W. Robert Nay, Taking Charge of Anger, Second Edition: Six Steps to Asserting Yourself without Losing Control (2012)
- p. 2 Children much less likely to be aggressive if parents/adults are effectively civil.
- p. 3-4 Anger has many faces, many are not loud, intense or aggressive – ranging from cold to hot.
- p. 4-5 Effectively using new skills requires some comprehension of why they work.
- Unrealistic expectations for self/others when unmet lead to anger, so learn about expectations and how to manage them.
- How to dampen anger before it becomes too intense.
- Identifying and handle thoughts that pop → anger triggers
- You can communicate thoughts and feelings clearly/effectively with "assertive problem solving"
- Most important key is self-awareness (cf. Change Loop)
- p. 5 Resentment is unresolved anger. It leads to or "festers" and becomes a trigger, so you need to confront resentments in a new way to resolve them.
- p. 5 Halting anger even if it seems to take hold very quickly ("too fast to see it coming") is possible.
- p. 6-7 A list of "typical" angry situations:
- You always have an indignant "Who, me?" response, but others in your life are starting to complain that your anger is a problem.
- Your wife (or husband, or children, or partner, or boss...) has told you several times that your blowup was the last straw. You have to do something about "your problem—or else."
- You've been feeling exhausted and irritable a lot lately and often snap at others, then regret it.
- When you get angry, you find yourself holding it inside, punishing the object of your anger by not doing what he or she asks or by responding minimally when asked if something is wrong: "No, nothing. I'm fine."
- You sometimes minimally respond or avoid speaking entirely with your spouse (or best friend, or colleague at work ...) for days at a time when angry. You kind of enjoy others working hard to find out what's wrong with some version of "Why are you not talking? Is it something I did? Please talk to me."
- You can be downright sarcastic when someone irritates you. For example, you tell a personal and embarrassing story on the person or kind of make fun at her expense. When she reacts, you make her feel like she is overreacting: "What do you mean? ... I was just having some fun with you. Why are you so sensitive?" The real issue is you're angry and don't come out and say it.
- You have frequent aches and pains (e.g., a throbbing headache or backache) when your work gets too aggravating. You often feel exhausted and out of sorts by the time you get home and sometimes take it out on your family.
- You've just "had it" lately and sometimes blow up at anyone who annoys you. You often lose it with "rude" drivers, clerks in stores, and anybody else who fails to meet your high standards for how people should act (e.g., competent, courteous, and mannerly).
- p. 9 It's what we do when angry that determines whether it is a helpful energy source or merely the fuel to create tension and conflict in our lives.
Step 1 – Understanding and Recognizing Anger
How do you understand your experience of anger and know when it becomes a problem? How do you observe yourself better when confronted with aggravating situations? How will you respond emotionally? What will you do when provoked? You must recognize your anger before you can decide how you wish to react in the future.
Chapter 1 – The Faces of Anger
- 15 Anger is a valuable emotion that tells us we need to address an issue. For some of us, it's heard as a soft tone in the background, signaling that all is not right.
- p. 15 When recognized and understood, anger can be the first step toward problem resolution, providing us with the energy to right a wrong, stand up for an issue we believe in, or stay the course of managing conflict. Unfortunately, many of us don't use our anger for problem resolution. We simply don't – or won't – see that we're angry or that the way we are expressing this feeling has become a problem in itself.
- p. 16-17 Does my anger negatively impact others? Have you experienced any of these telltale signs that others are having a problem with the way you express anger?
- Others comment on your reaction to a stressful situation or criticize your behavior.
- You feel embarrassed following an anger outburst.
- A relationship you value is strained or lost.
- p. 17 If you know or suspect that your anger is a problem for significant others, it's a problem you will eventually have to deal with.
- p. 17-18 Is anger affecting my efficiency and performance? Research shows that when your stress rises beyond a moderate level, performance deteriorates rapidly.
- p. 18-19 Is my health or quality of life suffering because of my anger? Do you notice any of the following signs that anger may be affecting your health or level of comfort?
- Your energy level, physical comfort, or sense of satisfaction is not what it used to be.
- A health problem has been aggravated lately or flares up when you feel particularly "stressed" or irritated.
- You find it harder to relax, let your hair down, and have fun. Everything seems like work.
- You avoid activities with people, hobbies, or sports because they aggravate you now.
- How often do I experience anger?
- How intense is my anger? How long does it last?
Where do I stand in my relationship with anger?
p. 28 After reviewing the SAQ and thinking about how anger has impacted your life:
- Can you identify with one or more of the dysfunctional faces of anger? Which one(s)?
- How is your anger expression affecting others who are important to you, even if you are okay with it?
