By UB therapist and anger management specialist, Aaron Karmin, LCPC
When it comes to managing anger, there are basic facts everyone must know as a person in the world. These are facts we did not learn in school because no one ever taught them. We have been limping along without them all our lives. Here are some basic concepts we should have about this very important part of the human condition.
- Anger is an emotional response to a grievance. The grievance can be real or imagined; past, present or future; it can be rational or irrational, intentional or accidental. It makes us angry just the same.
- Anger is painful. Our impulse is to relieve the pain of our anger one way or another. If we do not know how to relieve our pain the right way, we are liable to relieve it the wrong way, which will only make it worse.
- Our anger at the grievance creates a problem for us. We want to relieve the pain of our grievance but we don’t know how. We make up a solution that sounds like it ought to work, but it cannot be successful if it was not a product of our rational thought processes. For many of us, those mature processes are too slow and boring. To save time, we fall back on immature attitudes from our past: “This should do the trick.” We overreact, we lash out. We get revenge in the name of justice and fair play. We carry grudges. We become mean and spiteful. These are all behaviors arising from non-rational anger attitudes. They cannot begin to relieve the pain of our anger. They can begin to make it worse.
- Anger precludes happiness. We cannot be happy and angry at the same time. The anger always takes over, robbing us of happiness we could have had and which will never come back. After a while, we stop trying to be happy. We become discouraged and depressed. We sink to the bottom.
- An attitude is a predisposition to behave in a certain way. Our attitudes have no brains. They may save us a lot of time up front, but they will cost us a bundle in the future. This approach to saving time (Let’s get it over with once and for all!”) is an example of a non-solution that makes things worse instead of better.
- We call these non-solutions “good intentions”: “I meant well; it just didn’t turn out that way!” They never do. Our good intentions are always:
- The antidote to good intentions is a real intention. In a real intention, we use our mature judgment to tell us what the situation requires us to do and that is what we do — no more, no less.
- When we do something that reality does not require us to do, we call that mischief. It doesn’t need to be done. It makes things worse for everybody. Good intentions are a form of mischief. They don’t need to be inflicted on the people around us. We don’t need to inflict them on ourselves, either.
- We make mischief because it is exciting. We holler and scream, we swear, we beat people up, we drive like lunatics. This is not positive, happy excitement. It is negative, self-destructive excitement.
- One purpose of our exciting mischief is to relieve the pain of our unresolved anger and our self-doubt. This mindless, well-intentioned solution will fail. The pain hasn’t been relieved. It will come roaring back. Such solutions will make things worse for us and everyone else.
- When we fail to solve a problem in childhood, we often take it personally. We cannot respect someone who fails, especially ourselves. We take our failure as if it were a reflection on our worth as a person. In other words, we sink into feelings of worthlessness, good for nothingness, inferiority and inadequacy to cope. As a consequence of these setbacks, we develop negative attitudes toward ourselves, toward others and toward life. We carry this constellation of predispositions with us into adulthood.
- This loss of our self-worth creates a difficult, stressful situation. It becomes a problem we cannot solve. Our negative attitudes kick in and make us behave in ways that are not in our own best interests. We become angry at ourselves for our stupid behavior, but it wasn’t stupid at all. It had nothing to do with intelligence. The behavior arose out of non-rational attitudes, not our mature judgment.
- These feelings and attitudes towards ourselves are painful. We don’t know how to relieve the pain of feeling worthless, either! Our pain becomes deeper and deeper. Without appropriate intervention, our pain cannot get better. It certainly can get worse.
Like this article? Check out Aaron’s Anger Management Workbook for Men, a new guide that teaches men the skills they need to manage their anger without aggression.