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Don’t get angry – use conflict resolution skills

Guest Article by Sherry Gaba

Conflict is difficult for many people. People with codependency often learn to avoid conflict due to fear of abandonment, rejection, and/or criticism. Learning conflict resolution skills makes it easier to handle conflict effectively so you learn not to fear confrontation. Often with the need to people please and receive outside validation, codependents avoid confrontation.

The following are skills you can use to lean into conflict in a healthy way rather then avoid it all together:

  1. Prepare by getting clear about the problem.Clarify your position by writing down talking points as reminders and to keep you focused.
  2. Practice your talking points with a friend or in the mirror.
  3. Use deep breathing to control your anxiety prior to the meeting. Take conscious breaths during the discussion.
  4. Be ready to experience the “newness” that change brings. If you can shift your thinking from a focus on the unknown to recognize that change involves “newness”—new things, people, places, and ideas—with at least some of it bringing excitement and interest, you’ll feel a whole lot better about it.
  5. Be clear about your bottom line and the things you are willing to negotiate. Understand that negotiation is part of the process and expect it.
  6. Look for points of agreement. Find things that you agree on and talk about how to find a win-win solution that benefits everyone.
  7. Do your homework. It helps to have a good idea of what the other person wants to strengthen your position in negotiations.
  8. Use assertive language. “I want. . .” Or “I would like. . .” Ask what the other person wants, then work toward a solution that works for both of you.
  9. Ask for clarification or details about anything you are unclear on.
  10. Take a break. If you feel overwhelmed by the process, take a break. Go to the restroom or get a drink and take some deep breaths.
  11. Give positive feedback. Let the other person know that you see their point of view, or agree on certain key issues.
  12. Table it. If you do not get the minimum you are asking for, suggest that you table the discussion for now and talk about it again later. Don’t give up or give in unless you are certain you have reached a stalemate.


Download a FREE Worksheet PDF file called “Areas of Change” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.

Sherry Gaba helps singles navigate the dating process to find the love of their lives. Take her quiz to find out if you’re struggling with co-dependency, sign up for a 30-minute strategy session, or learn more about how to get over a break-up. For more information visit or sign up today for Sherry’s online group coaching program. Buy her books Love Smacked: How to Break the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love or Infinite Recovery 

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: 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



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

body language-angry young woman

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.

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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, 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.


Anger Management In Action: In Trouble at Work?


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.


Do Anger Professionals Get Angry?

This is a common question that my clients either ask me, or want to ask me as they sit either in anger management class or in private consultation. The short answer is that yes, of course, anger management professionals get angry, like everyone else. But, hopefully the anger management professional uses his own teachings to manage his or her own personal anger. In fact, part of teaching anger management skills to others involves being a good role-model for your clients.

As you may have guessed, I had  an experience once in one of my classes in which a client did everything in his power to argue with everything I was saying, contradicted almost every point I made, and generally was being a major irritant to me and to the other class participants.  This client ( a professional person) in effect was competing with me, much to the detriment of everyone else who wanted to hear what I had to say, not the opinions of a class-mate.

I struggled internally with how to handle this person while being a good role model. This is a similar struggle many of you probably have, when forced to deal with a difficult person such as your child, a spouse, or a coworker. I could feel myself slowly becoming angry inside until I made some decisions to handle the situation differently.

What did I do differently? Instead of logically presenting more “research evidence” to back up my points and proving that I was “right,” I decided to de-fuse it by saying things like  “there are many ways to view this issue” and “thanks for your input,” and let’s have a talk about that after class,” etc.

This acknowledgement worked beautifully both for myself and for him. It immediately de-escalated the subtle “power struggle” going on between us. This participant needed acknowledgement that her viewpoints were perhaps valid too (even though, I obviously still not agree with her viewpoints). The other class members saw what was going on and hopefully acquired a new tool to learn how to deal with conflicts.

The lesson here? Direct confrontation often escalates anger while acknowledging the opinions or feelings of another person de-escalates anger, even if you don’t agree with them.

Do you remember the old adage: Would you rather be “right” or be “happy”? I would modify that to: “Would you rather be right or create peace?”

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.”

Financial Infidelity: Are you dishonest about money?

As the economy tightens, handling of finances in families is increasingly at the core of family fights and conflicts presented to therapists. Financial strain may greatly increase family stress which in turn affects all aspects of the relationship and family life. Even worse, is the introduction of what therapists are now calling “financial infidelity” – not being truthful with your spouse about money earned, money spent, or assets you be holding.

