounds and various capabilities for dealing with those hurts and angers. They’re not evil villains who are out to get you, but people stumbling around, trying to do the right thing, and sometimes failing miserably. Kind of like….you.

Involves Taking Personal Responsibility and Shunning Victimhood

Being a man means taking personal responsibility for your life. But we often hold onto our grudges because they make for handy excuses, excuses that keep us from finally growing up. We can’t forgive our dad for what he did to us because when we do we will no longer be able to use that as an excuse for our personal failures. We’ll have to move forward and accept full responsibility for our lives. And that can be scary.

When we hold onto a grudge, we hold onto our identity as victims. We let someone else’s actions define us. When we forgive, we decide that we define who we are.

Puts You in Control

By withholding forgiveness you feel like you’ve got the upper hand on someone. You can dangle reconciliation on a string, make them continually grovel with contrition. Grudges thus offer the illusion of power and control. Yet they can’t fulfill that promise.

Because ironically, the offender is still the one holding your puppet strings. Your mental state is dependent on them. You’ve made your happiness contingent on another person: you need to show me X and treat me like X for me to be happy. If we wait until the other person is sorry, we’re giving them control over us-we’re waiting on them. Don’t give them that power. When you choose to forgive you embrace your free choice and agency-no one can make you feel like shiz without your permission.

Grants You Freedom

When we hold grudges and plot our revenge, we limit our freedom. Yes, we get to keep the other person in prison and wield that power. But what we don’t realize is that we’re stuck in jail with them, having to play the role of the ever vigilant warden. You can put someone in the doghouse, but you better make room for two. Or as a Chinese proverb says, “He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves.”

Revenge eats us up from the inside. It’s a pile of coals that we hold in our hands, giving off heat while it burns our body. Once you let the other person go, you’re not just releasing them, but you’re releasing yourself, breaking free from the rotting prison and moving forward.

Allows You to Grow

What people usually won’t say out loud is that resentment and anger make us feel good-powerful, tough, untouchable. And having an enemy and plotting revenge gives our life purpose, a tent pole for our thoughts to revolve around. Where would superheroes be and what would they spend their time doing without an archnemesis?

But this kind of purpose is a dead end and a waste of our valuable energy, consuming us and retarding our progress.

When you come to a place of forgiveness, you can start to find meaning in your suffering. You figure out what you’ll do differently next time and come to an understanding of how the pain helped you grow and become a better man. Forgiveness can become a platform for leaping forward in life.

Requires Bravery and Confronting Pain

Blame and bitterness might make you feel powerful and tough, but they’re often a cover for the inability to face pain head on. Holding a grudge against your ex-wife, thinking about how much of a she-devil she is every time she crosses your mind is a coping mechanism. Continually drinking from the well of anger keeps the pain from the dissolution of your marriage at bay.

We use bitterness as a way to keep ourselves from having to mourn a loss. Once we let go of the anger, we’re forced to confront the pain directly. Forgiveness involves taking a risk; we have to open ourselves up to the past hurt and the potential of being hurt again. And that takes courage.

Creates a Manly Legacy

Perhaps the manliest benefit of forgiveness is the way it enables you to not only free yourself from being locked inside bitterness, but how it creates a powerful legacy for those who come after you. You may come from a family where generation after generation has been hurting each other and keeping those feelings locked up, sickening the men from the inside.

Instead of making the same mistakes with your kids as your parents did with you, forgiveness says, “The buck stops here with me.” You have the courage to acknowledge and feel the pain and then to let it go instead of passing it on. You have the power to weld a new link in the chain of generations, and manliness.


Can’t change your partner? Try Looking in The Mirror!

Anger is an emotion. But, angry emotions often trigger a specific behavior (like yelling, throwing things, hitting, insulting someone, etc) which causes problems for you either at home, at work, on the road, or in your family. Most people in our anger classes tell us that one of the reasons they exhibit the angry behavior is because they want to change someone or something, they want somebody to think a certain way (or not)  or to do something (or not).

That is another way of saying that the angry person is trying to somehow “influence” the behavior or thinking of another. Unfortunately, angry behavior usually does not work; even if it does, the cost is so high that it almost always just isn’t worth it. We teach that there are better ways to influence others without getting angry or antagonizing others. But, where to start?

