This article describes several ways of controlling anger. It discusses reasons why people can get far more angry about things than they need to, and how realising that can be one way of cooling anger. It also describes some simple things that could make a big difference to how angry people become, as well as things that might take more soul-searching. It gives advice on ways people can try to get what they want without resorting to anger, and how anger can and should be calmed before it turns to violence. It also discusses how children of angry parents can grow up to have anger problems themselves, and ways angry parents can try to stop that happening before it's too late.
The article also discusses ways people can improve their lives to increase their happiness, so they don't feel so angry.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.
No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched.
--George Jean Nathan
Never write a letter while you are angry.
Anger blows out the lamp of the mind.
--Robert G. Ingersoll
The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn't angry enough.
Sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn't give me the right to be cruel.
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
Resentment is an extremely bitter diet, and eventually poisonous. I have no desire to make my own toxins.
Malice drinks one-half of its own poison.
To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee.
--William H. Walton
Anger is a great force. If you control it, it can be transmuted into a power which can move the whole world.
This self-help book says anger isn't bad in itself - it's what we do with it that counts. Anger can be turned to good uses. It gives us an energy boost so we can get things done we might not have been motivated to do before. It could give us the courage to go and do things we'd have been nervous to do otherwise.
But rage is always bad, because it's so powerful it can't be directed in a rational way, but is likely to make us do destructive things, often before we really think about it.
This book says it's so common for angry men to deny they've got a problem that it might take courage and be difficult for us to really admit to it. It says loads of angry men deny they've got an anger problem, because it seems like a good defence against admitting there's something wrong with them.
But it says that admitting to it will really benefit us, because when we fully realise it's a problem, we can take steps to move on from it to finding more healthy ways of being around people, and that'll make us new friends and make any friends we've got now like us more. It'll help us get on better with our families, so we'll end up enjoying ourselves a lot more when we're around them.
Well yes. I'm just beginning to think of myself as having an anger problem. And I still don't like admitting to myself that I might have had more to do with all the arguments I've been having than I ever liked to think. And I wouldn't fancy admitting it to anyone else.
But the book suggests we do admit it to people close to us, and ask them for help in tackling it even.
It says that while we're denying we have an anger problem, it seems as if we're protecting ourselves, because it means we don't have to feel guilty or ashamed of what we've done, or humiliated that we're not perfect, because we can just refuse to accept we've got a problem. And if we can refuse to accept we've got a problem, no criticism about our anger can ever hurt us, because we can just deny that there's anything in it.
The trouble with taking that attitude, though, is that if we aren't prepared to accept criticism, then nothing in our lives will ever change for the better. If we refuse to accept that there's anything wrong in our relationships with friends, work colleagues, wives and girlfriends, children and other family members, then there's no way we can ever sort out how to change those relationships for the better. In fact, they'll probably get worse and worse and just make us more and more unhappy.
So even if it makes us uncomfortable to admit we're not doing everything perfectly and we need to change, the book says it'll be worthwhile, because once we start changing, our relationships will improve, so we'll end up enjoying life and getting on with people a lot better.
Emotions like anger, frustration, unhappiness and other things are the brain's way of telling us there's something wrong in our lives and things need to change.
Since our anger's our brain's way of telling us something's wrong and things need to change in our lives, we don't need to feel ashamed of it in itself and think it's really bad so it would be too humiliating to have to admit to. It's a signal from our brain, so we just need to listen to its message that there's something wrong in our lives and change things. Once we've admitted what problems we've got with our anger, we'll know more about just how we need to change, and that'll give us a starting point for changing.
So the anger problems we need to face up to and the things we need help with might include:
The book says admitting to those things might make us feel guilty about having the anger, but no one's perfect, so we can't expect ourselves to be. And since it's just one way the brain has of telling us there's something wrong in our lives, once we've got better lives, our anger should go away.
Besides, being always angry is usually a learned behaviour. People whose parents or fathers were always angry and being abusive and insulting and shouting and things, will have learned to react to situations in the same way they did. So it's not all our fault we're like that. We just learned unhealthy ways of behaving, and our own anger was a response to the bad way they sometimes treated us, so it was our brain giving us a signal that something was wrong. We couldn't change it then. But now at least we can control our own lives more. Most of us won't be under threat nearly as much as we felt then. So we're free to learn different ways of behaving.
The book says once we've admitted we've got an anger problem, we're free to start making changes in our lives.
We could make a sincere promise to ourselves to do that, a promise to be determined to make our lives much happier and less stressful from now on, with a lot less anger in them. We could even make a public commitment to change to our wives, children or friends and ask them to help us get over our anger problems.
Oh yes, I've heard there's some psychology behind public commitments. I've heard that people who make them are less likely to go back on them than they are with private commitments, because backing out would be a bit like publicly admitting to failure, or acting as if we didn't know our own minds. So I can see how public commitments could make us more determined to succeed.
The book suggests that if we wanted, we could make a public commitment to changing, and ask the people we're making it in front of to help us.
But it says the most important thing is that we're serious about changing. The changes won't be easy, and we have to think of ourselves as being in control of the way we change, in command of ourselves, not letting our anger beat us. It'll take effort, but we can get there if we're determined and know we're the boss of our anger.
The book suggests we could do something symbolic to mark saying goodbye to the old life and the start of the changes we're making, to make us feel more optimistic, like that old saying, Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Some people buy something new or get a nice tattoo, or do something else they like the idea of to mark the changes.
Also, it recommends we could bury something, to mark getting rid of the old, perhaps an old shabby piece of clothing we get rid of and buy a new one.
Actually, I've heard of people doing things to symbolise the passing of the old and the start of the new, like writing a bit about what they've been like in the past and putting the paper in a jar that they shut tight, or imagining they're drawing a line in the sand and then imagining stepping over it.
The book suggests we encourage ourselves and give ourselves hope by imagining what it would be like if we weren't angry any more and if we were happy.
Oh yes, I've heard about a technique where you think through the day, imagining how things would be if they were much better.
So if we use the technique, we start off asking ourselves what would be different when we first got up in the morning if we were no longer angry and felt relaxed and happy. We can ask ourselves to think of several things we'd do differently, and the ways people would respond differently to us if we behaved differently towards them, and then how we'd behave differently towards them when that happened.
We can think through the day, imagining what things would be different about our lives if we behaved differently because we weren't angry any more but were in a really good mood instead. We can imagine the ways other people would behave differently towards us if we behaved differently towards them because we weren't angry any more.
We might build up quite an optimistic picture. And we can enjoy the feelings of optimism, because they'll be nice in themselves, and because we could view them as a sign that we're intent on making positive changes so we should soon be happier.
Then, we can work on actually doing some of the things we imagine we'd be doing differently if we weren't angry, to see what difference it really does make. Sometimes, if we act as if things are different, then people do react differently towards us, and then things really do change, even though we didn't really feel any different to begin with.
The book warns that it might take a while before people really change their attitudes to us, because they'll be so used to us the way we are that they might have a bit of trouble trusting that we're changing.
So, for instance, we might invite them out to a party, but since they've got bad experiences of us at parties, because we used to feel awkward in places where we didn't know many people so we didn't know what to expect and got irritable with them because that put us on edge, they might say they'd prefer not to go, because they think we'll only cause trouble again, when in reality we're a lot more relaxed about things nowadays, so that's unlikely to happen. The book recommends we invite them to several different things till they think they know us better and decide to come with us, and then we can prove to them that we've changed.
They might be wary of us in other ways as well. They might even provoke us, because they wonder if the changes are genuine, so they'll want to know if we'll just go back to bursting out in a fit of temper if they provoke us a bit. It says people often do that kind of thing. So it'll help if we get right down to learning new ways of handling situations, so we can prove to them that we really are changing.
The book says people might start paying us more attention as well if they notice we're changing, asking us what's going on. It says it's common for angry men not to like too much attention, so that could be a bit daunting. But it says that if we put up with it, we'll probably just get used to it quite soon.
It says angry men often have a fear of too much attention from others, because we think it'll probably be unpleasant. It says that after all, it's typical for angry men not to really expect people to like us. But it says if we really think about it, we'll probably find that most attention from other people is either positive, or neither positive nor negative.
And quite a bit of the attention we get if we're changing might be positive and complimentary. If any isn't, but if someone's nasty and sarcastic about how we're not behaving angrily like we used to and they wonder how long it'll last or something, we could perhaps say something like,
"I'm doing my best to change. I'd appreciate some encouragement from you!"
If we can stay focused on our goals of making our lives less angry and more relaxed and happy, we can think of the negative attention as certainly not the worst thing we've ever had to put up with in our lives, and though it's unpleasant, it's a definite sign that we're succeeding in our goal of changing. After all, if they weren't saying anything, we'd wonder if they'd noticed anything was different.