A survey that and Redbook magazine commissioned from HarrisInteractive in 2005 tells the tale. Harris interviewed 1,796 adults, ages 25 to 55, who were married, engaged or living together. Among the findings:

  • Virtually all the people interviewed (96%) said it was both partners’ responsibility to be completely honest about financial issues.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) believed so strongly in this principle that they said openness about money is more important than being faithful. (As legal editor Alan Kopit put it, “They’re saying, ‘It’s one thing to fool around. It’s another thing to fool around with my hard-earned cash!'”)
  • Still, almost one in three (29%) admitted they had lied to their partner about finances, most often about personal spending (21%) or spending on the kids (12%).
  • One in four (25%) said a partner has withheld financial information — again, usually about personal spending (20%) and spending on children (11%).
What we lie about
Spending on ourselves 21% How much we make 6%
Spending on children 12% Our investments 4%
Household finances 9% Our retirement accounts 2%

Source: HarrisInteractive

When financial indiscretions are discovered by the partner, the usual reactions are similar to discovering sexual infidelity: feeling violated, having your “trust” foundation shaken, wondering what else you may have been lied to about, having doubts about wanting to be with a person who lied to you, and perhaps feeling foolish that you didn’t see it happening when perhaps it should have been obvious.

In my experience as a marital therapist , most people who “cheat’ feel justified in doing so. They justify and rationalize their behavior to “make it right” in their own minds, so they don’ t have to feel guilty. It is like their “self-talk” goes astray. For instance, they tell themselves their behavior was OK because:

  • “I spent the  money on the children or the family;”
  • “My own parents or a relative  needed the money;”
  • “My  partner is a miser; I’ll repay it later;”
  • “Since my partner bought so and so, I deserve to buy this for myself; he/she didn’t tell me- why should I tell them? ” ( a balance-the-scale expenditure)
  • I have to drive the old car, so I’ll buy myself a $2000 _____” (a revenge expenditure)
  • “It is my money; I’ll spend it any way I like” (The entitlement expenditure)

Some people, however, financially cheat because they are addicted to alcohol or drugs, to gambling,  to shopping,  to an expensive hobby or interest, or to costly sex. Or, perhaps they simply are dishonest people with poor character. They really can’t justify their actions. They know it is wrong, but either don’t want to change, or can’t change without professional help. Persons at this level of financial infidelity often ultimately destroy the relationship if the behavior continues. After all, partners can only put up with so much; at a certain point, they say “enough” and either end the relationship or establish firm boundaries around financial issues within the relationship. Persons who knowingly allow severe financial abuse to continue probably suffer from low self-esteem.

Fixing Financial Infidelity:
So, how do you fix financial infidelity? As we teach in our local marriage therapy sessions, and in our new Online Marriage Education Program, many marriage problems such as this are born of not aligning expectations to begin with (including setting boundaries) and not assertively and honestly communicating with each other around financial issues. Couples should have serious discussions around the following financial topics:

  • What are the ground rules?
  • What is joint money vs. personal money?
  • What are the parameters for spending? For instance, “we consult with each other before spending over $100”)
  • Do “personal money” expenditures need to be reported to the other?
  • Do we blend money or keep earned money separate?
  • Who physically pays the bills ?
  • Should one or both partners be placed on an “allowance?”
  • Should one partner who is better with money “control” the family expenditures?”

Often a skilled therapist is needed to help couples deal with these issues because most financial issues have a strong emotional component attached to them. As one couple told me recently, “It isn’t about money itself; it is about power and control in our relationship.” In other instances, money conflicts are about clashing financial values, colliding life goals or dreams, or perhaps the inability of the couple to be flexible enough to deal with changing life circumstances (e.g., loss of employment, illness, etc).

Some Financial Thoughts by Benjamin Franklin:

Here are some thoughts to chew on as you and your partner discuss financial expectations and financial values:

  • A man may, if he knows not how to save as he gets, keep his nose all his life to the grindstone, and die not worth a groat at last
  • Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship
  • Buy what thou hast no need of, and before long thou shalt sell thy necessaries
  • A fat kitchen makes a lean will
  • Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom
  • When you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty
  • The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt

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


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 ( 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:


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…..


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.

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.

In close relationships, most of the time being loved, being respected or being personally happy is more important than being “right” – Anger Self Talk 7

We all LIKE being right, but some people HAVE to be right as a matter of power and control over others. These people are very rigid in their thinking patterns because they don’t allow that others may have equally valid opinions or ways of doing things.  While it IS true that sometimes we indeed have to draw a line-in-the-sand regarding what we consider “right,” and “wrong,” most conflicts between family members or other intimate relationships involve issues that usually are in the “gray” area rather than being starkly black and white.

To be less angry. let go of those “gray” issues (and even some of the black and white ones, if you can). Remember that while you may be technically “right,” the emotional cost of holding on to your righteousness may indeed by very high.  What good is it to be right if its cost is the generation of hatred or emotional distance in a family member?