Questions to ask yourself:
The place to start is by looking in the mirror. As painful as it might be, ask yourself if you are behaving in ways that increase the probability of getting what you need and want from your partner? In other words, you have a lot more influence than you might think in terms of getting different responses from your partner. Ask yourself, how do other partners behave that do get what they want or need? (I know what you are thinking: “The reason they get more of what they need is because they have a better partner.” That may be true, or partially true,  but it also may not be. So, better to first ask, “Do I behave like people that do get more of what they want or need ” and then see what happens if you change.

Case study
Jose and Maria have been married for ten years. Jose has his own business; Maria is a stay- at- home mom. Jose sees Maria as lazy because she often does not prepare meals regularly, she does not clean the house up to Jose’s standards, and she often is too exhausted to do fun things in the evenings. Worse, according to Jose, Maria rarely ackowledges his great contributions to the marriage (he is very successful in business, and he is a good dad) ), she rarely shows affection, and praise of any kind is very rarely given.

Jose handles his frustration by yelling at Maria, calling her horrible names related to laziness, and accusing her of using a diagnosis of depression as an excuse for  not doing the things, in his mind,  she should  be doing. As I asked Jose in one of our sessions, what does he think the probability is of getting her to do more around the house by yelling, calling her names, and criticizing? Research shows, I told him,  that yelling, name-calling and criticizing decreases the probability of change in partners.

Jose decided to try to change things by applying the tool of  Respond Instead of React (The third tool of anger management in our system- Video; Respond Instead of React). Next morning, the kids were screaming, he needed help and his wife was still in bed. But, instead of yelling at her as usual, he went upstairs and calmly told her, “Honey, I need your help. I am overwhelmed down here.” Guess what? Maria at first did not stir, but five minutes later she came down the stairs and pitched in. Now this was not an earth-shaking change, but it was a start and it meant a lot to Jose.

There are ways to influence the behavior of someone that work much better than other ways. These ways can be called “relationship habits.” Just like you should copy the golf swings habits of golf champions if you want to improve your golf game, or the financial habits of very successful people if you want more financial success, you should copy the habits of those that may be more successful in relationships than you may be. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks- and often they should!

Related Articles and Blogs:

How to tank your relationship – Part 1
How to tank you relationship – Part 2
How to tank your relationship – Part 3

    Dealing With Life Stress: Should We Use a Scale or a Broom?

    MHH_cartoon-a-thon_2009-2stress

    This cartoon illustrates how stressful life can be, even in normal  situations like family life. (By the way, if you enjoy mental health humor, visit (http://blogs.psychcentral.com/humor) for more.) In our anger management programs, we teach specific methods to handle stress as one of our anger control tools, because stress and anger are very much connected and related.

    Is stress control about achieving life balance? Perhaps. Maybe not. In the words of our humorist Chato,

    “If you’re seeking balance because your life is a mess, then you’re looking at the wrong thing. What you need to be seeking…….is a broom!”

    My experience is that sometimes we might need both a scale and a broom. A scale to keep things in balance and proportion and a broom to sweep out all the stuff that is irrelevant to your life goals and dreams and may be bogging you down, like trying to walk through wet cement.

    Lets start with the scale:

    scale

    Many personal development coaches teach clients to make a pie chart like this……………

    pie chart

    ……..and then teach clients to put a label on each piece of the pie representing life areas where time and energy and spent. Typical categories would be work, family, community, religion, leisure, etc. Then, by keeping track of how much time or effort you spend in activities related to each category, you can easily see if your life is out of balance or not.

    Take the case of a 43 year old small business owner who worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He slept eight hours a day, leaving only 6 hours  a day for everything else including his marriage, his family, personal time, etc. Soon, he felt overwhelmed and burned-out and then he felt  “used” by almost everyone because his needs outside of work were not even close to being satisfied or fulfilled. Often people like this have a classic “type A” personality and are seen as “driven.” One client we saw had had three heart attacks by age 33 and still was unable to slow down or add balance to his life.