One thing that can work is if we pretend the attention doesn't bother us. When we act as if we feel a certain way, we can sometimes start to feel that way.
One way that can work is if we think of someone, whether it be a real person or a character from a film or a book or something, who has qualities we admire, someone we'd like to be like. We can think of common situations we're in, and then ask ourselves how we think the person would react in the same situations. Then we can try to act like them when we're actually in those situations.
So for instance, if we had a demanding boss who was always making us angry by criticizing us unfairly and asking us to do things that we thought were unreasonable, for instance if he kept giving us piles of work to do just before hometime, we might choose a role model we thought was firm and authoritative, who always gave a well-reasoned, firm answer, always calm and polite, but not standing for any nonsense. We can spend time imagining how he might behave in situations that make us angry. Then, when we're in one of them, such as when the boss next comes up and irritates us, we can imagine how the person we've chosen as a role model would react, and have a go at reacting the same way, even maybe imagining we are them while we're doing it.
I heard about an actress who was a nice gentle person, but she had to play the role of someone who was quite nasty. She kept imagining she was that person to get better at being her in the play, but she found that after a while, she was getting like that in real life! Her personality was changing! So it can probably work the other way around as well.
We can't just give up old ways we used to behave in without finding new ways of behaving, or we won't know what to do to handle ourselves in situations that might make us angry if we don't do anything else. So when we decide to give up an angry behaviour, we'll need to plan for what to do instead.
For instance, if we've been pushing ourselves to our limits working long hours, but decide to take a more relaxed attitude so we can enjoy ourselves more, so we start working less hours a week, we need to plan what we're going to do with those extra hours we'll have so we don't get frustrated because we haven't got enough to do. It wouldn't have to be something elaborate. It could even just be sitting watching the sunset and relaxing or something. The important thing would be that we had something.
Or if we've devoted a lot of energy in the past to controlling every move our wife and children make, we'll need to think of new things to do with our time and energy instead, things we'll enjoy, or which will at least take our minds off things when our wives are out of our sight.
And that kind of thing.
It says it's common for us angry men to be just as insulting to ourselves as we can be to other people. The author says he dropped an egg once and immediately called himself a jerk. But then he asked himself whether that was really true, since after all, he couldn't help dropping it. He says a lot of angry men are very self-critical, feeling inadequate, and going over and over things we did wrong in our minds, making ourselves feel more and more guilty about them, even when other people might not have thought they were serious incidents at all. But it says doing all this is bound to make us angry and unhappy.
So it suggests we give up being so self-critical. If we're going to give it up though, we need to have positive messages we can give ourselves instead, since it's very difficult to just stop thinking thoughts and not put anything in their place. If you try to just stop thinking something, it'll be on your mind because you have to think about it to some extent to think about stopping it; so chances are, it'll keep intruding into your thoughts and you'll think about it even more.
So the book recommends we replace the insults we used to use about ourselves with positive statements. Every time we catch ourselves insulting ourselves or thinking something exaggerated about how bad we are, we could try to remember to think something good but realistic that contradicts it. So our thoughts could go something like:
If we often have the same old critical statements going through our heads, we can write down those kinds of alternative more positive things in advance, and think them over often. We can write down insults and nice answers to them, as if we're insulting ourselves and then imagining a best friend answering us.
Also, the book says that it's common for angry men to be uncomfortable with receiving compliments, and not to believe them. It advises that we weigh up the evidence for any compliments we receive, and be prepared to receive them if they might be true, since we could probably do with a boost in our self-image, and it could start us seeing things around us more positively. We could simply say "Thank you" when we receive a compliment, instead of shrugging it off.
The author of the book says that while a lot of angry men are willing to help others, it's common for angry men to refuse to accept that they could ask for help from others. He says he thinks that's partly because angry men tend to like to think of themselves as self-sufficient, and hate the thought of owing anything to anyone. He says it tends to be embarrassing for angry men to admit they can't do everything on their own or don't know everything, as if it's like admitting to imperfection or vulnerability. But really, it's not. No one knows everything, or can be expected to do everything themselves, and no sensible person would ever expect us to. There's a Chinese proverb that says, He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever. That means that if we don't know the answer to something we think we should, it's better to admit to not knowing so we find out, than it is to never admit to not knowing and never know. Even if someone does look down on us for something, it might be to do with their own stupidity than to do with us, because people can't be expected to know everything, and anyone who expects us to isn't being reasonable, and in fact there are probably things they don't know that other people think are obvious, which might even make them look foolish for a few minutes if they asked about them. So we're all in the same boat really.
But if we ask for help, most people might be a lot more welcoming than we expect them to be, and not look down on us at all.
Everyone has to accept help to some extent. Anyone who doesn't will probably make themselves suffer unnecessarily. The author says a lot of angry men worry that if they ask for help, people will think they're selfish and greedy. But everyone's likely to need help sometimes, and communities can be a lot happier when the members are helping each other out.
The author says there was a man he gave some therapy to once who wouldn't ask for help from anyone, and thought he ought to be so self-sufficient that he had never accepted anyone's help, had always worked for everything he had, and would never buy anything on credit, even really expensive things like a house. So he couldn't afford a lot of the things the people around him had. He lived in a mobile home for fifteen years while he was building a house for himself, all by himself. He injured himself several times while he was building it, trying to lift things that were too heavy, cutting timber, and doing other things that really needed to be done by more than one person, but he refused to ask for help.
The author says that all through that time and afterwards, the man had a lower standard of living than all his friends, because he didn't want to feel as if he owed anyone anything, so he was overly careful with money.
The author says that being so self-sufficient hadn't made the man happy. The man said he was proud of his independent lifestyle. At first he didn't want to admit to being unhappy. But he was. He might have thought his refusal to ask for help would protect him from embarrassment. But the author says that even at the time he was writing the anger book, it still gave the man a lot more things to be embarrassed about. Other people had more of life's comforts than him, and that made him feel like a failure. He worked ten to thirty hours more than other men in his neighbourhood, but had less to show for it. So that made him feel angry and bitter. He called the others show-offs and didn't like to be around them. He wouldn't accept invitations to go fishing with others because he was embarrassed that they had boats and he didn't. He didn't like to accept invitations to parties because being around people made him uncomfortable, especially if they were laughing and having a good time. So people stopped inviting him to places, and he ended up having a problem because he felt too isolated.
He had a double standard, in that he'd give help to other people, but refuse to accept help himself. So he wasn't being fair to himself.
Also, he wouldn't take time out for enjoyable things. He wouldn't do something just for a laugh, or for relaxation, or for pleasure. He wouldn't even accept presents, or even buy himself something just for a treat. The author says it was no wonder he was angry!
The book says that if we're willing to help others, we need to start treating ourselves the same way we'd treat them. If we think other people are deserving of help, then there's no reason we should have a different standard for ourselves, but we should consider ourselves deserving of assistance too sometimes. We ought to give ourselves a bit of leeway, or we'll never be happy. And if we aren't happy, we'll still be angry.
The book recommends that we resolve to do at least one thing a week for the next month that we'd normally say no to, something we might enjoy if we try it. So that could be accepting a party invitation, offering to take on an interesting new project at work, asking a friend to help us with something that needs fixing around the house, or something like that. We can't guarantee we'll always enjoy what we do, but some of it might be fun.
It recommends that another thing we could do is that when someone gives us an invitation to a party or something else that could possibly be enjoyable, but we're a bit reluctant to go, we don't give them an answer one way or the other at the time, but we go away and think about it, writing down all the pros and cons of accepting it we can think of. It says chances are, we won't be able to really think of anything against the idea a lot of the time.
The author says a lot of angry men feel far more guilty about some of the things they've done than they need to, even minor things from their childhoods that happened ages ago. He says an angry man might say something angry to someone at work, notice he looks hurt, and still be feeling guilty about it a week later when the other person's almost totally forgotten about it.
So the author advises that people stop feeling guilty out of proportion to what they did.
He advises that every time we find ourselves feeling guilty about something we did earlier, or way back in our childhoods even - since he says some angry men still carry a lot of guilt around with them from years ago, - we ask ourselves how much what happened matters now. Even if it had quite a severe effect at the time, how much does it matter now? If it's not something we really need to deal with now, we can ask ourselves whether our time would be better spent worrying about it, or planning how to work towards changing, to try to stop such a thing from happening in the future.
The book says one way we can strengthen our resolve to spend the time working on changing, and our optimism, and take our minds off guilty thoughts, is to say a little chant to ourselves over and over again, perhaps, I'm starting anew. I'm starting anew. We could maybe say it to ourselves often when we've got a spare minute.
Consider how much more you often suffer from your anger and grief, than from those very things for which you are angry and grieved.
Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody's power, that is not easy.
Anger manages everything badly.
Anger is a bad counselor.
The book says that when we feel angry, even though we might not realise it because we just feel the emotion and that's what we associate with being angry, thoughts going around in our heads will have made us angry.