- Is it affecting your enjoyment or performance at work, at home, or at play?
- Is your health, sense of wellness, or the quality of your life suffering as a result of your anger
- How often do you get angry in the ways you've identified through the questionnaire?
- How intense is your anger, and how long does it last?
Your goal is not to completely eliminate anger but to change your relationship to it, so anger can keep its role as an important signal when you need to change something and to provide you with the energy to keep moving forward_ . _
Chapter 2 – Behind the Mask
By looking at the components of anger, we can see how it builds and where there are opportunities to head it off so it's not inevitable.
Anger is always composed of 5 parts: triggers, thoughts, feelings, actions and outcomes.
- What triggers each person's anger is unique, based on what his or her childhood and life experiences taught that person to expect – from themself, from other people, and even about how the world should work. When these expectations are not met, anger is often the result.
- Triggers can be reviewed. You can decide which of your deeply ingrained expectations are realistic and attainable and which are unrealistic and should be discarded or modified.
- Ongoing thinking or "self-talk" sustains reactions and directs how you ended up responding.
- Your own self-talk at this very moment (e.g., "This really makes sense," "This is really boring," or "I feel exhausted right now") will determine how you feel (enthusiastic, bored, sleepy).
- To change your angry response to a trigger you must change the way you think about it. You can't expect a different emotion with the same self-talk. Keep 2 things in mind:
- Anger arousing self-talk becomes less available when it is challenged or just not practiced any longer.
- Calm thinking is learned and becomes strengthened through repeated practice.
- The fight-or-flight response is an invaluable survival mechanism. The trouble is, though, that it kicks in whenever we perceive a threat. Self-talk that magnifies an upsetting situation will elicit this emotional response regardless of the reality of the situation.
- "Anger scaling" will guide you in recognizing the early signs of your anger so you can manage it before it builds to unmanageable proportions.
- With anger scaling in mind you can work on strategies to actively dampen your fire.
You don't “just lose control” as anger starts. You have choices in the way you react. See The Dysfunctional Faces of Anger and Assertive Problem Solving below.
Outcomes can be divided into two kinds personal and external. Personal outcomes are the effects on you: stomach upset, sleeplessness, stress, making more mistakes, having to replace things you broke and so many more.
External outcomes are the impacts on everyone and everything else. When you express your anger inappropriately over and over, the impact may be greater and longer lasting. It may change the way other people treat you, which can have effects that reach into every part of your life.
The Dysfunctional Faces of Anger
We show anger in several common ways. These different ways are “faces” or the way anger looks, behaves and expresses itself in your actions at different times and often in different intensities.
Passive-aggression is perhaps the most difficult face of anger to deal with because the other person withholds or obstructs what you want but denies anger.
Withholds praise, attention, or affection. May “forget” or fail to follow through on commitments. Withholds intimacy when upset. Engages in actions known to upset the other person. Chronic lateness.
At times, the line between humorously joking with another person and sarcastically making a joke of the other’s behavior may be hard to discern.
Makes “humorous” or cutting remarks about others. Reveals embarrassing personal information to others or causes public humiliation. Uses a tone of voice and manner that convey disgust or disapproval.
In contrast to “hot” anger, cold anger involves a turning off, avoidance, or lack of responsiveness to another as a way of expressing anger.
It is not uncommon for both partners in a relationship to display cold anger. When one withdraws, the other reacts with a “quid pro quo” or equal and measured response. No response is less likely to resolve conflict than meeting cold anger with coldness.
Withdraws from the other person for periods of time. Avoids intimacy. Refuses to reveal what is wrong. Tends to avoid emotional discussion when angry.
A kind of free-floating anger that has no clear object, hostility can be aroused by any situation that fails to meet the person’s expectations. This venting of intense anger is often related to the level of stress in the person’s life.
Conveys an inner intensity, raised voice – seems more stressed out. Acts rushed, hurried or impatient. Shows visible signs of frustration and annoyance with others who don’t move fast enough or who fail to meet high expectations for competence or performance.
Aggression clearly has the intent, through cutting words or actions like yelling, name calling, pushing, slapping, or hitting, to intimidate or hurt another emotionally or physically. In contrast, hostility' is a more diffuse, intense emotional state that may even be directed toward objects and clearly lacks the focus of aggression.
Raises voice, is verbally loud or abusive. Curses, uses name calling, and blames. Has thoughts or mental pictures of hurting another. Acts out anger with touching, pushing, blocking, or hitting.
Assertive Problem Solving
Assertiveness is clearly, “boldly,” and informatively telling your position to another person in a way that's not threatening or aggressive.
Problem solving includes:
- Defining the problem in terms of behavior
- Talking about several possible solutions together.