    Is happiness higher in people who have a more balanced life? Are these people less stressed? I’m not sure that this has even been directly researched, but it seems intuitively true from observation of happy and relaxed people. Balance comes not only from how you spend your time, but also in terms of  how purposeful or meaningful what you do seems to you. Do what your love and your life will not feel out of balance to you (although others may not see it the same way). Spending much effort doing what you feel you have to do without counter-balancing it with enjoyable or meaningful or rewarding things will lead to much stress and unhappiness. We all have to spend some time on things we don’t like or things we don’t want to do; but happier people balance these things with doing at least one enjoyable or rewarding  thing each day – something they can “look forward to”

    Now The Broom…..

    broom

    Life activities, thoughts, focus on the unimportant or focus on that which cannot be changed can clutter our minds just like stacks of old newspapers can clutter a room in your house. Both types of clutter make it difficult to navigate life because they bog us down, and occupy space that could be much better used. Mind clutter may include things like:

    • Focusing on trivia or the unimportant while missing the bigger, more important issue (for instance, happily straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic, while being oblivious to the fact that the ship is sinking)
    • Devoting significant portions of your life to changing that which cannot be changed instead of focusing on that which can be. This includes people as well as causes or issues.
    • Staying  stuck in a life style or life situation you stopped liking long ago, but yet you stay in it or keep on doing it. Being preoccupied with the negative clogs your mind and your perspective to try new solutions or try new life styles that may be less stressful and bring more happiness. Think: “If I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.”
    • Thinking certain self-talk or holding certain beliefs about yourself or the world which may not be true, yet stop you from pursuing or achieving some life dreams that may still be within you reach.
    • Holding resentments or grievances which poison you inside like a cancer and block your potential for happiness or fulfillment.

    AngerCoach Show – Episode #11 – Anger and Sex

    This months episode we discuss the relationship that sex and anger share. As a practicing Psychologist and Marriage Therapist, I have come across many couples who experience sexual frustrations in their relationships. Often times anger can arise from sexual frustration, and as this episode discusses, sexual frustration can result from anger. In this podcast we teach four practical and easy-to-employ techniques for reducing sexual frustration and anger in your relationship.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    How To Tank Your Relationship- Lesson 2

    blackandwhitethinking

    In our last blog, we taught you Lesson 1 of how to tank your relationship: React to bad behavior by your partner  in way that indicates that you think they are 100% wrong and you are 100% right. Then assume that there is only one way (your way) to view or look at the situation, so there is no need to try to see things from the perspective of your partner.

    Today we continue with our lessons on how to tank a relationship- just in case Lesson #1 hasn’t worked for you yet:

    How to tank your relationship: Lesson 2- Handle anger toward each other poorly.

    african american couple fighting

    To tank your relationship, get “stuck” in your anger either as the partner with the original anger or as the partner who is on the receiving end of anger. Either way, getting stuck in anger can quickly turn to  disgust. Eventually, you might even get to contempt for your partner which is a deathblow to most relationships. With a contemptuous attitude, you don’t even bother to get angry back at your partner because you tell yourself “I won’t stoop to my partner’s level by getting angry.”  So you stonewall (don’t talk at all to your partner), become passive-aggressive (get back at your partner in a sneaky way), or emotionally shut-down.

    Fact is, research on successful couples (as described in a book by marital therapist Brent J. Atkinson called “Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy”) shows that anger itself is not a dangerous emotion for marriages. Many highly successful couples regularly blow up at each other. Blow-ups are not necessarily destructive (within limits). Rather, partners getting stuck in their resentment for having been attacked is an equally serious  issue that brings down a marriage.

    That is because when a person fails to stand up forcefully when feeling disregarded or criticized harshly, they almost always harbor resentment and in internal attitude of contempt (That is, they think of themselves as “better”  in some sense than their exploding partner.) And, as mentioned above, having contempt toward your partner is a very serious problem in terms of longevity of the relationship.

    Caution: Only read the next paragraph if you have decided NOT to tank your relationship:

    So, what is the healthy way to handle anger in a relationship? First, if you are the primary angry partner, learn to communicate better and deal with normal angry feelings more effectively without destroying your partner or the relationship in the process. There are many ways to handle anger so that you get a better result and you get more of what you truly want from your partner! These techniques (including something called a “softer startup”)  are what we teach in local anger management classes as well as in our online distance-learning program.