It says that if we can recognise the types of thoughts and beliefs we have that make us angry, we can ask ourselves whether they're really true; and if they're not, we can tell ourselves things that are more accurate, and that might calm our anger down.
One reason we might keep thinking thoughts that aren't really true is because we've grown up with particular views of the way things ought to be that we picked up as we were going along, and we just accepted them at the time, because perhaps we were too young to think them through.
One example of a way that kind of thing can make us make mistakes in our thinking and get far more angry than we need to be is that if we have a child and nearly trip over one of its toys one day when we come home, we might get far more angry if we suspect they put it there deliberately to annoy us than we will if we think it was just an accident. The reason we might suspect they just put it there to annoy us might be because we hold the belief that the house should always be tidy when we come in, and that everyone in the house should know that, even little children, so any toy left around must have been left there in disobedience. It might be that the reason we hold that belief is because our parents believed the house should always be tidy, so we got to think it was true, and they punished us if we left toys around when we'd finished playing with them even when we were little. So we think that if we learned not to leave toys around, then our children should know better than to leave them around.
But in reality, we might never have drummed our belief that toys shouldn't be left around into our children, or the child who left it there might be too young to understand. And in reality, it might be very unlikely indeed that they put the toy there just to annoy us. So our thoughts and beliefs about the situation have made us far more angry than we should be. But thinking things through, and realising it was probably just an accident, and that in any case, the rule about not leaving toys around anywhere is too strict for little children, we might realise we don't need to be nearly so angry, and calm down.
But another thing that can make us far more angry than we need to be is that when a person's worked up with anger or anxiety or depression or some other strong emotion, it's more difficult to think clearly. The brain gets so swamped with emotional signals that the intelligent part can't function so well. The emotional part of the brain sees things in very simple terms. It can't think things through. It's designed for when we need to make snap decisions. It shuts down the intelligent part of our brain quite a bit when we get too angry or worried or whatever, and takes over till we calm down. It does that for our own protection, because if we were under a genuine threat, we wouldn't have time to think things through but would have to make very quick simple decisions. For example, if we were being chased by someone from an enemy tribe in the old days, we wouldn't have time to stop and have a good think about the best route to take to try and evade him, or whether to stop and fight and if we did, what would be the best tactics to use. We'd have to act by instinct, really quickly. Otherwise, he'd have caught up with us before we finished planning our next move. We'd need to act quickly to save our lives. So as a safeguard, the intelligent part of our brains would be shut down temporarily, and a much more primitive part of the brain would take over, that would release loads of adrenaline into our bloodstream to give us lots of energy to run away or fight, and we'd just do what seemed most effective at the time without thinking about it.
The problem is that the system can be set off when we're not under threat at all. If we've got into the habit of getting angry at little things that aren't really going to harm us at all, the intelligent part of our brains can start shutting down and we can act aggressively as if we were under threat when we aren't at all.
That's one reason why criminals often say they did their crimes on the spur of the moment without thinking, even though they knew afterwards that it was stupid.
But before we get as worked up as that, we can still get far more angry about little things than we need to be because the intelligent part of our brain's partly shut down. But if we can recognise it's happening and get away and think for a minute, we can recognise that our brain's begun to think in simplistic ways, and talk back to it with the intelligent part of our brain, to convince ourselves that things aren't that simple really, and that we need to see things more reasonably. For instance, we might think our child just must have left the toy on the floor to annoy us, because we're too angry for the intelligent part of our brain to be working enough for us to realise that that's unlikely and that it was probably just an accident. But if we can get away for a minute and calm down a bit, we'll be able to think more clearly, so we might realise then.
If we're always angry, we'll be so used to thinking of things simplistically that we might always think like that; so it'll be really useful and interesting to think some of our typical thoughts through more to realise there's more to things than we thought.
The author says there are quite a few ways we can get the wrong idea of things because we're thinking about them in the wrong ways. He points out several different ways we can make mistakes in our thinking without realising we're doing it.
He says when we're used to altering our thinking so we're more used to thinking of things in more complex ways, it'll make us happier, because we won't be making ourselves miserable by thinking so many things are a threat to us in some way, like a threat to our pride, a threat to our peace of mind, a threat to our feelings of competence, a threat to our reputation, and other things. We'll be able to handle things better, so we'll get more confident and think more highly of ourselves.
The author says that as soon as we notice we're getting angry, if we can, we should step back, either in our minds, or physically go somewhere different, and try to think of what's just made us angry. Then, we can calm ourselves down a bit if we can think through the thoughts and beliefs about the situation we've had that make us get angry, and challenge them with more realistic thoughts, that the intelligent part of our brain can use to convince the emotional side of the brain that we're not really under threat after all.
It can help sometimes when we're doing this if we imagine we're an outside observer, looking at our reactions and the reasons for them as if we're not the one who's angry but someone analysing it.
One way we can learn to understand our angry reactions better is if each time we think about one after we've caught ourselves having one, we think back to the time we started to get angry, think about what was happening, try to remember what thoughts we were having just before we started to get angry and just as we did, and exactly what it was that people said or did that provoked our angry reaction, and how our emotions changed with each new thing.
We might not be able to remember that kind of detail every time. In fact, it would be a wonder if we did. But it'll help if we can try to remember as much as we can, so we can challenge as many of the thoughts we had with ones from the intelligent part of our brain as we can.
The author gives us an example of the kind of thing he means:
He says imagine that a man comes home from work tired and angry, as he normally does, and his wife asks him how his day's been. He finds the question irritating, and mumbles something about his day being the same as usual. She asks whether anything nice happened, and he immediately gets angry and snaps that he already said it was just the same as usual. His wife's wary of saying anything else to him, so they don't speak much all evening and don't feel very happy.
Instead of doing nothing about the situation and just having a miserable evening, the man could try to analyse what had made him angry so quickly. He would know that if he hadn't got angry, they might have spent a far more relaxed evening enjoying each other's companionship. So he knows that once he's done the hard work of analysing his thoughts to try to work out how he got so angry, and then challenging them with reasoning from the intelligent part of his brain to persuade himself he doesn't need to get angry about that kind of thing, then he'll calm down, so most of the evening might be allright after all. And he might not be so quick to make the same mistake again, because once he understands why he's feeling angry, he'll know it isn't to do with what she said after all, so he won't want to take it out on her.
We might need quite a bit of practice analysing thoughts from when we've got angry before changes in our behaviour become habits, so we stop making the same old mistakes. But the more often we challenge our thoughts with good reasoning, the more we'll learn to behave differently.
So the man could spend time working out why he responded angrily to what she said, when it wasn't really what she said that had made him angry. He was irritable long before he got home.
The author says an angry response often doesn't have to do just with what's just happened. It can be caused partly by how we're feeling that day, how we've learned to behave over time, and that kind of thing.
It's important to take into account the fact that what's making us so angry isn't necessarily just what's happened just now. If we do that, it'll help us get things in perspective, and that can calm us down.
So in the case of the man who snapped at his wife for asking how his day was, the real reason he was angry might have been because he was tired out from dealing with people all day and just wanted to be left alone, so any question sounded like an attempt to stop him relaxing. But of course, his wife wouldn't have realised he just wanted to be left alone. Once he'd learned that his anger wasn't always to do with what had just happened and that he would be acting out of proportion if he reacted angrily to it so it would be better if he reacted another way, he might be able to ignore his impulse to answer irritably in a situation like that. So when his wife asked him how his day was when he got home after that, he might instead answer politely, or say he'd like to talk about it but he was feeling really tired, so he just needed a bit of time to relax and maybe have a doze before chatting.
Then again, the reason the man got angry might have been because his wife asked him how he was every day, so he didn't think she really meant it, but suspected it was just a routine thing said just to be polite. The thought might have flitted through his head that if she wasn't sincere in the questions she asked, he couldn't trust her to be honest. Then he might have thought that if she didn't really care how his day went, perhaps she didn't really care about him. Then he might think that in that case, there must be something wrong with him. So he feels insecure.
The author says thoughts like that can flit through a person's head so quickly they don't fully register they're having them because they're so used to them. But they can still make us angry.
And although we might not fully register that we've had such thoughts, we can at least ask ourselves afterwards what beliefs we have about what just happened that could have made us angry. So, for instance, one belief could have been that when our wife asked how we were, she didn't really want to know.
Once we've realised that flitted through our minds, we can ask ourselves how much actual evidence we have for thinking that her asking about our day means she doesn't care about us. Then, we can challenge the evidence by thinking of the other side of the story - asking ourselves what evidence we have for believing she surely must care about us.
The author of this book says that a major reason angry men are unhappy is because of the distorted view of things we've learned to have. He says we can unravel the beliefs that lead to it and develop healthier ways of thinking and so behave with less anger if we understand where we've been going wrong, so we can put it right.