- Agreeing on a solution that you find best, workable or worth experimenting with.
Step 2 – Identifying and Preparing for Anger Triggers
It's important to pay attention to the kinds of situations that trigger your ire. You'll find that you've developed expectations for how you and others should act and even for how the environment and things in it should operate. Anger is aroused when these expectations are not met.
Chapter 3 – Understanding Your Triggers
p. 55 In childhood, our parents and significant others shaped our expectations for how we, others, and the world around us should function.... When our expectations are not met, one very common emotion we experience is anger.
p. 56 Thinking about the last time you got angry may already have revealed some expectations you take with you in all your interactions with others and all your handling of things and events.... Are these expectations reasonable and realistic?... When you hold unrealistic expectations, you're setting yourself up for disappointment and anger by greatly increasing the odds that you won't realize your expected outcome. Jack's expectation
p. 57 You have the opportunity to identify your triggering expectations as a step toward managing your anger. In doing so you increase your sense of control.
You can empower yourself in two ways:
- You can "edit" or discard unrealistic expectations, permanently eliminating triggers that used to get to you.
- You can better prepare for triggering expectations you are unwilling or unable to rid yourself of.
p. 57 Research on stress tells us that increased control and preparedness make you more "resilient." Resilience is at the heart of managing your anger and not letting it manage you.
p. 58 Some of us, due to upsetting or even traumatic experiences in our childhoods, have developed a threatening and somewhat negative view of the world around us and of people in general.
Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?
No matter how high you set your expectations, your performance will be shaped by a combination of your genes and what you have learned and practiced. Accomplishments are also influenced by your health status, fitness, nutrition, encouragement from others, and also factors beyond your control, like the weather.
Do any of these situations ring a bell for you?
Physical Endurance and Performance
p. 58 In exercise, sports, and other physical tasks, you expect more than you can physically deliver.... You know you've set unrealistic expectations for your physical self when:
- You find yourself overly exhausted or stressed by the activity – to a point that it affects your enjoyment.
- You are injured or so sore you cannot carry out other important responsibilities.
- You begin dreading what you once enjoyed.
p. 59 Consider these points:
- As you approach a physically taxing task, realistically consider your current physical fitness based on the recent past. Forget what you used to be able to do, but objectively evaluate your strength and endurance lately and set standards for yourself that agree with these facts.
- When taking on a task that requires certain skills, like home repairs or fixing your car, ask yourself before you begin how much hands-on experience you've had with this particular project. Do you have the necessary tools and supplies to set the stage for success?
- Do you need the help of others and, if so, in what roles, to carry out the task in a safe and effective manner? Are you willing to ask for help?
Intellectual and Task Pursuits
p. 60 Telltale signs that you have set unrealistic expectations for yourself are the following:
- As you begin a task, you aren't sure you have sufficient knowledge, background, or experience to complete it successfully. You've been trying to rationalize that all will be okay, but deep down you have misgivings.
- You soon find that you're failing to meet goals you've set for yourself and must "catch up."
- You feel insecure and anxious or guarded that others may find out you're in "over your head."
p. 60 Before committing yourself to any task, consider these points:
- How much past experience do you have with this task? How have you performed in the past?
- Examine your thinking about this task. Are you trying to please or prove something to others?
- If you need help to successfully complete this task, be sure to ask for it.
Time and Speed
p. 61-62 Often we set time frames for ourselves without realistically appraising the task and possible roadblocks beyond our immediate control.
We often set time standards for others and ourselves with little thought about the facts of the situation.... You know you've stretched the limits of time and set yourself up for a rushed, "winded" experience when you notice these things happening all too often:
- You find yourself wishing you had set aside more time to complete a task or had left sooner to get to a destination.
- You feel anxious as you watch the clock and realize you're falling behind or get angry or impatient with others who fail to meet your time expectations.
- Others have begun to comment that you're late or "last minute."
Consider these ideas for becoming more realistic about time and speed:
- Before setting a time threshold for yourself or others, ask yourself why it's so important to meet a certain deadline.... Many of the tasks and events we add to our schedules just aren't time sensitive. They can wait.
- Review your past experience with this task or activity' and how long it took then.... Set a time frame based on these facts and give yourself some "wiggle room."
- Is being late worth upsetting yourself or others, who may not be as invested?... If you're depending on another person, make sure you mutually agree on the time frame.
- Is your time frame for an activity affected by factors well beyond your control?
Success and Failure
Our needs for recognition and self-actualization are fulfilled when we achieve our goals. If we set daily and longer-term goals that are practical and comfortably achievable, we greatly increase our odds for success. Unfortunately, the same needs may drive us to set very high but unattainable goals, only leaving us feeling angry and frustrated when we don't achieve them.
