Monday, August 21, 2006

Anger: Warring Within--What's It Good For?

Yesterday, I discussed anger. There were definitions. There were health side-effects. There was even a Biblical perspective.

Today, I'll write about how to keep yourself from warring within. There were some great comments that are a jumping-off point. Sharon says:

Perhaps I'm generalizing, but I think it's a rarity that a little girl (or boy, for that matter) is taught HOW to deal with anger (and various other emotions that we, as parents, don't always know what to do with, because, well, we were once little girls and little boys who were not taught how to deal with various emotions).
Children are taught either actively or by observation how to deal with anger--they do what they see. If their parents avoided conflict resolution at all costs--they will likely avoid. If their parents enjoyed the fight--they will likely be aggressors, too. So learning and then demonstrating constructive anger expression by parents is imperitive for children to grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults.

Children have equisitely tuned radars for justice and injustice. If unfairness, meanness, aggression, sarcasm, hitting, yelling, name-calling occurs, this will deeply affect them. If adults
allow one child to hit or bully, if one child is the "favorite" and gets away with bad behavior, if consequences are unfair or unbalanced, etc. children will distrust authority figures. That is every other message a parent sends is undermined by their own misbehavior.

My point? While actively teaching a child is necessary, all the life lessons in the world will mean absolutely nothing without observing mature, effective anger-management by their parents.

Rules for Engagement
Most things that make us mad revolve around conflict with another human being. Some people howl at the moon, full of woe and angry at the universe, but this is worse than useless. It resolves nothing. But this is a good time to bring up a point: some people do not want resolution, they enjoy their anger. Reasoning with this person is unhelpful because they are unreasonable. Save your angst and disengage. It will safe you energy and worry.

Another thing, before deciding to engage, it is worth taking a step back and deciding if the injustice meets the combat-worthiness level. There is a scripture that I used as a mantra for a year (each year, I pick a spiritual area of focus--that year was peace): "Seek peace, pursue it, earnestly." I sought to find a way to peace, if I could. I sought to let go of the anger, if I could.

Now conflict and anger are not the same thing. Anger the emotion can sit unresolved, for years, building, simmering, hanging around. Conflict occurs when one, or two, or more, angry people engage with one another. I am assuming that for people trying to deal with their anger, the seek to resolve it and that means engaging with the offender.

  1. Take a break--The worst thing someone can do is try to resolve something in the "heat" of the situation. It takes 30 minutes for the stress hormones (which inhibit logic) to dissipate, so go take a bath and come back with a cogent argument.
  2. What's the goal? To be right or to be happy? -- So often we get angry about things that don't matter, or can't be controlled by us or the other person.
  3. Be specific--Wandering all over the rhetorical fruited plain just irritates the other person. Say specifically what bothers you. "I feel..." "I would like..." "When you said, I felt..."
  4. Don't hit--physical contact FORBIDDEN (unless it's a bar fight, then all bets are off)
  5. No name calling--period
  6. Do not bring in a third party unless you have tried to resolve the conflict to no avail. This goes for lawsuits. So many things end up in court because two people couldn't resolve their disagreements rationally.
  7. No fighting in front of children, employees, friends. You can destroy a child this way. Don't do it.
  8. No screaming. He who screams first looses. It's just the truth. I read somewhere that a Mafia boss said, "I don't get mad, it clouds the judgement." I can promise you: if you "lose it", you've lost the conflict.
  9. Don't discuss anything important after you've had something to drink. It's stupid.
  10. If you've come to an agreement, let it go. Be done with it when you say you're done with it. Rehashing should not be done. If you didn't get the terms you wanted in a conflict, it's your own fault, don't bring it up again and again and again.
Okay, that deals with an immediate conflict. The problem for women, especially, is that they perceive some interactions as conflict that men view as simple negotiations. It's a matter of language. Because of the "nice girl" socialization, they don't say anything (because he should know) until they blow a gasket and everyone wonders where that came from.

Women, can you even ask your husband, to do something for you? Do you know how? One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about just the language of requesting something from a man is to never use "Can you" statements but use "Will you" statements. Guys are insulted by "can you" statements. "Of course, I can! Do you want me to?" I think it was Deborah Tannen's work that pointed me in that direction.

Also, she said that women often make requests when they say things like "Honey, what do you think about....?" Instead, they should say, "I want to do ....." or "I need to do...." or "I need you to, or want you to..." A guy is very likely to say, "Okay. Whatever."

The more dangerous kind of anger is the root of bitterness mentioned in the last post. What can be done about the wrongs you suffered as a child, that even today go unresolved?

The opposite of anger is forgiveness. Oh, this notion brings up even more anger because the person who screwed up didn't say sorry, maybe, or worse, is dead.

Forgiveness is an even bigger topic than anger. I'm not sure if I covered the anger topic to the emailer's satisfaction, but if there is an aspect that needs to be brought to light, please comment. I'll cover forgiveness another day.

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