    Second, you do not have to suffer in silence if you are in relationship with a person who handles their anger poorly.  The trick is to stand up for yourself and deal with the issue rather than “stuffing it” and building resentment through the years. (Of course, do not put yourself in a dangerous situation by standing up for yourself with a truly raging or violent partner).

    Research strongly shows that partners of people who act badly in any way (including anger) have more influence than they think on future occurrences of that bad behavior by their spouse. You do not have to tolerate it and can even change it to some extent if you do the right things.

    AngerCoach Show – Episode #10 – Is Humor a Remedy for Anger?

    This months episode we discuss the positive effects that a sense of humor can have in dealing with anger. Appropriate humor can help all of us deal with difficult situations better, and if we have a problem with anger humor can gives us new ways to respond to frustrating situations. Humor shifts the way we think and helps us to be response-able – capable of handling stress, frustration, tension and other hard to deal with emotions. In this episode, we also teach four easy ways to develop a sense of humor.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    AngerCoach Show – Episode #9 – Managing Expectations

    This months episode discusses the benefits of managing your expectations. Learn what your expectations are, where they come from and understand how the world around us influences our expectations. When we understand these things, then we can better adjust what our expectations are when it comes to our lives, our relationships, our families, our possessions and our jobs. If we find ourselves frustrated by these things then it’s possible that we have formed unrealistic expectations about these goals. By adjusting our expectations to more realistic levels, we can avoid the anger that comes from being let down, and we will find ourselves living happier lives as a result.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    Managing Expectations: A powerful happiness tool!

    When people graduate from our anger management classes, we ask them which of the eight tools of anger control helped them the most. Often graduates tell us that it was Anger Tool # 6– “Adjust expectations” that was of most help to them. But managing expectations helps in more life areas than just anger; it also is a very useful tool for happiness, to fight depression, and generally to have a more balanced life.

    What is an expectation?
    An expectation is a mental prediction of what will happen in the future when we don’t know for sure. If what does actually happen matches or exceeds our expectation of it we experience positive emotions such as satisfaction, joy, surprise, or gratification. If, on the other hand, what occurs is different from what we expected or is less than what we expected, we experience negative emotions such as disappointment, anger, or frustration.

    To fight depression, to be less angry, to have less life frustration, it is important to develop the skill of closing the gap between what we have and what we expected in the first place. This is not easy because it is a real challenge to decide what is reasonable to expect of ourselves, our loved ones, our employees, our friends, or our marriage partners. To complicate matters, we live in a culture that often encourages unrealistic expectations of our marriages, our sex lives, our financial success, our body beauty, our children, and our “rights” to unlimited material things.

    Given our culture and our attitudes, , how can we NOT be disappointed when we actually look our age, when we only have a normal sex frequency of once or twice a week , when we can only afford one family car instead of that second SUV, when our children our good citizens but only average in achievement, and when we “only” earn $80,000 a year at age twenty-eight.

    Shouldn’t We Aim High?
    Not that we shouldn’t aim high. Achievement and success often follow dreams. But, as we are looking toward the sky we also need to remember to keep our feet on the ground. Lowering  or at least having different expectations gives us emotional room to be surprised, delighted and awed by good things that occur that we didn’t demand or depend on for our happiness. With this attitude, good things  are like a bonus of life rather than a condition for happiness.

    What should we expect in marriage?
    In relationships, unhappy people often expect something different than what they get. Again, this is sometimes due to children growing up with the Hollywood fantasy of what marriage is like. Later, these same children expect, for instance,  that their marriage partner’s purpose in life is to satisfy all their needs, that making a marriage succeed shouldn’t be hard work, and that you should be able to “be yourself” and still have your partner love you (even though you are a very poor marriage partner). Unfortunately, sometimes we discover that we don’t know our partners very well at all, even though we thought we did back when the hormones were still distorting our perception during courtship. Some psychologists maintain that many of us don’t marry a real person; rather we marry a “concept” (or an expectation) of what we want them to be.