So he goes through several ways of thinking that aren't healthy, so we'll know to watch out for them, so if we catch ourselves doing them, we can challenge what the emotional side of our brain's making us think with information from the intelligent part of it.
He says psychologists have given errors in thinking names, so we can distinguish them. He calls them by their names and describes what they are. He says we need to change them, since they'll cause us to make bad judgments about things because we're getting more angry about them than we need to be if we don't. So these are the types of thinking he says we might need to change:
This is when we think or talk as if we know what someone else is thinking. We might tell them aggressively that we know what they're thinking or that they didn't mean what they said, or that they meant something else or something. But really, we can't know what they're thinking. We might think we know, but we might not be right. We might guess right quite a bit of the time, but we can't be sure we're right.
Examples of what a person might say if they're doing this kind of thing to another person could be:
"You're not really sorry. You're just saying that to shut me up."
"I didn't ask him if he was angry with me. I just knew."
"You're just saying this to annoy me."
"You don't mean that."
If we assume we know what people are thinking and we're wrong, then we'll make mistakes. We'll end up making wrong decisions about things, because we thought things were true when they weren't really. So, for instance, we might get angry and punish a child because we think they're deliberately trying to annoy us, when they weren't. Then the child might just get more angry with us and decide he doesn't like us much. Wrong decisions like that might blight our lives in ways we didn't realise they would.
And the author says us angry men often assume the worst, so we'll often think people are thinking worse things than they are. He says it's common for us angry men to assume people don't think much of us. So that can skew our interpretation of what they mean when they say things. For instance, if they say they don't agree with an opinion we have about something, we can take it as a criticism of us as a person. So it can make us more hurt and angry than we need to be, and for much longer, because all they really didn't like was one opinion we had about something.
Also, the people around us we're getting angry with won't understand why we're getting so angry with them. Friends, family and co-workers will be baffled by how angry we're getting, and it'll make them nervous and frustrated around us, and quite possibly angry with us. And that'll make us more angry with them.
After we've behaved like this for a little while, they'll probably be scared to say anything to us because they're frightened of saying something that starts us getting angry again. They'll feel uncomfortable and as if they can't be themselves or say what they really think whenever we're around. We may well begin to notice that our wives seem to laugh and have fun with other people but not with us, and that'll make us even more angry.
So if we can learn to recognise when we're assuming things about people when we haven't got any evidence for what we're thinking, then realising we haven't got any proof that we're right to assume what we're assuming could calm our anger.
Another way it can be as if we think people can read each other's minds is if we act as if we expect other people to read our own minds. For example, we might say things like,
"I shouldn't have to tell her I love her; she should just know."
The author says it's common for angry men to say things like that when talking about their emotions. He says it's common for angry men not to like talking about their emotions, while at the same time wanting other people to respect those emotions. So basically, he says angry men expect other people to know what they're feeling and be sympathetic, but they don't want to let people know how they're feeling. But then, he says that when our emotional needs aren't taken care of, we'll feel hurt, frustrated and angry.
He gives an example of the kind of thing he's talking about:
He says there's a man whose friends like to go off for a weekend golf trip every year. The man went with them for the first couple of years, but he stopped going, because he's not as good a golfer as the rest of them, and he found that embarrassing.
After turning down their invitations several years running, the man realized his friends had stopped asking him to go with them. Then it was as if he started to read their minds. He assumed they didn't want him to go because they didn't like him. Once he convinced himself they didn't like him, the man began to avoid them, so they gave him even fewer invitations to things. Then the man became convinced that they'd all turned against him. So it was as if they just weren't friends any more.
The man never asked them why they stopped inviting him to places. He just assumed he knew. But he was wrong.
The author says the obvious lesson from the story is that we should try to avoid "mind-reading". If we realise we're beginning to feel sure we know what other people are thinking, it's best if we stop ourselves in our tracks, since we can't be sure what they're thinking.
So the book says we need to start asking other people what they're thinking or what their opinions are, so we can get what they think from them, rather than just assuming we know.
And it says that when we do ask them what they think, it's important that we Give them time to answer our question completely. We should avoid the temptation to interrupt them as soon as we hear one little statement that seems to confirm what we believe they're thinking, because if we do interrupt them, they won't have had the chance to explain themselves fully, and if they did, we might understand them better.
The book says even if we feel sure we know what someone else is thinking, we need to go a bit cautiously, because we don't for sure.
And it says no matter how much we want other people to respect our feelings, they can't if we don't tell them what they are.
So it says we need to ask other people what they're thinking and feeling, and tell others what we're thinking and feeling.
The author says it's common for us angry men to set far higher standards for ourselves than we need to. He says one way we can notice ourselves doing this is if we can catch ourselves using the word "should" a lot. We might often use it to make ourselves feel guilty or to put too much pressure on ourselves. Examples of ways we might do this is if we keep on saying things like, "I should have worked harder" or "I should never make mistakes".
The words "always" and "never" are words we can also use to make ourselves feel bad, for instance, if we say things to ourselves like, "I always mess up!" or, "I never get things right!"
Or on the other hand, they can spark off angry arguments if we use them to chide other people rather than ourselves. For example, if we say to someone, "You never tidy the house", we might start off an argument with them about whether that's true or not, when it isn't really, and if we think about it, will realise that, so we just gave ourselves more aggravation by using that word. They'll be bound to take offence at the idea that they never do something we know they do sometimes really. So the conversation will be all about that, when really, we might have started it because we wanted them to do more of something. In that case, it would be better to request that they do the specific bits of housework we'd like them to do, or whatever else it is we'd like them to do, rather than going into an accusation of how they never do what we want and sparking off an argument that'll just make us feel worse and probably won't get us what we want after all that.
So when we catch ourselves using absolutes like "never", "always" and "should", we can make ourselves feel better if we substitute other phrases. For instance:
For "I should always do my best", we can substitute, "It's good to do my best, but I can't expect to be on top form all the time".
That means when we simplify events, things or people into artificial categories like evil or good, entirely useful or totally useless, with no in between.
The author says a lot of people who come to see him for therapy are like that with their attitudes to friends. They tend to have one or two people they consider close friends, and not much to do with anyone else. Or with work, they tend to think a job has to be done perfectly or it's not worth doing at all. They think opinions are either right or wrong, with no room for a bit of truth being in what both people say. If a friend doesn't agree with them totally, they're not really a friend. That kind of thing. They might feel betrayed if a friend disapproves of something they do or disagrees with them on something, and stop being their friend.
When people are more prepared to accept disagreement as just part of communication, and realise that when someone disagrees with them it doesn't mean they think they're a defective person - it's only an opinion they think is wrong, then they can be more relaxed about it.
But since a lot of angry men think of other people's disagreement with them as a threat to their pride, since they feel as if they have to be entirely right or they'll look foolish, because their thinking style doesn't see things in between, then they can argue tirelessly over the tiniest points of an opinion, never being willing to compromise or admit they're wrong in even one point.
So behaving like this causes us to get and stay much more angry than we need to be, especially if the same argument comes up time after time, and we're always sticking to a rigid position and we won't allow ourselves to listen to the other point of view, because we think we need to stick to ours so we won't have to admit to getting things wrong, because we think it'll make us look a lot worse than it really will.
The author says a lot of angry men tend to over-generalise about things. That's where we talk as if one thing's a lot more significant than it is. For instance, he says someone might have a bad experience with a supervisor at work, and think from then on that all supervisors are just nasty pieces of work, forgetting all the good ones they've worked for. If we try to live life based on inaccurate views of things like that, we'll have distorted opinions of things and people that just make us far more angry than we need to be. Then our attitude might make them angry, and again, it might cause conflict that makes us unhappy and just doesn't need to happen.
Other examples the author gives of when people over-generalise are when they might think their whole day's been ruined because they spent a couple of hours in a really boring meeting at work, or look back on a rainy day and think their whole weekend was bad, when they actually got to do some nice things on the other day which was sunny. Or they might think their wife can't love them any more, just because she didn't want to make love one night. Ignoring positive things and only focusing on bad things is bound to make us miserable and angry.
The author says angry men often do a generalisation in the way they behave as well. He says we'll tend to behave in a way that would be appropriate to behave in for some of the time for all of the time. For instance, if we were talking to a politician, it might be necessary to argue with them to try and get them to talk straight; but fiercely arguing with our wife just because her opinion on something doesn't quite match ours just makes us look bad and gives us something to regret.
He says a lot of angry men have grown up in households that were angry and argumentative, so now, we might well have trouble handling it in any other way when people disagree with us. We might well become immediately suspicious or defensive whenever we feel challenged because someone has asked us a question or disagreed with us in any way.
Thinking all situations need to be reacted to in the same way can cause a lot of unnecessary anger and unhappiness, both to ourselves and to the people we get angry with.