I need to develop more patience and tolerance toward some people or situations – Anger Self Talk 6

As soon as you concern yourself with the “good” and “bad” of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weaken and defeat you”……Morihei Ueshiba

We live in a complex world with over 6 billion other people, many of whom see things, value things and do things very differently from you. If others do things that upset us, it is natural to tell ourselves they are “stupid,” “wrong,” “bad,” “crazy,” or to make other judgments about them which may or may not be true or accurate.

A better way to talk to yourself is to remember that perhaps they are not 100% of the problem. Remind yourself that, as they say, it takes two to tango. That is, upsetting anger occurs as a result both of what they do and how you react or respond to it. Someone else may see the exact same behavior exhibited by the person upsetting you, but yet not become angry or bothered by it.

No offense, but in some situations you may be part of the problem. If so, perhaps you need to develop more tolerance, empathy, or understanding. When someone does something that upsets you, another way to interpret your being upset with them is that you lack coping skills at that moment to successfully deal with the situation.

Rather than angrily blaming the other for their behavior, focus instead on developing personal skills to better cope with it.  For instance, have a teacher you don’t like who irritates you? Rather  an becoming angry or refusing to learn in that class, ask yourself how you can learn to better cope with him or her.  Trust that this may be a growth experience that will help you learn to better cope with difficult people in your future.

I am partly responsible for how people treat me – Anger Self Talk 5

Has it occurred to you that your attitudes, appearance, demeanor, and behaviors are constantly teaching others how you are willing to be treated? It’s like we are beaming signals to other people of which we may or may not be aware.  Yet, we sometimes are astounded when people then treat us in ways consistent with those signals we have been sending.

Want to change someone’s anger toward you? Ask yourself if perhaps you are somehow “pulling” (or at least encouraging) that behavior from the other by how you are with them. Of course, this is not always the case, but it is an excellent place to start – and it is something that is under your control to change.

To continue this concept, perhaps you become angry when you feel that others disrespect you, bully you, don’t listen to you, don’t take you seriously, or perhaps don’t act lovingly toward you. Again, the appropriate self-talk here is to ask yourself if you could somehow change what you do to get a different response from the people you now have issues with.  This self-talk is empowering and elevates you from victim to feeling a measure of control over your life because you can always control what you do much more than what others do or do not do.

Nobody is perfect. I must remember that even good intentioned and competent people make mistakes – Anger Self-Talk 4

“Iron is full of impurities that weaken it; through forging it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword. Human beings develop in the same fashion” – Morihei Ueshiba


To reduce anger, remind yourself that most of us are works in progress and, as such, are imperfect. We all have good days and and bad days; we all have areas of extreme competence as well as mediocrity; we sometimes shine and other times look pretty dull.  Increased tolerance of our own mistakes, limitations and foibles as well as tolerance of the mistakes or imperfecions of others will make life less frustrating for you.

Things don’t always have to go my way – Self Talk Part 2

Some days you are  the pigeon; other days you are the statue.

When people read this “self-talk,” in anger management class, there is always immediate chuckling indicating self-awareness of how often we convince ourselves just the opposite – that things should go our way because after all, we are masters of the universe and legends in our own minds.

The mature person recognizes that things probably unfold in the world pretty much as they are supposed to – even if events don’t necessarily follow our personal plans, wishes, needs or wants. To what extent do we control our personal world? Philosophers have been dabating this issue for thousands of years without agreement; until they figure it out, you can manage your anger by realistically telling yourself that sometimes things will go your way, and other times they won’t – no matter how hard you try.

More at and

How To Talk To Yourself When Angry-Part 1

As you go through your daily life, what kinds of things irritate or anger you? If you are like most people, the list is porbably quite long and may vary in length depending on the day and your mood at the time.

Our anger management participants regularly tell us they experience workplace anger, desk rage, road rage, relationship anger, irritation with parents, irritation with teachers, being mad at peers, being mad at siblings, fast-food anger, customer service anger, bank anger, computer anger, and ex-spouse anger. There appears to be no end to the growing list as our society becomes more and more complex.

When you stop and think about it, you will realize that there is no limit to things in the world that can trigger anger and stress in you.  The only sensible way to view all this is to understand that you can’t live in a modern world without being constantly exposed to many potential anger triggers – which you probably are unable to change or modify. So, to survive (and thrive) you need to develop tools and skills to deal with those things that serve as anger triggers for you personally.

This involves first taking responsibility for how you deal with those angry feelings instead of blaming them on other people or cicumstances. To do this, you need to first separate the feeling of anger from the expression of anger. We have found that the tool of changing your self-talk is an excellent way to do that.

Why does changing self-talk help us with the expression of anger? Because the feeling of anger is natural when we are frustrated or have a goal blocked.  But, what we tell ourselves about the anger trigger has dramatic effect on how angry we get and how we express it. Our thoughts affect our feelings just as our feelings affect our thoughts.

In future blogs, we will give you twelve powerful ways to talk to yourself when angry.

More information at

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