Some people are often irritable and preoccupied with counting, measuring, and comparing.
p. 63-64 When you set a high standard, it's important to determine that it's realistic and worth the costs. Can you relate to any of these signals that you're setting yourself up for discouragement?
- You and others around you pay a high price for achieving the goals you set.
- When you do attain a goal, you devalue it, immediately resetting a new standard.
- The enjoyment of your daily life takes second place to achieving outcomes.... "Most of life is a journey and not a destination."
Consider the price you're paying when you drive yourself or others beyond reasonable expectations:
- In setting standards for success, consider the cost you or others will pay.
- Set a goal that is at or just above what you've attained before or that a knowledgeable source tells you is reasonably attainable. Once it's achieved, you may push your goal up a notch until you find the limits of what you can expect to accomplish. Psychologists call this "successive approximations," taking small steps toward your goal and feeling good about each accomplishment.
When Other Fail to Meet Your Expectations
p. 64 In childhood you learned what to expect from others and how to behave in response. Because your early experiences were likely somewhat different from those of others, your expectations may not be shared universally. When you conclude that someone else has acted outside of these expectations, whether factual or not, you're likely to experience anger.
Manners and Social Etiquette
Your experiences engraved a kind of inner rule book that defines the social behaviors appropriate for various occasions. When others violate these unwritten rules, you may find yourself angry.
p.65-66 Telltale signs that you may need to reexamine your expectations for others' courtesy and demeanor include the following:
- You often find yourself irritated or disappointed with others in matters of protocol and decoram. Others are not polite enough or act "improperly."
- Conflict with another person often revolves around something he or she failed to do to express appreciation, courtesy, or respect for you or others.
While your beliefs about manners and customs aren't "wrong," you need to recognize that differences in background, culture, and experience may cause others to view "correct" social behavior through a different lens....
When others violate your expectations for "civilized" behavior, consider these realistic options rather than stewing or acting out:
- Revise your expectations to take into account the background and culture of the person who has offended you. Our country is filled with people of different backgrounds who reflect a kaleidoscope of customs and ideas, many of which do not agree with your rule book.
- Take into account the age and experience of the other person.
- If you must say something, consider whether the outcome you're expecting is realistic.... Ask for what you want with facial expression, tone of voice, and words that make it a "polite request," not an indictment of the other's actions.
Affirmation and Intimacy
p.66-67 You can quickly feel irritated or rejected when friends or family fail to act in ways that seem supportive or intimate enough.... It's your expectations, even if unrealistic, that determine whether you're satisfied by their efforts.
- How and how often should your partner approach you in a loving manner?
- What constitutes an intimate, romantic evening?
- How often should friends, siblings, or grown children telephone, write, or communicate with you?
Do any of the following attitudes or actions seem familiar?
- You often find yourself questioning others' commitment to you.
- You feel hurt or rejected when others fail to initiate communication or activities with you or fail to be as attentive, affectionate, or intimate as you expect.
- In your closest relationships, conflict often revolves around your unfulfilled needs for attention or affirmation.
While it's conceivable that others may not love or care for you as much as you care for them, it's also possible that you simply express affection and intimacy differently.
Given that you're powerless over everyone else, you have two basic choices:
- You can hold on to expectations that are rarely or never fulfilled and react by suffering silently, acting out your hurt and anger, or just writing others off.
- In contrast, you can identify and communicate your expectations in a calm, problem-solving manner.... You must adjust your expectations if the person is important to you.... You can decide the relationship is just not worth all the effort.
Equity and Fairness
p. 67-68 Based on our morals and beliefs, we each have expectations as to what is fair and just. The problem is that others often don't agree with us.
When your internal standards are violated, the "symptoms" may be feelings of guilt when you let yourself down and anger when others fail to act "fairly."
The implicit expectation is that because someone does something for someone else, they can now expect them to reciprocate in a manner they deem fair. They are often disappointed when others don't come through for them in ways, they consider equitable.
Consider these signs that a focus on equity is stressing your relationships:
- You find yourself comparing what others have received or how hard they've worked to your own experience, frequently concluding you've been treated unfairly.
- When what you receive in material terms (e.g., a raise at work, a gift) or effort (e.g., another offers to help you out in return for your good deeds) doesn't seem equitable, you feel angry and have a hard time forgetting about it.
Try to craft expectations for others with the following points in mind:
- Others may not reciprocate as we would or at all. You are very aware of how much, what, and to whom you "give," as if toting up a score. Is it reasonable to expect an equal return?
- Each of us may differ in our expectations as to what is fair and reasonable behavior within the relationship.