So when we catch ourselves reacting to one thing in a way that would be an appropriate reaction to something else but not to that, or when we catch ourselves thinking all situations or people in a certain group are all the same, when we know they're not really when we really think about it, we can tell ourselves we're over-generalising, and correct our thinking.
The author says a lot of angry men seem to forget the positive things that go on and focus their minds almost entirely on the bad things in the world and in life. Sounds like listening to an all-day news broadcast! The book says we can spend so much time focusing on the bad things that we can end up pessimistic and bitter all the time. For instance, it's typical to have a bad day and let that go around and around in our minds, even if we had 25 days that were OK before that. It's as if we forget everything that's going allright or well in our lives, and just focus on the worst things. So we think our life's a lot worse than it really is, and that makes us angry.
He gives an example of how this focusing on negative things can work: He says that one day as a man arrives home, his little daughter might run up to him enthusiastically and happily with a picture she's drawn at school she wants to show him. But all he sees is that she's got dirt on her dress, and before she can speak, he says, "You've got dirt all over your dress. Why can't you ever stay clean?"
She might say, "But daddy, look at my picture."
But he might just glance at it and say, "It's very nice, but come on, we need to get you cleaned up."
Then he forgets all about the picture. The author says he's missing an important bonding moment with his daughter, because all he can see is the one tiny thing that's not right.
The author asks us whether when we watch our sons playing sport, we remember all their mistakes but not what they did well; or whether we remember all the criticisms our wife has ever made of us but hardly any of her compliments.
He says he notices he has that kind of problem himself. He says that, for instance, when he's redecorated something, even if it looks good overall, he won't notice the overall effect at first, but will focus in on all the little imperfections in the paintwork and how he might have missed little bits in the corners. He has to remind himself to look at the overall picture and see the positives as well.
He says it'll take some effort at first for us to keep changing our thoughts so we focus on the positives as well, but it's well worth doing, because we'll start to feel more optimistic and happy and less angry about things when we manage it.
That's when we exaggerate how bad something is. The author says it's typical for angry men to rage for hours about how bad things are. Little irritations can be described by us as major insults. We can talk about problems that have cropped up as if they're disasters.
Actually, I suppose I do do that sometimes.
The author says it's important to remember that the way we talk about things, even to ourselves in our thoughts, will influence the way we feel about them. If we feel much worse about them than we need to, that'll make us angry. And we'll feel miserable as well. We'll feel as if nothing in our life goes right.
The author gives some examples of the kinds of exaggerated thinking that can make people angry and miserable:
"It's terrible that I didn't get an A in my test."
"We haven't had sex in a week. I don't think she wants me any more."
"If we don't get to the ball game on time, we might as well stay at home."
"I had a relapse and had a drink; now I might just as well get drunk."
The author says that none of those statements will be true. But it can feel as if they're true to angry men.
But he says that the more we have that kind of attitude, the more likely we'll make it that some of those things will end up having more truth in them, because if we keep focusing on bad things and exaggerating them to make it seem that life's terrible when it isn't, people will find our attitude unattractive, so they won't want to be around us, so we will have more miserable lives. We also won't have the optimism and confidence we need to take on new challenges, so we'll miss out on opportunities in life that could have been really good for us. So life will end up worse for us.
The author gives the example of someone who gets a yearly appraisal of his work by his boss, and one day the boss calls him into his office, and tells him that most of his work performance has been rated excellent. But in just one area, relations with work colleagues, he's rated average.
Instead of focusing on how most of his work performance has been rated so highly, he focuses on the one average rating and gets angry about it. His boss tells him the reason he got it is because his work colleagues aren't too enthusiastic about working with him because he doesn't really seem interested in them, and easily seems to get sulky if they bring up problems with him, so they're wary of talking to him.
The man doesn't think of how it isn't really that bad to have a rating of average, but is aggrieved by it, feeling upset. He gets angry and argues with his boss about it, trying to persuade him that his work colleagues are always the ones at fault for any problems, not him. He leaves the office feeling humiliated, depressed and angry.
Over the next several weeks, the man can't get his mind off his work performance appraisal. He's angry for some time about it. He thinks and thinks about ways of finding out who complained and how he could get his own back on them for it. He rehearses scenes in his mind of how he imagines he'd tell off, argue with and humiliate his accusers.
As he continues to be obsessed with thinking about what's happened, the man convinces himself more and more that his boss and co-workers must hate him. He looks for evidence that they don't like him in the way they act towards him. All this makes him feel terrible. He thinks of any signs that people are unhappy with him as evidence they don't like him or even hate him, and continues to make himself miserable about it. He begins to avoid his work colleagues even more because of what he thinks they must think of him. This in turn makes them think of him as even more unfriendly and uninterested in them than they did before!
So he's made himself miserable and angry for weeks and weeks over something that shouldn't have bothered him that much at all. Instead of getting so angry about being rated average, he could have focused on how good it was that he'd been rated excellent for most things, and asked himself how he could improve so everything about his work performance was rated excellent. If he had, he'd have left the boss's office feeling optimistic, and his mood over his next several weeks could have been very, very different to how it was.
The author says angry men are typically very sensitive and worried about other people's opinions. Also, it says we sometimes seem to think every bad thing in the world is done specifically to annoy us. He says thinking like that is called personalisation. It means we can interpret far too many things that other people say or their facial expressions as personal attacks on us, or judgments about our worth and value. He says it's a thinking distortion, because actually, most things that happen or things people say have nothing to do with us. He advises we relax and stop worrying so much, because other people aren't as concerned about the way we are as we are.
He gives some examples of ways we can take things too personally. He says if someone's wife talks about a film star they like, it doesn't mean she's no longer attracted to them, as they might assume it does. Or when people disagree with us about politics or something, it doesn't mean they're saying we're stupid for having a different point of view. If a friend of ours buys a different type of car to us, it doesn't mean he thinks the one we've got is no good and so our judgment when it comes to buying cars is bad. Taking things too personally can be another way we can get far more angry and miserable than we need to about things.
The author says it's also typical for us angry men to personalise by always comparing our achievements to those of others, and wondering if we're as good as them. And he says angry men often think they don't measure up. He says the problem when we compare ourselves to other people is that since we tend to have an exaggerated view of all our faults and forget the positive things, we're likely to have a distorted opinion of things, that's bound to make us miserable and irritable.
Ways we can think things that make us out to be far worse than we really are in comparison to other people are if we think things like,
"Everyone listens to him, but no one listens to me."
"I'm the worst person at this in the whole gym."
"Everyone else here seems to be relaxed. What's wrong with me?"
The author says we can become so self-absorbed, wondering how everything relates to us, that we can forget to be interested in other people for themselves. It's easy to get a bit paranoid if we keep focusing on our mistakes and how other people view us. We can take a lot of the pressure off ourselves that makes us edgy if we try to focus outwards onto other people and become interested in them for themselves, so we're focusing on them, rather than on our bad feelings. Feelings can get worse and worse the more we worry about them. But we can forget them altogether if we try to get as interested as we can in what other people have got to say.
We don't have to worry that we're less competent than everyone. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone does foolish things from time to time. It's part of being human.
And everyone has misfortunes in life, so when something bad happens to us, it's not as if fate's got it in for us.
And when people are angry around us, they won't necessarily be angry with us. And if they are, it won't be the end of the world. It'll be something that can be sorted out.
That's when people think what they're feeling means something's true. So if we're angry with someone because we think they're doing something just to annoy us, we might think our angry feelings mean they really are doing what they're doing just to annoy us, when they might not be really.
Other examples are thinking that if we feel stupid, we must be stupid. Or if we feel really guilty, we think it must mean we must have done something seriously wrong.
The author says the problem is that emotions are often sparked off by the way we think, not by reality, so if we're worrying far more than we need to about something, we'll have much stronger emotions than we would otherwise, and we can think those strong emotions mean there must be something seriously wrong, when actually it was us that sparked them off by worrying unnecessarily about things.
Equally, if we get angry about something, it doesn't necessarily mean there really is something to be angry about. Again, our thoughts can make us far more angry than we need to be, and they can be inaccurate.
So the author says that if we feel inferior to anyone, for example, it doesn't mean we should take our feelings seriously as if they mean we really must be, because our feelings have just come on because of the things we thought, that might be wrong. They might not really be better people, or even think they are.
He says feelings aren't linked to the way things really are, but to our interpretations of the way things are. For instance, he says some angry men think every time their wife's angry or sad, it must be something to do with them, and they'll keep asking what they've done wrong, no matter how many times she tells them it wasn't anything to do with them.
The author says it's typical for angry men to be quick to blame people for things, either blaming themselves for every mistake they make, and even everything their children and wives do wrong, or they're quick to look for other people to blame when something goes wrong.
