W. Robert Nay, Taking Charge of Anger, Second Edition: Six Steps to Asserting Yourself without Losing Control (2012)
In week one, we talked mainly about recognizing your anger triggers and the things you might be able to notice right before the triggers or early enough after your anger starts to be able to dampen your response. You can start doing this by slowing and deepening your breathing. You can also pay more attention to your expectations and the thoughts and feelings that go with them. You're working on becoming more aware of the fight-or-flight reactions your body experiences.
Last week we looked into your thinking, so you could more actively work with it to change your anger responses. We introduced the STOP Method. It's important to stop and look at the thoughts that cause your anger to grow and your responses to escalate. You can more reliably change your reactions to your triggers when you change your thinking. It's the best place to start the process of changing your everyday habits with anger, because you can't immediately change your feelings or your physical reactions. When you do change your thinking, it starts bringing everything else in line rather quickly.
This week we're going to conclude with looking at three final topics:
- Building your new thinking habits,
- Dealing with resentment, bitterness, "baggage" and forgiveness and
- Handling setbacks and "backsliding."
Each of these play their own role in creating your future success.
Building Your New Thinking Habits
Knowing about something and consistently doing it or making it a habit are very different things. The first is easy. The second takes work. You have to think about it, figure out and plan how to do it in your everyday life and then actually get it done. You can get sidetracked anywhere in this process. It takes "want to," time, attention and follow through. Old habits don't die easily. You have to work on their replacement. Relapsing, getting tired and quitting are very easy especially when stress is all around.
So, how do you make this work? How do you do it as easily and reliably as you can? I've found it easier when I tweak what I already do. If you're going to have "imaginary" conversations with other people in your head anyway, why not try practicing your new skills rather that your old ones. Instead of telling them off or saying all the things you'd never dare say in the real world, practice listening and staying calm. Focus on assertive problem solving. Imagine doing the things you know would actually help. Imagine in as much detail as you can the things that are likely to be said or brought back up again and deal with them in a healthy way.
When you do have opportunities to practice in the real world, do that too. These aren't just limited to your everyday regular problems and encounters, if you and another person want to practice on purpose and not just when stuff comes up, you can do that. It might seem a little formal or fake as you get started, but it will probably turn into a real conversation rather quickly. You can also practice with a healthier helpful friend.
When you practice, try to keep your weak spots in mind and work more on them than the stuff you already find easier. You can also keep some of your handout materials handy to think more about them during the day and while you mentally rehearse.
The most important thing you can practice is being more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Be an observer of yourself more often. You're never your thoughts and feeling, but we all get so caught up in them at times that we forget and wind up going for a ride with them. Treat them like advisers or employees. If you let them, they too often turn into bad friends that get you in trouble. With practice you can help them do their jobs better and really become your allies.
Dealing with Resentment and Forgiveness
You have some wounds that have never really healed. I have them, too. We all do. These haunt us and at times keep us from moving forward in different areas or with particular people. Old feelings, resentment, bitterness, lingering hostility and unforgiveness can hold you hostage and keep you stuck. Your baggage helps maintain a mostly unseen unrecognized attitude that filters your view of life and that makes it easier to stay negative, stressed and unhappy. It makes it easier to get triggered and have anger suddenly flare in spite of your progress.
Resentment feeds on itself. It sets it up so that your past anger becomes your current anger. We also feed it with the anger we fail to resolve from day to day. We fail to act assertively and let people behave in petty, obnoxious ways because we don't want to rock the boat, feel powerless or make excuses for them. Not handling it leaves the anger with us and it then becomes things like resentment, disrespect, contempt and bitterness. It's like an infection.
People who are unwilling to let go of anger:
- Have higher blood pressure,
- More anxiety and depression,
- More stress-related health issues,
- A higher rate of heart disease,
- Lower immune function, and
- Tend to get sick more often.
You keep resentment alive with the stories you keep telling yourself. If you pay attention, you'll find all sorts of cognitive distortions popping up like weeds in them. It's OK to remember you've been hurt. It's OK to remember to be careful and not trust some people, but it's not OK to keep poisoning yourself. Your emotional energy is fuel, you can use it to transform your life or spin your wheels. You can start letting resentment go. Channel your energy, keep your happy future and success in mind. Is staying hurt and bitter worth it?