- If an expectation is that important, it should be communicated in an unambiguous manner: what is desired and why.... If it's so important to you, make it clear or understand there is a good chance your expectation will not be fulfilled.
Think about the risk in placing important relationships on the line by imposing these "make or break" standards. After all, when you've forgotten something important to a friend or family member, is it because you don't care or because you're a fallible human being?
Intrusion and Annoyance
p. 68-79 Sometimes others act in ways that are just plain annoying to you, violating your expectations for peace or smooth functioning.
What really sets your teeth on edge? What do you find that you "can't stand" in your day? Who and what is most annoying, and how do you react?
Look for these signs that your expectations may be getting the best of you:
- You frequently find yourself annoyed or impatient with how others act.
- Your own activities (perhaps with family or friends) are affected adversely when you can't just let go of an intrusion beyond your control.
Does what you can't stand really affect the quality of your day Examine your expectations:
- Can you really expect the world to fit into your plan?
- Ask yourself if there is anything you can do to change the situation.... You accept the things you cannot change, while problem-solving those you can.
Other people will continue to act in ways that fulfill their needs. As soon as I accept this truth and stop trying to impose my expectations on others, I can be at peace with what they decide to do, even if I disagree with it.
Aggression and Abuse
Voice tone, manner, or actions that seem threatening or outright scary clearly violate the expectations of most of us and should not be permitted. It is a realistic expectation that you should not be subjected to threatening or abusive words or actions.
How Things Should Go in the World Around You
p.71-72 Do you share any of these common expectations?
- "My needs will be fulfilled in an orderly, predictable, and scheduled manner."
- "Good weather will prevail, and cars, buses, trains, and airplanes wall work well and arrive on time."
- "Every electronic and mechanical object that I own will work smoothly and last forever."
Here are some alternatives:
- Think about your past experience with this object or situation and state one or two realistic expectations and a plan to resolve your needs.
- Going into a potentially problematic situation, develop a plan for coping with reasonably likely problems.... In situations where delays or setbacks are almost the norm, state a realistic expectation at the beginning and keep restating it when things go south.
Transforming Your Expectations
p. 72-76 Because unmet expectations fuel anger, discarding or revising those that are unrealistic reduces the odds that your anger will be triggered....
How do you successfully alter expectations you may have spent a lifetime learning?
- First, identify expectations that are frequently unmet and associated with your anger.
- Who or what is the object of your anger? What were you expecting that failed to occur?
Is your expectation unrealistic and therefore unnecessarily triggering your anger?
- Based on your past experience with yourself, the other person, or a thing, how often has this expectation been met up until the present? If rarely or never, the expectation, even if reflecting lofty' ideals, is unrealistic.
- Is the desired behavior relevant or important to the person from whom you expect it, and/or have you clearly communicated what you expect with a polite request?
"I guess I've never clearly told him just how important it is that he stop this behavior. I always thought that if he really cared about me he would just know how I feel. I shouldn't have to tell him."
Previewing and Planning
p. 76-77 As you prepare for an encounter with an old trigger, take a few minutes to preview by stating the new, realistic expectation to yourself. Now develop a plan: specifically, how you will react when this expected behavior or event occurs.
A person gets prepared for what is likely to happen by previewing the fact-based likely outcome; this realistic expectation then leads to problem-solving a plan for coping. When the expected outcome occurs, this person can think, "Here it is. I've expected this and am prepared for it."
When an unwanted event catches you by surprise, as is often the case, it helps to identify your expectations as soon as you realize you're becoming angry.
"Are you saying I should lower my standards?"
No, but other people will continue to act in ways that fulfill their needs. As soon as you accept this truth and stop trying to impose your expectations on others, you can be at peace with what they decide to do, even if you disagree with it.Ideals and expectations are different. Ideals reflect how things should be, based on your personal standards, your beliefs and values. A realistic expectation prepares you for what is likely to happen. What is most likely is what has happened before. Don't lower your personal standards but adopt realistic ones for others.
Whether evoked suddenly or building slowly, you will not understand and effectively manage your anger until you bring your expectations to the surface and, if necessary, revise them.
p. 78 If you really want the other person to meet your idealistic shoulds, can you think of a plan to positively influence this person to change, keeping in mind you are powerless over everyone but yourself?
Step 3 – Pinpointing Your Anger Early and Dampening It
Once you're aware that your anger has been triggered, it's critical to take steps to reduce your anger arousal before it escalates to a level where calm thinking and acting are difficult.
Signs and Symptoms of Anger
Your body change in a number of predictable ways when you're becoming angry. These signs and symptoms have a few things in common with anxiety, fear and "alarm."