    Marital trouble then strikes when reality sets in!

    What are some ways to Adjust Your Expectations for More Happiness?
    To examine your expectations and adjust them, it often helps to talk to trusted friends or older people that you respect and look up to. Research show that it really helps to talk to trusted people who have been through what you are confused about. You might also have  sessions with a qualified therapist to help you sort things out. Other suggestions would include

    • Mentally prepare yourself and others ahead of time for what may or may not happen.  Sharing possibilities and outcomes with others can do much to reduce conflicts.
    • Stop “shoulding” in your self-talk. Think of the word “should” less often because that word is a sure-fire formula for frustration and upset.
    • Try to see disappointing things or people from a different perspective, focusing on different aspects of the person or situation.

    Anger and Sex: Part 1- Sexual Frustration

    sexproblems

    As a practicing psychologist and marriage therapist, I often encounter clients who are angry because they suffer sexual frustration in their marriage or relationship. As we teach in our anger classes, anger is sometimes a secondary emotion, meaning that there is something underneath it which triggers it. Often that “something” is sexual frustration.

    The most common type of sexual frustration is what sex therapists call “low libido” which means that one partner just isn’t interested in sex often enough to satisfy the other partner. Persons with low libido enjoy sex once they get into it, but rarely want to get into it. Their partners often complain that they never initiate it, or show lack of enthusiasm about sex. To use a metaphor, persons with low sex desire are like a car that has an engine that runs fine, but the battery is often dead.

    My experience has been that persons with low sex desire love their partners very much, and are still attracted to them, but feel guilty that they no longer desire sex as often, rarely think about sex, and usually don’t know what to do about it. Their partners often take it personally, feel rejected, and sometimes need to find an explanation for why their sex life has dwindled. Unfortunately, they often come to the wrong conclusion such as their partner is having an affair.

    Sexual frustration in a relationship is the elephant in the room. Often, the couple stops talking about it because they have learned that it just leads to conflict. Yet, the problem invades almost all aspects of the relationship, even if nobody talks about it:  A couple may go to bed at different times to avoid having to deal with sex; watching your partner talk to other men or other women is interpreted differently; one partner may start withholding favors (like cooking a favorite meal) out of sexual resentment; partners stop touching each other at all to avoid sexual arousal or potential rejection; sleeping with a scared child in another room is seen by the other as a method to avoid intimacy.

    There are many causes and reasons for low sexual desire. People just have different sexual desires, just as they have different appetites for many things. These sexual desires often change at different ages and different life circumstances. Having periods of low sex desire is normal, and often related to events such as recent childbirth, normal marital stresses and demands that cause fatigue, and work demands.

    Contrary to popular opinion, low sexual desire is distributed about evenly among men and women. Many times the problem is not so much the level of sexual desire, but the discrepancy between your desire and your partner’s desire. This means that “low desire” is a relative term, depending on who you are with.

    That said, sometimes  low sex desire is caused by relationship issues, especially anger or resentment. What this means is that sometimes  anger can be the cause of low sexual desire (especially in women), and anger can also be the result of sexual frustration (in both genders, but probably  more often in men). In my experience, many women lose sexual  desire for partners they resent or feel anger toward. Likewise, many men are constantly nasty and emotionally withholding toward their partners because they are sexually frustrated.

    While sex therapy with a professional therapist is sometimes required to deal with sex problems, the tools that we teach in our local anger management programs as well as our distance learning anger program can help with your sex life in many ways. Tools learned in our programs include dealing better with stress, developing more empathy for your partner, communicating assertively with each other, adjusting marital and sexual expectations to a reasonable level, and learning to let go of past resentments and grievances.

    The bottom line is that learning to deal with anger can improve your sex life. And, improving your sex life can help with your anger!

    Is humor a remedy for anger?

    funcouple

    I recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona for a visit with a high school buddy that, save for a brief visit two years ago, I had not seen for fifty years.

    What an experience that was – catching up with each other’ s lives covering a half of a century!

    He had heard that I had become a psychologist, but  he had a little trouble wrapping his mind around how he thought I would be versus how he remembered me as a 17 year old adolescent. As old friends often do, we kidded around a lot as we reminisced, after which he asked, “‘How can you be a successful psychologist seeing people with serious problems when you kid around so much?”

