If you get irritated or annoyed easily, at some point you may have asked, “How do I control my anger?”
I confess, earlier in my life I had a problem with anger. When things happened that I didn’t want to happen, I got angry.
My mentor, the late Alex Goodman, taught me a lot about dealing with anger. He said that whenever people get angry at others, they’re really just angry with themselves. That did not make sense to me. If somebody does something that upsets me, don’t I have the right to be angry?
Alex held his ground. In essence, he said that if an event that results in my being angry is something I could have influenced, then no, I don’t really have a right to be angry. Instead, I have a responsibility to act maturely, and learn what I could done differently. Alex said that displaying anger is more of an attempt to manipulate than anything else.
I chewed on that for a long time. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized Alex was right. But before I answer the question of how do I control my anger, let me first explore a little about how anger actually helps us.
The value of anger
Anger is a natural human emotion, and it’s a valuable emotion that keeps us alive. Especially when we’re very young. When children are born, they lack the ability to talk. They have needs, but they can’t verbalize those needs. Enter “anger.” If you’ve been around newborns, you know exactly how this works. A baby fusses, and quickly the parents are trying to figure out what the baby wants. Food? A diaper change? A nap? Displaying anger is how a child gets its needs met.
But there comes a time when children learn to talk. And, when this happens, it’s time to wean them away from using anger. They must learn to express their wants and needs verbally. For example, instead of fussing when they’re hungry, we teach them to say, “I’m hungry, may I have something to eat please?”
Think about it. Temper tantrums are simply escalated efforts at using what’s worked in the past: Relying on anger to get needs met. If parents give in, they’re teaching their children it’s okay to use anger to get what they want. But if they set firm boundaries, children eventually stop relying on anger. Unfortunately, some folks don’t learn this, and they continue using anger as a way to get their needs met well into adulthood.
So, just how do I control my anger?
Well, I realized that Alex was right. Whenever I sense anger rising up, at the core of it all, I’m really angry at myself. And so, practicing good Emotional Intelligence, I ask myself, “What could I have done differently so that what happened didn’t happen?” It’s really learning to take responsibility. If I can borrow some terminology from Stephen Covey, getting angry is reactive, and taking responsibility to learn what I could have done differently is proactive.
And there’s something else Alex taught me: How I deal with anger is always a choice.