Heart and Blood Pressure Changes
Your heart rate and blood pressure increase to supply more oxygen to the brain and muscles. Pounding pulse may be observed in temples, wrists, throat, and chest. Most people cannot detect blood pressure changes, so a blood pressure cuff is necessary.
Your breathing rate will increase to get more blood to the brain and muscles. Look for shallow breathing, chest heaviness, breath holding, suffocated feeling, restricted or tight throat.
Your stomach and intestinal system are emptying of blood as digestion slows or halts to free up blood for the brain and muscles. Look for stomach upset, queasiness, acid reflux, sometimes nausea and even vomiting, changes in bowel and urination frequency, including diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
All of your muscles begin to tighten, poised to help you “fight” or “flee” from the situation. Notice particularly your shoulders, neck, forehead, jaw, and also tension in your arms and legs. As arousal continues, muscle soreness or pain may result. Poor posture or improper body mechanics (e.g., sitting in a chair with inadequate back support) contribute to muscle tension and discomfort.
Blood Flow and Skin Temperature Changes
Blood vessels in the face, hands, and elsewhere constrict or dilate to control blood flow. Look for the face to feel flushed, warm, or hot (described by others as “red”) and the hands to feel hot with anger, cold with fear. Many notice a general flushing, like heat rising in the chest and throat up to the face.
Your Senses Become More Acute
Vision, hearing, smell, and touch all are more sensitive and magnified. Sounds, like someone’s voice, seem louder. Pupils dilate to permit better night vision, which may change focus in daytime. Movements toward you or someone touching you may seem more threatening.
Blood Chemistry Changes
Adrenaline and cortisol are among the chemicals released into your blood to trigger the “fight-or-flight” response. Red blood cells become more “sticky” to increase your ability" to clot in case you are injured. More fats and sugars are released by your liver into your blood.
Chapter 4 – Anger Awareness
p. 83 Some factors can greatly intensify the level and quality of anger that you express, but you may not connect them directly with your anger because they occur during the hours and even days before your anger erupts.
Being aware of your level of arousal as you seek to modify or eliminate anger intensifiers is at the heart of managing your anger.
There are two goals that are critical for anger management:
- Taking steps to eliminate or modify anger intensifiers.
- Learning to be aware of the physical sensations of increasing anger.
Eliminating Anger Intensifiers to Increase Resilience
Sleep, stress, substances, diet, and overall health will all affect your resilience, both on any given day and over the long term. Each anger intensifier begins with an "S," making them easy to remember.
The Five S's
p. 84 Getting sufficient sleep restores our ability' to think clearly and respond calmly. Sleep deprivation tends to make people more irritable and less resilient.
p. 85 At high-stress levels you are likely to be more irritable and less resilient. Too many tasks, unrealistic deadlines, any significant life change (including ''good" events like vacations and moving to a new home), uncertainty, worry, and a low sense of control increase stress, pushing you closer to the danger zone when an unforeseen trigger occurs.
p. 85 Alcohol, caffeine, and other substances we ingest can dramatically intensify our emotions.... If you're already somewhat irritated, sad, or anxious, alcohol will likely intensify your feelings because it depresses centers in your brain that ordinarily permit you to control (inhibit) your emotions. In fact, research shows that in fully three-fourths of couple violence one or both partners have been drinking alcohol. Caffeine increases your tension level and can escalate irritation and stress.
p. 86 Adequate and proper nutrition is necessary to maintain resilience and lower emotional intensity. Many nutritionists believe that too much sugar or junk food may increase the likelihood of mood swings.
p. 86 When we are ill or coping with pain, our resilience is reduced.... Pain and discomfort increase our arousal, can create irritability, interfere with our mood and generally reduce our ability to think clearly.
An Ounce of Prevention...
p. 86 Removing anger intensifiers is like removing all combustible materials from in front of an open fireplace.
Rule of Thumb: When Is Alcohol a Problem?
When it begins to create problems with others, with your health, or with your efficiency at work, no matter how much you consume.
Creating a Personal Anger Scale
p. 90-92 By examining the prelude to your anger in closer detail, you can construct an anger scale that reflects your personal pattern of anger arousal.
Use the following steps to scale your anger. First, review your Daily Anger Log to reveal anger sensations you recorded as you got angry over the past few weeks.
- Start by focusing on a state of complete relaxation.
- Now select a recent occasion when you ended up really angry, using your Daily Anger Log for examples.
- Imagine the next significant increments in your level of anger arousal as you fill in each of the succeeding stages of the scale, ending with your anger at its peak.
Calling a Timeout
p. 94-95 I recommend using a stop phrase that gently defuses the situation, permitting everyone to save face:
- "This is important, but I need some time to think about it."