It's often helpful to think about the other person in terms of the traumas and struggles of their life. Unfortunately, hurt people all too often hurt other people. It's not OK, but it is tragically human. Whatever happened wasn't personal. Even if it happened to you, it would probably have happened to anyone else who was in the same place you were. Starting to let go of resentment is not the same as forgiveness, but it's on the same road and is often the beginning of the process.
Handling Setbacks and "Backsliding"
Whenever you work toward changing serious habits, mistakes and setbacks always happen. You have to plan for it and find ways to deal with failure and disappointment. Setbacks and failures happen for all kinds of reasons. The first and most basic is not having enough practice yet. You haven't developed your practice into a solid enough habit yet or you haven't practiced it in enough different circumstances to recognize when to use your skills.
Old habits are easy to fall into when things aren't going well. When we're distracted, tired, hungry, stressed, sick or in pain, we tend to go on autopilot much more easily and older more practiced habits pop back out. This is especially true for anger-oriented habits because all of the things I've mentioned already tend to make us more irritable, emotional or irrational due to the state of our bodies.
Some people and situations also make it easier to backslide. We don't realize the strength of the resentment we still hold, or of the triggers tied to the traumas associated with them. We can still be struggling with some unrealistic expectations.
You can avoid some setbacks by being aware of some warning signs.
- You find yourself avoiding people or situations because they seem too overwhelming or stressful.
- You're finding yourself more irritable, "crabby" or exasperated more quickly.
- You notice physical symptoms of pain or illness growing.
- Your self-talk is getting more negative or hostile, and your mental imagery is, too.
- Your voice, attitude and treatment of other people is becoming more "intense."
- You realize you're a bit in the red with one or more of the five S's (Sleep, Stress, Substances, Sustenance and Sickness).
Remember, you're on a journey. It's going to have its ups and downs. Accept your humanity and the new grace that comes fresh every morning. Reset your attitude when you need to and work on finding a few good companions to take along with you. Your happiness awaits.
Diagnosing Your Anger Setback
Carefully imagine the situation in which you lost control of your anger. Replay the scene as vividly as you can in your mind. Try to use all your senses. Which of the following statements are true or mostly true about my setback?
- Things happened so fast it just didn't occur to me to use my new anger skills.
- I am not sure how I would handle the situation differently if it happened again today.
- It's hard to find time to even think about handling my anger differently.
- I just don't have the time to practice my new anger skills.
If you find more than one of these to be the case, you haven't practiced or mentally rehearsed enough. You were unclear about what to do or just didn't feel comfortable with your new anger skills.
- I was feeling pressured and under a lot of stress just prior to this setback.
- I haven't been sleeping well lately. I'm easily feel exhausted and overwhelmed these days.
- Now that I think about it, I was drinking alcohol or had a lot of caffeine just before this setback.
- I was feeling pretty rushed and had too much to do when this incident happened.
If you find more than one of these to be the case, you were under too much stress, were not eating or sleeping well, or made other choices that compromised your resilience in coping with the triggering situation. It's time to review the Five S's: Sleep, Stress, Substances, Sustenance and Sickness.
- As usual, this person just didn't consider my feelings and needs.
- It's rare that this person does what I want them to do.
- This person often disappoints me.
- I feel this person will never change in ways that I want.
If you find more than one of these to be the case, your unrealistic expectations for this person or situation set you up for this setback.
- I'm having a hard time forgiving this person for something that happened in the past.
- I couldn't just calmly listen to this person, given how I've been treated in the past.
- Until I get an apology, I don't care how this person feels.
- You can't expect me to treat this person as if everything is okay when it isn't.
If you find more than one of these to be the case, your unresolved resentment towards this person contributed to your anger.
Questions for Journaling
- What unrealistic expectations do think you might have for some important people or situations in your life?
- How does resentment, bitterness or other “baggage” hold you back?
- What do you tend to do when you mess up when trying something new or building a new habit?
- What will your future look like when your anger in more under control?
Verses for the Week
Be angry and don't sin. Don't 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 someone who is patient calms a quarrel.
1What causes fights and quarrels between you? Don't they come from the desires that battle within you? 2You desire but don't have, so you kill. You covet but you can't get what you want, so you quarrel and fight…
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person. Do not associate with someone who is 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.