The author says it's not always necessary to find out whose fault it is when things go wrong. Trying to find people to put the blame on is what starts a lot of arguments, and ends a lot of friendships and marriages. Each person might blame the other one to avoid thinking they look bad themselves. But while blaming someone else can make us feel relieved in the short term that we don't have to think it's our fault, it can be counter-productive, since it can just make the other person angry and more argumentative, and then it makes us more angry with them because of that and because we think it's their fault.
Or if we blame ourselves for lots of the things that go wrong, we'll just get angry with ourselves.
There is another way. The author says blaming doesn't fix problems or prevent future ones. If we're going to be happier in life, it'll be best if we stop blaming, and start finding ways to move forward and solve problems. Rather than going into great arguments about whose fault it was, we can instead spend the time discussing what needs to be done to prevent such a thing from ever happening again, if it's within our control to stop it happening again.
The author says one way we can change our emotional-brain thinking is if every time we catch ourselves thinking something bad, we answer the thought with something that puts a better, although realistic, light on things. We can do the same when we're talking. If we say something critical or pessimistic, we can always try to remember to end our statement with the word but, and then think of something more positive to say, so we end on an optimistic note. That'll quite possibly make us feel more cheerful.
He gives some examples of things we might think. He means this kind of thing:
The author says that doesn't mean we try to minimise the problems in our lives or that it's wrong to dwell on them. But he says we'll make ourselves more optimistic and be more attractive to be around if we can spend a lot more time than we do now focusing on the positive aspects of things.
It can help if for a few weeks, whenever we begin to get angry, we try to remember to catch ourselves, and write down what's just made us angry, and whether our anger is really justified. We can remember our thoughts better if we write them down, so it's easier to analyse them to see how justified they were. We can work out whether they're justified if we write down what our beliefs are about the situation that made us angry, and then ask ourselves whether they're really true. So, for instance, if we find ourselves getting angry with our wives for asking how our day was, we can ask ourselves,
"What do I think her asking me that really means?"
For example, if we think it's just a routine thing and she doesn't really care, we might be getting angry about that.
Then we can ask ourselves if we have solid evidence to prove that what we believe about the situation is actually true. So if we think our wife doesn't really want to know about our day, and then we catch ourselves thinking she might not really care about us at all, we can ask ourselves whether we know she doesn't care about us.
We can write down what real evidence we have to believe she doesn't, and what reasons we have to believe it's not true, for instance, in what ways she proves she does care about us, or whether we think we can really judge from such a little thing, and so on.
Then we can ask ourselves what some more likely explanations are for what's happened.
We can think through the beliefs our anger means we have about ourselves as well and do the same thing.
We could carry a notebook around with us to do that.
If it's not convenient at the time, we could think things through later. But it's best really if we can to think them through while they're fresh in our memories.
It sounds like a tedious thing to do; but if we try it at least a few times, we might find it helps.
When we have more understanding of the mistakes we make in our own personal thinking that make us angry, we'll stop making them so much, and so we won't get nearly so angry.
Sooner or later, we'll think through what's just made us angry automatically, so we won't need to write things down.
Next time you're mad, try dancing out your anger.
Always write angry letters to your enemies. Never mail them.
The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk.
Temper tantrums, however fun they may be to throw, rarely solve whatever problem is causing them.
When we've become sure we can handle things without getting aggressive so it's at least safe for us to stay in a situation, the book gives us advice on how to handle things that used to make us angry differently so they don't make us angry any more.
The author says it's common to hear that it's therapeutic to get things out of the system. But whereas it can be therapeutic to get some things out of the system, that isn't true for everything. He says a lot of angry men love to use the idea that it is as an excuse to go into great angry tirades. But he says they've got the wrong idea, since while explaining more about the way we feel is good, because it can make us more understood, going into great angry outbursts will just put people off us.
He says people who just let their angry outbursts happen and say exactly what they want to don't seem to get any better at controlling their temper. When someone disagrees with them or has a go at them or when something frustrates them, they'll get angry all over again.
He says people don't really get anywhere by expressing hostility, but what can get them further is if they explain the feelings that are making them angry.
He gives an example, saying a boss might have a go at a certain foreman because a machine's not working and he wanted it fixed that day. The boss could shout at him, in front of everyone else, saying,
"This just isn't good enough! I asked you to have that machine fixed by today! If it isn't mended by tomorrow, you can find yourself another job!"
He's shouting at this man even though he knows he's a good worker who will have been doing everything he can to get the machine fixed.
The foreman gets really angry in response but doesn't say anything, because he knows if he gets angry with his boss it might cost him his job. So the boss doesn't find out why the machine's still not mended, and probably won't get it mended any more quickly.
Instead of yelling angrily, the boss could have explained why it mattered to him that the machine was fixed so soon and asked what the problem was, to find out if there was a good reason for it not being fixed. So he could have spoken to the foreman in a calmer way and said something like,
"John, I asked you to have that machine fixed by today. What seems to be the hold-up? I've got a big order to fill by next week, and I'm getting concerned that we're not going to make our shipping date."
In that way, the boss would have shown that he was actually worried about the situation, so the foreman would have wanted to explain the problem to put the boss's mind at ease. Also, he might have said something that reassured the boss, instead of angrily refusing to say anything because the boss had made him angry and he wanted to say something angry back but didn't dare in case he lost his job. So he might say to the boss something that made the boss quite a bit happier even, like telling him he'd discovered what the problem with the machine was and ordered spare parts, and that they should be arriving some time in the next few hours, in plenty of time to have the machine fixed in time. Because he got so angry, the boss never got to hear the good news.
Not only would it have put the boss's mind at rest, but the foreman wouldn't have been embarrassed by being shouted at in front of the others, and the working atmosphere would have been a lot nicer, because it wouldn't have been ruined by the incident.
It was the boss's worry that caused his anger. The author of the book says it's often worry that makes angry men angry. But while expressing the anger would have caused problems, expressing the worried feeling might have led to a much more satisfactory outcome.
The foreman would have been doing something just as unhealthy as the boss did when he got yelled at and kept all his anger inside, not saying anything. Storing up all that emotion can lead to physical problems like aches and pains, and even heart attacks. And it can just put you in a really bad mood. If he'd got angry back, he probably would have lost his job. But there were alternative ways he could have reacted. He could have expressed the feelings that led to his own anger. He could perhaps have invited the boss out to lunch, so he could speak his mind when they were more relaxed. Then, he could have reasoned with him, by perhaps saying something like,
"You know, I know you're worried about this. But I am working on it. I've found out exactly what's wrong with the machine, and I've ordered extra parts. They're being sent by a courier and should be here in the next couple of hours. It should be easy to have the machine mended by the end of the day."
That might calm the boss's anger for the time being, but since the boss is always yelling at the foreman, the foreman needs to find strategies for trying to deal with it more permanently.
It might help if he expresses how he feels about the boss's anger to him, and also suggests an alternative way he'd like the boss to behave, so things can hopefully move forward instead of getting bogged down in who's to blame or whatever.
So perhaps he could say something like,
"I want to say that I'm tired of you yelling at me every time something goes wrong, especially in front of everyone. From now on, please speak to me respectfully. I'll try to speak to you respectfully. I think it's only fair that you do the same with me."
The boss might not take any notice. But he might. And at least the foreman's got a better chance of changing things than he has if he just keeps quiet and boils with rage inside.
So there are a few important things that'll make our communication easier:
Expressing anger will probably make us feel more angry; but explaining the problem and suggesting a possible solution, or explaining that we're working on one, whichever's true at the time, will help calm things down all-round.
The book says that while not all anger-producing situations can be predicted, a lot of them can be. Certain situations and certain people are likely to make us angry again and again and again. So we can predict they'll probably make us angry in the future. And certain emotions very often lead to anger. If we can work out what those are in us, then we can rehearse different ways of dealing with them when we have them again.
That way, when we feel we're having those emotions, or when the people or situations that normally make us angry are leading us to get angry again, we'll be able to respond differently instead of getting angry.
So we need to work out other ways we can respond, and then practice them, imagining we're in the situations where we've got angry before and probably will again, and we say different things and feel different ways, and different things happen as a result. If we practice responding differently, it'll come more easily to us when we're actually in those situations. At the moment, responding with anger is an automatic habit. It's difficult to get out of habits. It's as if we just behave the way we've programmed our brains over time to behave without even thinking about it. Practising responding differently will be like reprogramming our brains with a better habit.
The author suggests we sit down and make a list, preferably a written one, of all the people and situations we know tend to make us angry, and the reasons why. Then we can take the things on the list one by one and try to think of new and imaginative ways of responding to them.
For one angry man, the list might include one of his work colleagues who always makes him nervous by pointing out any mistakes he makes and annoys him by making jokes at his expense, and who he feels on guard all the time around because he's so worried about showing vulnerability and making mistakes around, and getting looked down on as a result, that he's more likely to make mistakes because of his nervousness.
