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Anger Management Principle Number 1
So the first thing we have to do if you’re going to be an expert in handling your own anger is to get your self-concept into shape. When it comes to taking charge of your life, literally nothing is as important as a solidly constructed self-system.
There are at least two reasons for that. (i) When your self-concept is well put together and your self-esteem supply is plentiful, you have ample energy to run your life. When problems develop and you become angry, you are prepared to use those resources to think your problems through and move decisively against them. And (z) Because you feel positively about yourself, fewer experiences will seem frustrating, threatening, or hurtful to you. You wifi more easily manage those experiences which might, under less positive conditions, present trouble.
Obviously, it’s at least a two-way street. The more positively you view yourself, the less anger you experience. And the more effectively you handle your anger, the better you will feel about yourself. I say "at least a two-way street" because you can take it one step further: The better you feel about yourself, the more effectively you will process your anger. As a matter of fact, the ability to handle large quantities of anger in a constructive way is one criterion of a strong self.
That’s the beauty of working on both your self-concept and your anger expertise at the same time. Any improvement in one immediately benefits the other. And when you get both of these systems moving at once, the momentum you can build leads to incredible growth. That’s what I want for you.
So now the focus is on you—on your strengths and attributes. The goal is for you to view yourself in increasingly positive ways. What we know for a fact is that the stronger your self-concept becomes, the easier it will be to manage your anger. We’re on the way.
Anger Management Principle Number 2
In my work with people who mismanage their anger, one conclusion has become well established. Those who wish to develop expertise as an "anger specialist" must begin their training well in advance of any anger episode. Learning to express anger constructively requires careful preparation under conditions which allow for clear and systematic thinking.
If you wait until the angry moment to begin your mastery efforts, you may express your anger in habituated behavior sequences before you know what has happened. If you are an exploder, you may say or do something automatically without even thinking about it. If you are a somatizer, your conscious denial of anger and immediate physical change may happen faster than you can imagine. And so on.
So what you must be sure of is that you become angry only after you have given plenty of thought to every aspect of how you’re going to handle it. You need to be completely prepared for every emergency.
That means you must know exactly where you stand on the important issues involving anger. And more than that, you must have considered your stance so carefully and so often that you have strong conviction behind you. Then you will be ready to move quickly and decisively when the anger arises. That is what it takes to extinguish old anger-expression patterns and build new, constructive ones.
I assume all of us are especially interested in our own happiness. We seek a maximum amount of pleasure and a minimum amount of pain. Moreover, we are eager to enjoy intimate relationships with a few persons, and we wish to contribute to the larger society and receive its general approval. We essentially desire to behave in ways which will resuit in long-term benefit to ourselves, our intimates, and humanity as a whole.
Anger Management Principle Number 3
The best way I know to detect anger in its earliest phases is to stay in close touch with your feelings all the time— especially when you are involved in transactions which might lead to trouble. When you learn to read your feelings in any given moment, you will automatically have available scores of details concerning you which will render decision making about constructive behavior sequences far more effective.
But how do you stay in close touch with your feelings? Let me tell you first about a structure which I think will help, and then I’ll pass along five suggestions for maximizing the positive results you experience from the time you spend within this structure.
Anger Management Principle Number 4
With your brain you can become aware of your feelings, and you can learn to think in ways that will put you in charge of how you express those feelings. Through the disciplined use of your rational powers you can develop the ability to use your arousal state (which we have labeled as "anger") to resolve the problems which confront you and cause you to experience hurt, frustration, and fear.
When it comes to anger expression, the challenge you face is to learn to use your rational capacity effectively in dealing with the following two major areas:
1. First, you must dissolve highly patterned behavioral sequences. These sequences have undoubtedly proven to be unproductive, even destructive, but they have such a hold on you that you have had a hard time giving them up.
That’s because they have been carefully learned—undoubtedly when you were very young. They were learned because someone modeled them for you, you tried them, and you experienced some momentary positive results from them. This immediate gratification established an expectation in your mind. Now, even though you know that the long-term effects of these behavioral sequences will be negative, you are still hooked on your own expectation of the short-term gratification you expect to receive. These destructive habitual ways of expressing your anger must be reversed. And that will require a concentrated use of your rational capacity.
2. New and more constructive behavioral sequences must be substituted for these former ways of expressing your anger. And these new patterns must be learned so well that they come to seem as automatic as the former ones.
This kind of learning still takes place in the most effective way when you are available to demonstrate the new behaviors, and reinforcements for your behavior come from the situation in which you find yourself. Unfortunately, there aren’t many models available to demonstrate constructive anger approaches. And the reinforcement you receive for these new behaviors will often come only over the long term.
This means that you must learn to serve your own needs in both of these ways—as a model for yourself and as a reinforcing agent for your own behavior.
And that is where your rational powers become so important. You can supply both of these needs through the use of your rational capacity, but it will require a high level effort.
Anger Management Principle Number 5
Even after you have mastered anger expression, one remaining challenge will require your best effort—learning how to forgive. Forgiveness is crucial.
Here’s why. Your physiological arousal which we have labeled "anger" will dissipate with effective expression. And you will be free of anger. That is exactly what we want for you, of course—and the sooner the better in every case!
But that same physiological state can be regenerated on later occasions if you ruminate over the incident which contributed to your anger. If you remember in detail the insulting treatment which hurt you, you can work yourself into a rage all over again.
And you will inevitably do this if you have not let the experience go. I know of no better way to let it go than to forgive the person who insulted you. When you do, you benefit substantially, because you don’t have to be angry any longer in response to this hurtful event. Of course, the other person benefits too, because your relationship with her will inevitably improve.
Forgiveness offers many benefits:
But for many of us forgiveness is difficult. Somehow it seems unnatural. No one ever taught us how to forgive. And much of the time we really don’t want to forgive the other person anyway. We want to hang on to our sense of having been wronged.
So we turn one stressful insult into a series of anger experiences. By our unwillingness and inability to forgive, we multiply our hurt and our pain, and preclude our freedom and all that freedom can offer.
Forgiveness can be learned. You have the ability to forgive. What is required is this:
One last matter: Why "bum" in the title? Because that’s the way we usually feel about a person we need to forgive. And when we have forgiven him, we may still call him a bum, but the word will have a totally different ring to it—a ring with overtones of understanding and affection. Such is the delight of forgiving.
Reflection Exercise #1
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