- "This feels intense for me. I need to take a break to think it through."
With your partner or family members, you can agree on a prearranged stop phrase like "I need a break" or "I need to chill." All agree in advance that the "time out" will be honored, and under no circumstances should the "stopping" party be followed or in any way intimidated into continuing discussion while anger is flaring.
Compare the possible impact of these two approaches.
- Threatening approach: "You are obviously too angry to discuss this now," or "this isn't getting us anywhere because you are shouting."
- Conflict-defusing approach: "I need to take a time out to collect my thoughts. I'll be back to discuss this [describe when]. Thanks for understanding."
Just knowing you're approaching the "danger zone" is immensely helpful in directing what to do next.
Chapter 5 – Dampening Anger Arousal
There are a variety of methods for starting to dampen your reactive response to anger. These start with working to help you feel less physically and mentally stressed and to be more generally relaxed. Some techniques work better for some people than others. Try the ones that makes the most sense to you. It can take a little time to the point you can really see the benefits build and be more present throughout your day (particularly the rougher ones), so don't be discouraged, keep practicing.
Watching Your Breathing
Spend at least 5-10 minutes, one or twice a day, paying attention to your breathing.
How to do this effectively:
Find a comfortable place to sit. An office chair or even a good kitchen chair will do. A little padding on the seat can help. You'll want to be able to sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor, so you can breathe freely. I like to let my hands rest open in my lap. If you wear glasses, you may want to take them off and set them aside.
Once you're seated, take a few moments to relax your muscles. Pay particular attention to your face, neck and shoulders. We tend to collect stress there.
Take a moment to check for tension around your eyes. Let them relax. Let your eyes close because you're letting them close, not forcing them closed. Take your time.
Take another moment and check for tension in your cheeks and jaw. Let them relax. Move on to your neck. Gently move your head slightly up and down and side to side a few times.
Scan the rest of your body and let any other tense muscles relax. When you feel balanced, you're ready to start.
As you breathe in, notice the sensation of the air flowing into your nose and say to yourself "in." As you breathe out, notice the sensation of the air flowing out though your nose and say to yourself "out." Just let yourself breathe naturally.
There's no need to speed up, slow down or do anything to change how you're breathing. Just let it happen while noticing the sensation of the air flowing through your nose. Continue to say to yourself "in" and "out" each time your chest rises and falls.
When you recognize other thoughts happening or anything distracting you, refocus on your breathing. There's no need to waste time analyzing why you got off track or wondering about or criticizing yourself for how bad you are at doing this. Those are just more distractions. It takes time and practice for your mind to quiet down. If you notice more tension anywhere in your body, let it relax and refocus on your breathing.
How does breathing affect emotional arousal? (p.98)
- As your brain "listens" to your self-talk and perceives a threat, stress chemicals are released, and your breathing rate increases. This is because your brain signals your lungs and diaphragm to send more oxygen out to your muscles and up to your brain so you can "fight or flee."
- While breathing is involuntary and controlled by a part of your brain stem (just try not to breathe and see what happens), breathing is also under voluntary control, unlike your heart, blood vessels, or gastrointestinal system. By trying to slow your breathing rate to simulate how you breathe in deep sleep (slow and rhythmic), you signal your brain to bring the rest of your physiology in line with your relaxed breathing pattern.
- This kind of breathing involves loosening the muscles of your stomach so that your lungs are free to fully expand into the abdominal cavity, permitting a truly deep breath. You breathe like an opera singer, deep and from the diaphragm, which is called "diaphragmatic breathing." You will immediately experience a reduction in "fight-or-flight" arousal, lowering the intensity" of your building anger.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (p. 102-103)
Practice this sequence every day for at least 20 minutes until you learn exactly how each muscle group feels when fully relaxed.
- Make fists to tense both fingers and hands. Now tense. Notice how your hands feel, so tight and tense. Hold it for about 15 seconds. Then take a breath and completely let go of your muscles as you exhale, releasing the tension. Notice the relaxation flowing into the muscles – how they feel now. Now repeat this a second time.
- Push down your forearms (into the arms of the chair) to tense your forearms and upper arms (same routine as for fists).
- Raise your shoulders up to your ears (a severe shoulder shrug).
- Push your head back into the back support to tense the muscles of your neck. Forcefully push your tongue up against the roof of your mouth to tense the anterior (front) part of your neck and throat area.
- Raise your eyebrows as high as you can and feel the pulling of your forehead muscles. After doing this twice, scowl, frown or scrunch your eyebrows down into a V-like shape twice.
- To tense the small muscles around your eyes, squint forcefully as if bringing your cheeks up to your eyebrows.