Someone else on his list might be his brother-in-law, who always makes him feel inferior because he seems to have a much more interesting life, and whenever he comes round, he tells the kids about stories of his adventures that make them wish they were his kids.
Playing golf might make him angry, because he thinks people are better than he is and when he doesn't do as well, he thinks they must be judging him as inferior for it.
Paying bills could make him angry, because he feels insecure about not being able to afford them and he thinks they're far too expensive.
But the list could be different for everyone.
When we've written our list, we can look at each thing on the list and decide how we can do things differently so we don't get angry when the things on it happen again.
When we're thinking of a person we have a good reason for being angry with, we might be tempted to think they ought to change instead of us. Well, they should really. But since they probably won't on their own, the best thing we can do is start responding to them differently, since then, they'll probably change as well, because it's difficult to behave the same towards someone who's behaving a lot differently. I mean, one example is if they find we're just not being provoked into arguing by them any more, they can't argue back and provoke us some more.
So when we've made our list, and really thought about exactly what it is about each thing on it that makes us angry, we can plan how to change the way we think about those things or behave when they happen, so they don't make us angry any more.
A man who felt humiliated because one of his work colleagues kept pointing out his mistakes might be tempted to avoid the work colleague. But that wouldn't be a good strategy, because it might mean avoiding important things they went to that everyone was expected to attend like meetings. Trying to out-insult them might have seemed the best thing to do before, but it might have just led to angrier and angrier arguments, and not stopped the work colleague's teasing.
One strategy that might be worth using instead could be for the angry man to try making a joke of things. A lot of the mistakes he makes probably won't be that serious, so he probably gets much more uptight about them than he needs to.
No one's perfect; everyone makes mistakes in life. So, for instance, if we dropped something on the floor but no damage was done, but the people around us laughed, instead of feeling humiliated and inferior and getting angry, we could just laugh about it and make a slightly humorous comment like, "Whoops, butter fingers!" If a man who used to get angry at little mistakes he made because they made him feel silly spilled coffee on his shirt, instead of worrying about how bad it looked, he could perhaps say something like, "Hey, why don't they make shirts coffeeproof?"
We could perhaps use humour when we're being teased as well, although not at the expense of the one doing the teasing, since that'll make them angry and might start a dispute that'll just make us more angry in the end or leave us feeling even worse in other ways.
But one good strategy is to pretend to agree with them, but exaggerate things so much that the whole thing just sounds like a laugh, so if they were trying to be nasty, it defeats their object.
So, for instance, if someone said to someone else, "You're a bit of a sissy; are you gay?" they could perhaps say, "Actually yes; in fact I'm so gay I've been invited to join a secret organisation that wants to cut the world population in half in the next 50 years by turning everyone gay so no one gets together with the opposite sex and has children any more. They think my genes are so gay they're going to take some and grow them in a laboratory and then put them in common food, and then whoever eats it will go gay. I expect you'll be eating it yourself sooner or later."
Well, it might not work; but that kind of thing could stop us being angry, and it could make them laugh as well; it might make the accusation sound so silly that no one takes it seriously any more or tries to make it seriously again.
The author says he used to get teased about his big feet a lot, and that used to make him angry, but now he just makes jokes about them, like saying they're convenient because they leave bigger footprints in the snow so he can see his way back better in the winter, or that he could go waterskiing without having to buy water skis.
When the people teasing us see they aren't getting to us any more, chances are they'll eventually stop teasing us, although it might take a while for them to realise it isn't bothering us any more.
Also, we'll become more confident ourselves when we realise we can handle things well and calmly without them getting to us.
The author says thinking of humorous imagery can help us stop being angry as well. For instance, if a boss has just shouted at us, we could go over the scene in our minds again pretending he has a clown face with a big red nose, or that he's a cartoon character, or that he was speaking in a really fast, high-pitched voice, or something.
If people are in the habit of asking us awkward questions, a good tactic to use is to throw the questions back at them in a nice way. For instance, if they asked us how our weekend was, knowing we hadn't done much because we don't usually, and we were embarrassed to say so because they'd probably done much more interesting things, we could stop them asking awkward questions about our own weekend by answering their first question quickly, perhaps by saying something like, "You know; the same old thing"; and then we could immediately ask them how their weekend was and start asking more questions about it.
We might be a bit embarrassed because they've done better things than us, but at least we won't get really uncomfortable because we've got the spotlight of their awkward questions focused on us.
If they stop talking about themselves and ask us something that makes us feel awkward again, we can perhaps say something else quickly and then ask them another question straightaway. So perhaps we could say something like, "I can't believe you could want me to tell you more about my boring weekend; tell me more about your weekend. What did you do when you went ... " whatever.
We can ask them as many questions as we can think of, depending on how long we're stuck in the situation with nothing else to do.
If we go through such things beforehand, rehearsing them in our minds, they'll come more easily when we want them. We could even rehearse them with a friend or family member, with them pretending to be the one teasing us or asking us awkward questions, and us thinking up good responses.
Or sometimes, they could pretend to be us, with us pretending to be the person teasing or asking awkward questions, since they might come up with responses we hadn't thought of.
Another thing that can stop us getting really angry is if we explain ourselves clearly as soon as we're provoked, so we don't sit around fuming and getting more and more angry thinking about it. Also, defending ourselves clearly will mean we're not going into an angry attack against the person we're annoyed with, so it'll probably end up better for both of us.
So if they snap at us angrily, for example, we could try responding calmly, but saying what we need to say to justify ourselves. So conversations might go something like:
Or whatever. If we resist our immediate impulse to snap back at them, but we don't just stay quiet and get angry because we're not defending ourselves, we could perhaps take a deep breath or two before responding, and then respond without actually angrily criticizing them but just explaining our side of the story patiently; then that'll make us feel better because we've defended ourselves instead of fuming silently about it, and the situation hopefully hasn't escalated to an angry conflict.
The book says that if someone does something we don't like, it can defuse a situation that could otherwise get angry if we explain to them what they've done that we didn't like, why we didn't like it, and what we want to happen in the future.
It can help if we speak up to everyone like that, whether it be children, friends, the boss, or whoever.
For instance, if our wife showed us up in public by talking about our faults, instead of quietly fuming and letting our anger build up to what might be quite an unpleasant situation when we do finally let it out, we could say to her in private something like,
"When you talk about the mistakes I make with my friends, it embarrasses me and makes me angry. I wish you wouldn't do that."
When we phrase things like that, we're saying how we feel without actually blaming the person we're talking to for our feelings. It's important to say how we feel without actually blaming them for our feelings, like we would be if we used blaming words like, "You make me angry", because if we say things like that, they'll only go on the defensive and argue, because they won't like being accused of causing our feelings. So the real issue of what they did to upset us doesn't get sorted out, because the argument's all about whether they caused our feelings or not, and since they're angry, they won't want to listen any more anyway. But if we explain how we feel without talking as if they're responsible for our feelings, then they might understand and be sorry about the way they've behaved. They might not have realised how insensitive they were being. But if we can tell them calmly how we feel about their behaviour and say we'd like them to change, then they might realise how they came across and change.
Whenever we're angry when we talk to them and sound accusing, it'll just put them right on the defensive and they probably won't even really be listening to us because they'll be thinking about what to say to defend themselves or win the argument. But if we're calm and clearly explain why we didn't like what they said or did, so they can understand how it made us feel, then they're more likely to listen and accept what we say. The thing is that if we say something that sounds insulting to them, they'll just think we're being nasty and go straight into defending themselves or attacking back, without thinking for a second about how what they said or did made us feel. All they'll be thinking is that we've been nasty so they need to defend themselves. But if we just explain how we feel, they'll realise that what they said or did made us feel bad, because their attention isn't taken up with deciding what to say to attack back. So they're more likely to be sorry about it and agree to try to change.
It might be that something we try just doesn't work. Being humorous about something we're being teased about might backfire. Even trying to explain our feelings as calmly as we can might not get a good response. But if the first time we try something it doesn't work, we could always adjust our technique, or we could try another solution.
One thing it's important to remember though is if something doesn't seem to be working, it's unlikely to be because people are deliberately out to annoy us. The book points out that the vast majority of people are far too concerned about themselves and their own lives to deliberately plot things against us while calculating what our responses are going to be. People have all kinds of motives, that have far more to do with them than us.
The author says a lot of angry men are scared to admit to ever changing their opinion in the slightest, and will defend it fiercely, because they seem to believe any criticism of it means the person they're debating with thinks they're defective as a person, or that if they're wrong, it's a weakness, and they can't admit to any weakness. The author says that in reality, it doesn't mean the person disagreeing with us thinks any less of us as a person; it's just our opinion on a certain issue they're disagreeing with. Or it might be just one thing we did they disapprove of; that doesn't mean they think we're inferior or stupid as people.
