Control That Temper

When Mary's (a fictitious character) husband forgot their anniversary, she was furious. She really launched into him, called him most names in the book, and wound up sleeping alone in tears. Six months later, since this was her usual way of reacting when angry at her husband, Mary was divorced.

Anger is usually the result of frustration. When we fail to reach a goal or get what we want, when we are blocked in our attempts to fulfill our needs, we often - but not always-react with anger.

That frustration is often the result of our own thoughts or assumptions, however. When we are angry at another person it is because we assume that he (or she) has wronged us. He has not acted in a way we believe he should have acted. According to our standards, he has either done something he ought not to have done or failed to do something he should have done.'. And we persuade ourselves that it is terrible, awful, and unforgivable that the person acted the way he did.

In many situations, anger is not a basic emotion but is a cover-up instead for an underlying emotion. When hurt or frightened, we sometimes react with anger rather than these primary emotions. Mary was deeply hurt by her husband's failure to remember their anniversary, and perhaps frightened by the possibility that this was a sign he had ceased to love her. But it was easier, in the short run, for her to be angry then to admit these doubts to herself or to him.

There are two extreme, harmful, and ineffective ways to handle anger. The first is never or rarely to express angry feelings for fear of those feelings or for fear of hurting someone. People who suppress their anger in this manner may be subject to depression and psychosomatic symptoms such as backache, headache, and ulcers.

The second way is to quickly and perhaps violently act out angry feelings without restraints or inhibitions. People who handle anger in this manner are often in may fights, perhaps drink too much, drive recklessly, and have unhappy spouses. If violent or criminal enough, many of them can be found in prison.

Now obviously, there is a middle way to handle anger between these two extremes, a way of restraint and moderation in which angry feelings are expressed, either directly or indirectly, in a safe, acceptable manner. Anger is acknowledged and accepted, and not avoided or acted out uncontrollably.

If temper control is a problem with you, there are several things you can do about it.

First, if you realize the potentially harmful effects of unchecked anger, you will be better motivated to control, it. If not expressed properly or constructively, anger can hurt other people. It is probably the major cause of marital pain and divorce. And what is more important to you - your marriage or your anger?

Also, realize that allowing yourself to express your anger freely may tempo­rarily reduce those feelings, but will probably predispose you to temper tantrums whenever you become upset. In other words, uncontrolled temper can become a habit.

Second, the old advice about counting to ten or going for a walk or doing whatever you can to distract yourself is still sound counsel. But if this is not possible, if you feel you have to let your anger fly, then do so in a safe, indirect manner. Beat a rug, go jogging, go down into the basement alone and shout at a wall. This method of controlling anger has its drawbacks, however, as when a person punches a wall and either puts a hole in it or breaks a knuckle. Better that your anger should be controlled.

Third, reward yourself for controlling your temper in anger-producing situations, and punish yourself when you fail to control your temper. I have an agreement to pay my wife $25 each time I lose my temper and break something in anger. Since I am such a tightwad, this usually works.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, try to reduce your anger by working on the one person who is solely responsible for it - yourself. No one forces you to be angry or makes you angry. You do it yourself by what you assume or tell yourself that you have been wronged by the other person, that he should not have acted the way he did, and that his behavior is unjustifiable and unforgivable.

Now granted that some anger is justifiable and should be expressed, as when someone obviously and deliberately violates our rights. But in Mary's case, she could have reacted to her husband's faulty memory with understanding, forgiveness, or a frank expression of her hurt and fear rather than with anger. Unfortunately, her choice of the latter reaction eventually cost her marriage.

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About The Author / Credits: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book, Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available directly from Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and, all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors copyright and website hyperlinks.

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