- Open your mouth as wide as you can without causing pain to tense the jaw muscles. (Caution: If you have jaw pain or notice a "popping" sensation when you chew or open your mouth wide, you may have a medical problem called temporomandibular joint syndrome, or TMJ. Check with a dental professional or physiatrist before tensing your jaw as described.)
- Squeeze your arms against your rib cage while tightening your chest (pectoral muscles).
- Pull in your abdomen as if toward your spine as tightly as you can, holding the tension.
- Arch your back, tensing all the muscles from up under your shoulder blades all the way to the base of your spine.
- Tighten up your buttocks as tightly as you can, as if holding in a bowel movement.
- Tense your upper legs by pushing your feet, flat on the floor, down forcefully. You should immediately notice your thighs tensing to the point where they shake.
- Tense your calves by extending your legs off the floor and raising your toes as if trying to touch your knees.
- Curl your toes (scrunching them) while tensing your feet and toes as much as you can.
p. 104 Self-Talk relaxation uses the power of suggestion. If you begin to focus your awareness on a part of your body, stating repeatedly in your mind how that part feels when completely relaxed, your mind begins to produce these sensations.
p. 106 While saying any of the following, say the first part in your mind while inhaling. Say the second part while exhaling:
- My arms are warm ... and heavy.
- My shoulders are limp ... and loose.
- My neck is loose ... and relaxed.
- My scalp is smooth ... and relaxed.
- My face is cool ... and calm.
- My chest is light ... and loose.
- My breathing is free ... and smooth.
- My stomach is limp ... and loose.
- My back is loose ... and relaxed.
- My legs are loose ... and relaxed.
- I am calm ... and relaxed.
Feel free to add any others you find useful.
Using Peaceful or Happy Imagery
p. 106 Everyone knows how vivid the imagination can be. A dream can seem perfectly real when you first awake and re-creating a special occasion in your mind conjures up all the sights, smells, and sounds you perceived at the time. You can use your capacity to make the imagined real to dampen anger arousal. Imagining a situation vividly can evoke emotions similar to those you would experience in reality.
p.107-108 Begin with the following steps:
- Set a goal for the emotional experience you want to evoke. For dampening, you might want to feel some combination of peaceful, serene, calm, relaxed, safe and secure, confident, in control, and soothed.
- Close your eyes as you concentrate on your goal, suggesting to yourself that you will recall a time and experience when you felt that way. Let thoughts and images come until a well-formed scene appears in your mind's eye. If you cannot recall a scene from your past experience, then your creative mind can construct a place where you would feel the way you wish (e.g., the middle of nowhere, floating on a cloud, resting in a beautiful garden). Either way, this becomes your relaxation image.
- Using each of your senses, imagine this scene as vividly as you can, incorporating each sense separately until you have a complete image. Make sure you're lying down, sitting or floating in the water (e.g., a hot tub) in a physically inactive, calm position in your scene.
- Notice what you can see around you, the colors and hues. Look up at the sky, off toward the horizon, and so forth.
- Hear the sounds around you like the babbling of a brook, the sound of wildlife, the wind, and any sounds likely to be present if you were in this situation in reality.
- Feel the temperature on your face and elsewhere. Notice how your body feels as it is lying or seated comfortably.
- Be aware of any pleasant smells that are a part of your scene. There are direct pathways between smell and the part of your brain that experiences emotions. That's why a perfume, certain foods, and "bad smells" evoke a powerful emotional response in us. Take advantage of this and imagine pleasant and comforting smells.
You should practice 10 to 20 minutes a day as you develop your skill at creating or recreating the images that work for your developing a healthier mood and attitude.
p.112 With a small investment in time compared to the costs of living with high stress and escalating anger, you will soon be proficient in asserting control over your arousal.
Questions for Journaling
- How big a part has anger played in your life? How much of it is yours? How much has been other peoples?
- How do you tend to express your anger? How does it impact others?
- How is anger affecting your relationships, effectiveness or performance as work and life more broadly?
- How is anger affecting the quality of your life? How is it affecting things like your health, energy, sense of satisfaction and happiness?
- How often do you get angry? How intensely and for how long?
Verses for the Week
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight…
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered…
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not worry – it leads only to evil.
Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered is foolish.
Prayer for the Week
Thank you for helping me overcome my anger. Help me catch myself before I do more damage to myself and others. Help me this week to pay attention to how I think about and respond to conflict. Help me stop my negative trains of thought, ask myself better questions and have empathy for and curiosity about the other people involved. Help me see the hurt and pain in others and treat them like I'd want to be treated. Help me to remember my part, admit my mistakes and my limitations. Help me be a better me, so I can become a peacemaker instead of a peacebreaker. Amen.