    The answer to that question is that appropriate humor is a valid therapeutic technique that can have much therapeutic value, even with people who have quite serious problems.

    As Bill Cosby said: “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything – even poverty – you can survive it. “

    Comic Bob Newhart (who played a television psychologist) said: “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.”

    Actually, considerable research shows that humor is a powerful strategy to lower your stress level, dissolve anger and instantly give you new ways to view situations and thus new ways to respond. Often, mood is elevated just in the process of striving to find humor in difficult and frustrating situations. Laughing at ourselves and the situation helps reveal that small things are not the earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can make it seem less formidable and thus more solvable.

    As we teach in our local anger management classes, as well as our online program, humor shifts the ways in which we can think and thus opens opportunities to be more “response-able” in dealing with whatever  is triggering our anger – without being overwhelmed by it. As Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman and activist) observed: “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”

    Laughter can also help us release pent-up feelings of anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways; it also reduces tension because it is often followed by a state of relaxation.

    So, give it a try.  If you are truly humor-challenged, here are some suggestions to improve:

    • Start collecting amusing (but tasteful) jokes that you can use to brighten the moment.
    • Take anger situations and flip them to see the funny side.
    • Learn to laugh at yourself; it shows you are secure about who you are and what you want.
    • Try seeing the situation from a different perspective

    Can you change? Maybe. Maybe Not. Probably.

    lightbulb

    Have you heard this psychologist joke?

    Question: How many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb?

    Answer: Only one – but the light-bulb has to really want to change.

    In my experience as a psychologist and marriage therapist, I have often see people struggle with the question of how much they are capable of actually changing. At social events, when people discover my profession, they will sometimes ask, Can people really change, even if they want to?

    Can it change its spots?
    Can it change its spots?

    Some folks believe in the philosophy that “A leopard cannot change its spots” while others believe  “anything is possible”  in terms of ability to change. As is often the case in psychology, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Obviously, certain habits and some personality traits are changeable, many psychiatric conditions (such as phobias, depression, sexual dysfunction and anxiety) are now very treatable,  but certain core character traits, attitudes toward life, core personality traits, and personal beliefs are not.

    A question that often comes up in therapy (or socially) is: “Can an unfaithful partner change or is cheater  always a cheater? Too bad questions about human behavior are not more easily answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”‘  Truth is, some unfaithful partners can and do change and others don’t. Depends on the circumstances (the type of affair) and the character structure of the offender.

    The reason the “change” issue  is an important question is that it lies at  the core of setting expectations about people. It is our expectations that determine to a large extent what we will feel toward others or certain situations. If we have in our minds that someone could change if they really wanted to, but, in fact, they cannot, we may unjustifiably  get upset with them.  We may also get unduly upset with ourselves for not changing something about ourselves when, in fact, we need to accept  limitations in that particular area of our lives. People often have unrealistic expectations about themselves and then either unduly berate themselves (expectations too high) if life turns out differently than they anticipated or, give up too easily(expectations too low)  when they could have done more!

    What does change require?

    Can You Change? It Requires Ability To Do So

    The philosophy that “anything is possible” does not square with life experience,  although this notion is popular in our society. For example, for ten years my first wife was convinced she could teach me how to sing. Being a music teacher, she saw me as a real professional challenge the first time she heard me, even though I told her that I couldn’t even carry a tune in a box. Poor woman really tried..and tried. We both eventually gave up, bowing to the harsh reality that one has to have the proper brain structures to be able to sing, no matter how hard one tries, desires it, or commits to it.

    Is It Worth It? Change Requires Motivation

    On the other hand, we can we learn to change how we communicate, how we handle anger, how we function or show love as a wife, husband, partner, or parent! Many times it is not innate limitations holding us back, but simple lack of skills. If you didn’t get the skills earlier in your life,   you can still acquire them, but this will involve motivation to do so, assuming the thing is changeable in the first place.  Take the young women who comes to our anger management classes because she has just lost her third boyfriend in a row because they could not deal with her anger. Is she motivated to change? You bet! Was she motivated during her first conflictual relationship? No, because at that point she did not see herself as the problem. But, now she does!

