The wild tempest that rages within us when we are furiously angry
has been a focus for much of Western civilization’s great
literature. In his plays, William Shakespeare immortalized the
lengths to which extreme anger can devastate relationships.
Lear exiles his most beloved daughter from his kingdom and his
heart when she
angers him. “We have no such daughter, nor shall
ever see that face of hers again,” he rages. “Thererfore be
gone/Without our grace, our love, our benison.” (King Lear,
Act 1, Scene 1.) But Lear learns, after it is too late, that she
is the one daughter who truly loves him.
In Othello, the insane Iago poisons Othello’s heart with
lies about his beautiful wife, Desdemona. The Moore is driven into
the blackest of rages over Iago’s tales of infidelity and kills
her in a fit of
anger. He learns of her innocence after it is too
late, and, like Lear, he dies a tragic death.
We all have felt the hot flashes of anger, although, perhaps,
not on such an epic scale as Shakespeare depicted. However, even
though you might not be driven to radical lengths, the ability to
control your temper, whether or not your anger is justified,
remains crucial to both your personal and professional life.
When you are angry, you should first examine why you are angry.
Be specific in describing to yourself the cause of your anger.
Then try to see the situation from a different point of view. We
can become so wrapped up in our own feelings and difficulties that
we forget that, for the most part, people are truly trying to do
the best they can. They aren’t out to get us.
When we are angry with others, we are often being unfair to
them. Our anger usually arises out of a misunderstanding or an
unrealistic expectation. What seems like infuriating behavior is
more often just the other person’s effort to keep his or her
When you’re angry you should ask yourself, “Am I jumping to
false conclusions? Do I have unrealistic expectations?” It also
helps if you try to see things from the other person’s point of
view, and avoid believing you know how he or she ought to be
acting. For example, suppose a man is furious with a boy in his
neighborhood who hits his new car with a rock, but his attitude
toward the boy changes when he learns the boy’s sister is dying.
If you decide your anger is justified but that it is not an
appropriate time to engage in an all-out confrontation, you need
to control your anger. One strategy to stem the rising tide of
anger involves becoming more aware of how your body reacts as you
grow irate. Through various
relaxation techniques, you can learn
to bring the physical effects of anger under immediate control.
It’s important to pay attention to how your posture changes
when you are angry. For example, as you struggle to keep your
composure, you might find yourself tightly gripping the telephone
receiver, or clutching the steering wheel of your car in traffic.
The jaws are also a target for stress.
When you’re angry, you will most likely find yourself tensely
clenching your teeth. Realizing that these are common reactions
and that they are not helping you calm down is a big first step in
coping with your anger. Now you should take additional steps to do
something about it.
I always recommend to my clients and people who attend my
seminars to use progressive relaxation exercises. These exercises
help you center; they teach you to be aware of your body’s
reactions when you’re angry and to assert some control over them.
In progressive relaxation exercises, you alternately tense your
muscles and relax them. You can start at your feet and work your
way up to your head, or you can focus on a particular tense area.
Here are some other techniques to help you
cope with anger:
• Take deep breaths. Like the progressive relaxation exercise,
deep breathing encourages you to relax and normalize your body’s
reaction to anger.
• Take notes. This can help you reflect on what the person who
angered you has said. The very act of writing will force you to
take some time before you respond and will help you obtain a more
objective point of view.
• Close your eyes and use positive visualization. Closing your
eyes gives you time to relax and shut out the world. Couple this
with positive visualization, a technique where, for example, you
picture yourself speaking calmly and objectively with the person
you are angry with until you reach a satisfactory resolution of
the problem, and your results are very effective.
• Use the hold button on the telephone. If you are on the
telephone and find yourself growing angrier by the minute, don’t
be afraid to use the hold feature on your telephone. Be polite, of
course, and don’t get off the telephone too abruptly or keep the
person holding for too long. Make sure you take the time to calm
down so that you don’t end up saying something you’ll regret
• Lower your tone of voice. When people are angry, their voices
tend to get louder. Be aware of this, and consciously turn down
your volume. When you are shouting, nobody is listening, and you
are only exacerbating an already tense situation.
Anger can be a frighteningly overwhelming
emotion. Whether your
anger comes on like a sudden storm or simmers slowly, you must
learn how and when to express your anger. It is healthy for us to
acknowledge that we are hurt or threatened or frustrated, but we
must make sure that our expression of anger is appropriate.
Otherwise, we could end up with a fate as tragic as that of a
character in a Shakespearean drama.
Copyright©2006 by Joe Love and JLM & Associates, Inc. All
rights reserved worldwide.