By Ron Ross
My neighbor came charging across the street. His eyes bulged out and his fists were clenched as he came screaming into my yard, “Why the ____ did you call the cops on me?”
“Because you cannot keep you dogs from barking and the entire neighborhood is fed up with it,” I said in as quiet a voice as I could, hoping to calm him down. It did not work. He kept yelling at me and threatening my life. The guy had anger fever and the temperature was not going down.
Inside the house, my wife could see this was turning nasty, so she called the police. They arrived within minutes and calmed down the neighbor.
Traffic jams, rude customers, unkind co-workers, critical employers, ungrateful children, and an insensitive mate can each make you mad; some, with very little effort. How you express your anger will determine whether these important relationships will bloom or wilt, strengthen or weaken,
What is your favorite way to express anger?
There are six common ways to express anger: BLOW OUT, STRIKE OUT, FAKE OUT, SNUFF OUT, PULL OUT and SPEAK OUT.
BLOW OUT! This used to be my preferred method of expressing my discontent with people and situations. I would explode by screaming at everyone and everything nearby, and all without a moment’s warning. The bad news was it was ugly. The good news was it was brief. After the storm passed by, the calm set in. Like a tornado, it damaged only those that were in its path.
If you use BLOW OUT to express your anger, you have already done and said some pretty stupid things—many that have had long-term negative impacts on the people you know and love the most. Know this: Everyone around you is afraid of you. They do not want to see you explode and will do what they can to keep it from happening, including taking advantage of every chance they have to avoid being with you for any length of time. Your BLOW OUT problem is not everyone else’s problem; it is yours. Get control of your temper. You are an adult now; you no longer have to act like a three-year-old.
STRIKE OUT! Some people become aggressive when they are angry. Road rage is the result of STRIKE OUT anger. Someone cuts you off in traffic and BANG! your hands grip the steering wheel until your knuckles turn white, and you curse heaven and earth while you step on the gas because you are going to teach that so-and-so what driving is all about.
This kind of belligerent anger comes from the presupposition that you are always right and everyone else is an idiot. You think you should always get what you want, and you will stomp on anyone who gets in your way. You will intimidate, humiliate, manipulate and castigate just to make sure you get your way. Then to top it off, you blame the guy who made you angry.
What to do about it? Get a life. The world does not revolve around you. You are not always right; in fact, your STRIKE OUT behavior is proof you may be a much bigger idiot than the guy in the next car or the people who share your home. Stop making so many unrealistic demands on other people and take a deep breath. When something nasty happens to you, smile don’t snarl, laugh don’t curse.
FAKE OUT! The FAKE OUT way of dealing with anger is used by people who think they have to be nice all the time, so they try to FAKE OUT others by repressing their anger and not dealing with it (denial). This is the “peace at any price” way. If you employ this method of anger expression (or lack of it), you will go through life frustrated by your false face and you will never have your own needs met. You will allow people to walk all over you for the sake of momentary tranquility.
You need to take a risk and tell the person who causes you anger how they impact your life. When you keep your anger inside, you create not only relational problems but serious physical problems as well.
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SNUFF OUT! Here I’m talking about people who on the one hand act as if everything is fine while beneath the surface they seethe with resentment. If someone makes them angry, they SNUFF OUT (repress) their real feelings and relegate them to their quiet, restrained inner self where they churn and burn, agitate and exasperate.
Psychologists call these people “passive-aggressive.” They appear passive while they think aggressively. Their aggressiveness, however, is not usually expressed directly. It is expressed subtly and indirectly by stubbornness, procrastination, cynicism, or the intentional failure to do requested tasks. For example, someone who uses SNUFF OUT to express their anger will create unusual delays in getting ready for a party they do not want to attend. It is their quiet way (passive) of expressing their anger (aggressive).
This kind of behavior has a negative impact on almost everyone, especially the one practicing it. If you SNUFF OUT your anger, you will undermine your most valuable relationships and it will prevent you from taking the kind of action necessary to solve real and present problems. It can impact you both personally and professionally.
How to deal with it? Convince yourself that it is OK to be angry and that it is even more OK to not allow others to ruin your life with their negative and nasty behavior. If you are being treated unfairly, speak out! Get in the habit of gently expressing your anger so others do not take advantage of you.
PULL OUT! Some people prefer to avoid anger altogether and just walk away; so they PULL OUT. They are able to escape from the people or the situation that is causing them grief, but they never resolve the conflict. Are those who PULL OUT not angry? Of course they are, but they won’t admit it. They are probably angry most of the time because their needs are never met. Many turn the anger against themselves and some suffer depression and even serious physical ailments.
Anger avoiders need to learn to get in touch with this very real emotion. They need to learn to be assertive in dealing with others. They must secure a proper view of themselves and their place in this world; they must correct their mistaken beliefs about anger.
What is your preferred way of expressing anger? Do you BLOW OUT (scream, rant and rave), STRIKE OUT (become aggressive), FAKE OUT (make others think you are not angry so no one gets upset), SNUFF OUT (hide your anger while you seethe and boil inside), or do you PULL OUT (leave when situations get tense)?
None of those ways of dealing with anger work very well over the long haul. The best way to deal with anger is to learn how to effectively SPEAK OUT your anger without shouting, cursing, complaining, hiding, punching, seething, or running.
Using S-P-E-A-K as an acrostic, here are my suggestions for the appropriate expression of anger.
S – SUPERVISE. SUPERVISE YOURSELF FIRST.