    Should You Change? It  Requires Trait of Flexibility in Your Personality

    Some people do not believe in change. My late mother was one of those people. She did not believe in personal change and could not successfully deal with change in others or change in circumstances. At age 63 she was proud of the fact that “I am the same person today as I was at age 19.”

    When I went away to college  and then returned home with fresh ideas and life views, she was very upset because she did not see me as the same boy that had left home (“College has changed you” ). Change requires the flexibility to accept it rather than being scared of it or threatened by it. It requires the ability to be adaptable (instead of rigid) in a changing world and to see the necessity of changing in order to be a more effective person. It is the attitude: “Well, if that doesn’t work for me, I better try something else.” Unfortunately, many people are the opposite: they hold onto what obviously doesn’t work any longer in the hopes that somehow it will work again for them.

    Are You Ready To Change?
    Are You Ready To Change?

    When Should You Change?  Often it  is required to Deal with Life  Stages. Most people realize that children go through  developmental stages, but fail  to recognize that adults do too. What you need and how you see the world is often quit different at age 60 than at age 20. People sometimes naturally change at different life stages. The man who was a terrible father because he was always gone to support the family when younger,  may be an excellent grandfather at age 60. The 19 year old girl who was attracted to the “hot” young men , at age 40 may value stability more than muscles in a man now. To some extent, nature forces us to change as we age, but some people fight it more than others or become frightened because different survival skills are now needed.

    Some people mellow as they get older while others sour. Perhaps one reason for the difference is that of adaptability – or change.  It seems to me that happier people are better at accepting change as natural and as part of the universe while sour people are often bitter, disillusioned, disenchanted or unfulfilled with their life or life situation.

    Believe it or not, old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Life is change and the wise person asks themselves what they need in THIS life stage to be happier, to be more effective, and to deal with the current as well as future personal challenges.


    How Self-Talk Changes Moods

    How we think about it makes it so
    How we think about it makes it so

    A famous psychologist, Dr. Albert Ellis changed the face of psychology on the 60’s and 70’s by arguing that it is our self-talk  or thinking patterns that determine how will respond to events in our world and what we will feel about them. He went on to explain that this also explains why person “A” responds differently to an outside event than does person “B” even though they both experience the same thing.

    Sounds rather obvious to us in 2010, but it was a major mind-blower back then, especially for those who believed the extensive writings of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, or the school of thought that said we are like knee-jerk animals and all our behavior is determined by simply stimulus-response connections.

    Dr Ellis wrote a signature book called “Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy” in which he argued that it is as simple as “ABC.”

    • A is an outside event like a marital conflict.
    • C is an emotion connected to that conflict such as anger.

    But, Dr. Ellis explained,  Anger is NOT caused directly by the marital conflict.

    (Stay with me and I’ll explain….)

    Rather, something comes  between “A” and “C” that causes “C.”

    That something (“B”) is our beliefs about “A”.  It is our thinking (or self-talk)  ABOUT the Conflict (or the original issue that you are fighting about) that causes anger or other negative emotions.  Because of  this unique human ability, we can modify and control how we feel and what mood we are in.

    So, here is how it works:

    A – An event that happens (the marital fight or conflict)

    B– Our beliefs and self-talk about marriage (or our partner)  or the beliefs (and self-talk)  around the issue that causes the fight.

    C- All our negative emotions such as anger, frustration, fear, etc.

    Psychologists/therapists who teach clients how to think differently about events in their lives in order to change how they feel and behave are called “cognitive” therapists and their practice is called CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

    I am this type of psychologist and try to teach my local therapy clients that we as human beings should take responsibility for how we interpret and deal with the world because the only alternative is to try and change the world.  Sometimes we can change parts of it, but most of the time a better strategy is to develop skills to deal with it more effectively.

    I also teach this principal in our anger management book (It is called Anger Tool #4- Change your Self-Talk) and in local anger management classes.

    Visit the Anger Coach Webisodes section of our website to see a video of this  and other  very practical and useful mental health the tao of badass tool videos. Thanks to Jason Badham of Population Four for his help in producing this ongoing video series.