In every tension-filled encounter, someone needs to be the grown-up. Let that person be you by supervising yourself first. Take control of your emotions, your body, and your tongue.
Anger does need to be expressed but in non-threatening ways that do not result in injury to yourself, the person with whom you are angry, or someone’s property. Therefore, it is up to you to suppress (different than repress) your anger until you have control of yourself and the situation.
You do this by acknowledging the feelings you have and declaring to yourself and others involved that the situation will be dealt with in an appropriate manner.
Supervise yourself first. Begin by calming yourself down: count backwards, talk to yourself, take three or four deep breaths, or remove yourself from the situation long enough to gain personal control. This tells yourself and others that your anger is OK, your self-esteem is strong, and you are an adult, but that you are able to express your anger appropriately.
P – PONDER. PONDER APPROPRIATE RESPONSES.
Anger always arises as the second event in any anger-producing incident. The spilled milk comes first, then the angry reaction. It’s the millisecond between the spilled milk and the reaction that holds the key to the appropriateness of the response. In that moment of time, you decide what you will say and how you will say it. And what you do at that time will determine whether you will make the situation better or worse.
Remember, nobody “makes” you angry. You choose the feelings you have and you determine how those feelings will be dealt with; they will either harm or heal, accept or reject, alleviate or aggravate.
So, don’t blame the other person for your nasty words and unseemly behavior. What you say and what you do and how you act are choices you make and you must accept the consequences of your actions and reactions, so the P in our acrostic stands for PONDER APPROPRIATE RESPONSES.
E – EXPLAIN. EXPLAIN HOW YOU FEEL.
Explaining how you feel is far different than screaming a stream of epithets, or insulting everyone within earshot, or brooding for three days, or getting revenge on someone who hurt you.
Explaining how you feel involves the use of the shortest word in the English language: I. What I’m talking about are “I” statements or “I” messages that clearly declare your heart-felt feelings or your real personal needs.
“I am angry” can be declared as quietly and forcefully as “I am tired.” “I feel slighted,” or “I feel hurt by your words,” or “I need some help.” When you use I messages, you are utilizing non-threatening language to explain how you feel.
By the way, you might want to expand your emotional vocabulary. What you may at first think is anger may really be loneliness, or disappointment, or shame, or exhaustion, or annoyance, or a hundred or so other feelings. Someone said there are over 3,000 words in the English language that could complete the sentence, “I feel…”
Next: A – APPLY. APPLY LISTENING SKILLS
Want to know how to find out why people make you angry? Stop lecturing them and start listening to them. When you APPLY LISTENING SKILLS you work to understand the other person’s point of view. You can only discover the other person’s point of view if you APPLY LISTENING SKILLS.
Some time in the future I intend to come out with an entire course on the power of listening. In the meantime, here are four quick tips on becoming a better listener so you can find out why people make you angry.
First of all, Concentrate. When someone else is talking concentrate on what they are saying. Look them in the eye and let them know you are full present in the moment.
Second, Empathize. Author Stephen Covey wrote, “When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
Third, Reflect. Mirror back what the other person is saying. Summarize the various points they have made. This demonstrates you are not only listening but that you are empathizing!
Fourth, Inquire. Ask questions. Find out the meaning behind the words and ideas by gentle, respectful inquiry. Why, when, where, how are all great words to have active in your listening vocabulary.
Here is a quick summary of the S-P-E-A-K acrostic:
S – Supervise yourself first.
P – Ponder appropriate responses
E – Explain how you feel
A – Apply listening skills
K – Know how far to go and when to stop
K – KNOW HOW FAR TO GO AND WHEN TO STOP. This is a matter of wisdom and experience.
The better you are at explaining how you feel and the better you become at listening to understand the other person’s point of view, the better you will become at knowing how far to go and when to stop. By expressing your anger in the right way and with the right goals in mind, with a clear understanding of the other person’s perspective, you establish an atmosphere where future flare-ups can be interrupted.
There is a world of difference between the misuse and appropriate use of anger. It is the difference between love and fear, peace and war, harmony and conflict, pain and pleasure, pleasantness and belligerence.
When anger is expressed appropriately, it communicates love and respect.
Remember the story of my neighbor who dashed across the street and on to my lawn with fists clenched, eyes blazing and voice yelling? He so scared my wife she called the police who were able to quiet the man down then walked him back to his house and handed him a citation for disturbing the peace.
A few weeks later I was called to court to testify against him. When he arrived for court his left arm was all bandaged up. The judge asked him what happened to his arm, thinking it had something to do with our altercation.
“My dog bit me,” he said quietly. The judge grinned, mumbled something about unusual but suitable justice, then slammed down his gavel and fined him $50. I seldom saw him or heard his dogs bark after that.
I have written this series because we all need to learn how to express our anger without hurting others or getting arrested.
Everyone is angry from time to time. It is OK to be angry, but it is not OK to be out of control; it is not OK to abuse those around you with spiteful words or reprehensible behavior. And, from the other side of the anger, it is not OK to let others abuse you either verbally, emotionally, or physically.
Start today to add to your words a gentle touch, a calm spirit, and a sense that you still respect the people around you. When anger is recognized and expressed appropriately with the intention of strengthening the relationship, it can actually enhance growth, heighten respect, and restore intimacy.
Learn the appropriate use of anger, and the peace and joy of your everyday life will improve tenfold, the lives of those you live and work with will improve a hundredfold and you, my friend, will not get arrested!
©2015 Ronald Ross