Understanding that, and being prepared to change our opinion if we're faced with facts that persuade us that they're right after all, could even get us their respect.
The author suggests we practice not insisting on our own opinion but allowing that there might be some truth in what they say.
So, for instance, instead of fiercely disagreeing with them, we could say things like,
"I can see why you'd think that."
"That makes sense too."
"You prefer that colour? Well, I suppose that's why they make them in lots of different colours - so people can choose what they like best."
That kind of thing. The author recommends we focus on discussing things rather than winning. He says if we're not so focused on winning, we won't have to be so worried about losing.
The author says it's important to truly listen to what the other person's saying. After all, we'd want them to do that for us. He says angry men tend to look out all the time for ways to dominate and control the conversation because of fear of where it might lead otherwise. But we probably don't need to worry nearly as much as we think. And we could end up having far more interesting conversations if we listen carefully to what other people are saying instead of constantly being on the lookout for things in what they say that we can use to argue with them about.
So the author recommends we practice being sincerely interested in what other people have to say, not only because if we're not criticizing them all the time, it won't lead to so much anger and so many arguments, but also because we might discover we like a lot of what they say and we might even want to be friends with them, or learn interesting new things from them, or just enjoy the conversation much more than we would if we were feeling under pressure to control it all the time.
The author says a lot of angry arguments begin when one angry man, feeling challenged, says indignantly, "Are you calling me a liar?!"
Oh yes, my dad used to use that technique, even if we wanted to disagree with him in quite a friendly way.
The author says it isn't necessary to leap to the defensive so fast; it often just leads to an angrier and angrier argument that can end up quite aggressive.
Yes, I know it can!
He says that in any case, though angry men tend to like to pride themselves on honesty, we might think we're telling more of the truth than we really are. He says us angry men tend to like to be blunt with what we see as the truth, and feel insulted if people don't instantly and totally agree with us. He says angry men might say things proudly like,
"I speak my mind. If people can't handle it, that's their problem!" "I tell it like it is."
But he says that actually, angry men are only telling part of the truth. For instance, if we feel uncomfortable, instead of actually saying we do, we might become quite challenging and aggressive. We can be quick to point out when someone else has made a mistake, but don't want to admit when we have. He says angry men have difficulty complimenting and praising others, or admitting to emotions like tenderness or fear, and all those things are part of what the truth involves.
He says when we focus on the negative things, and when we feel under pressure to put up a front where we don't want to risk acknowledging anything that could be considered weakness, we'll feel edgy and on guard all the time, so that'll just make us feel angry a lot of the time.
He says when we develop the confidence to praise and compliment people more, then we'll have a greater grasp of the truth of things, since there's a lot to enjoy and praise other people for in the world.
He recommends we're as bold and forthright with our compliments to people as we are with our criticism, and as willing to tell someone when they've made us happy as we are to tell them when they've made us angry. The more we focus on the positive things in others, the happier we'll feel ourselves. So it's worth looking out for positive things we can compliment people for.
He says when we disagree with someone, we should feel free to do it in a straightforward and honest way, but that doesn't mean we have to be tactless and aggressive. He says it's possible to speak the truth without being harsh and trying to intimidate people into accepting it.
He says that in fact, we can get our points across much better if we focus on explaining them, rather than on telling the other person how stupid or wrong or whatever we think they are for not seeing things our way. That's both because they're more likely to listen to us if we're explaining what we think without antagonising them, since if we are, they'll be focusing on their indignant feelings and what they can say in their defence rather than on listening to us; and also, we can explain much more of what we really think is wrong with what they say if we focus on the facts of the matter rather than on what we think of them getting things wrong.
The author says there might be a meeting at work where someone who often irritates an angry man says some things he clearly thinks are wrong. He might be tempted to say something aggressive like,
"You've got your facts wrong. You've wasted our time because you obviously couldn't be bothered to put in the work. We shouldn't have to put up with incompetence like this!"
The angry man might be absolutely right. The person might well not have bothered to put in the work, and wasted time saying things that were wrong. But in pointing it out like that, and in front of everyone else too, the angry man will have made the person feel humiliated, so they probably won't bee feeling friendly towards him for some time and might well try to get him back for what he said, which will only make him more angry. They probably won't want to work with him, or if they do, the two might spend quite a bit of the time arguing, so they won't be very happy, or effective to the company. And importantly, he hasn't done anything at all to help the person get the correct information, or suggest ways they can do a better job in the future, and hasn't told the company anything about what the correct information is. That would have been a good way to go about things.
But with his angry personal attack, he's just made other people in the company wary of being around him in case he attacks them in the same way, so he's reduced the influence he could have had to help improve things.
And chances are they'll start avoiding him a bit, so he'll start to feel isolated, and that might make him feel more frustrated and angry.
The man could have been just as "honest" with a totally different approach that didn't antagonise at all. He could have acknowledged that there were in fact positive things about what the person said, and pointed out the negative things by just explaining the facts. So he might say something like,
"I think you're right about the amount of time this project could take to do. But I think your estimate of how expensive it'll be falls short, because there are some extra things in the mix. I've done some calculations myself and I've come up with different figures. Would you like to sit down with me and we'll discuss them?"
That method puts across the same essential message - that the person's made mistakes. But it isn't insulting, so probably won't antagonise, and will probably lead to some helpful discussion. The person won't want to take anger out on him in the future because they're annoyed about what he said, as they might well have done before, so he'll be less likely to get angry. Also, he'll have been pleased with himself because of the way he behaved, and that'll improve his self-image and make him more confident in himself. Also, the other people who work with him will probably be more likely to want to work with him because he's given the impression of reliability and knowledge, rather than being less likely to work with him because they're wary of his insults. Feeling they want him around will make him feel good.
The book says that when someone starts swearing at another person during an argument, it's bound to antagonise them and so the argument could get much more heated from that point on. A lot of angry men might think swearing's harmless, but if they observe what happens in arguments over a bit of time, they might well find that both they and the other person get angry when they get sworn at and it just makes the arguments more angry. Swearing is usually a form of abuse. Swearwords basically put across the message that the one swearing at you doesn't think that you or what you're saying is any good, and that's bound to annoy.
So the author recommends that angry men find ways to stop using profanity so we can control our tempers in arguments better. He says there are loads of other ways we can express ourselves, some quite clever.
And again, when we don't swear or say anything provocative, people are far more likely to listen to our actual message than they are if all they focus on is the insult in what we said so they just get angry and insult us back instead of actually listening to what we're saying.
While the reason people behave angrily is often because they feel angry, people also feel more angry as a result of behaving angrily. The more we behave angrily, the more angry feelings we'll often have. When people get angry, the brain releases adrenaline that intensifies the emotions. So behaving angrily will get us psyched up and our brains will release more adrenaline so we'll feel even more angry. That's one reason why arguments can get more and more angry till they get violent. Once a person's anger is aroused, it isn't just what the other person says that makes the anger worse; it's the fact that more and more adrenaline's being pumped around our systems. It's that "fight or flight" response, where the brain thinks we're in danger so it gives us a big energy boost so if we really do need to fight or run away, we'll have more energy to do it. But of course, if we don't really need to fight or run away, because we might just be arguing about a stupid little thing that started an argument that got more and more insulting so it provoked us more and more, then we'll have an urge to do much more serious damage than is reasonable in the situation.
So we should try to avoid things that make us feel more angry, like yelling at people, punching walls, aggressively pointing our finger at someone during an argument, sulking and brooding over things, and so on.
So since a lot of situations that usually make us want to behave angrily are quite predictable, we can think about what to do and say instead and rehearse it, so doing alternative things comes more naturally to us when one of the situations happens for real.
Also, we should feel we can make excuses and leave if we do think we're about to lose control. Maybe we could say something like,
"I think this might be in danger of turning into an argument; I think we'll be able to discuss it more thoughtfully if we discuss this later. Shall we set a time?"
Or we could think of other things we could say.
The author says it'll help us keep our tempers under control if we think about what makes us angry and try to make adjustments in our routine so we don't get so provoked. They might only need to be minor adjustments.
For instance, he says when he was younger, he and his wife used to end up having big arguments over silly little things when they came home from work every day. They didn't like doing that really, so one day, they sat down and discussed what it was that made them start arguing and how they could avoid it. They discussed how they were both stressed when they came home from work, and really didn't fancy arguing. So they agreed on a rule for themselves: They wouldn't debate about anything till after dinner. That way, they'd have some time to relax and start to enjoy themselves more before they did, so their conversations after that wouldn't be so likely to turn into arguments, because they'd both be in a better mood.
They put their rule into operation, and found they argued a lot less after that.
The author says there are lots of little things we could probably do so we can stop situations that used to provoke us from doing that.
One example might be the arguments we have. It's easy for arguments that start over little tiny things to get really nasty once the insults begin to fly, and no one wants to back down because they're too angry and neither one wants to be the loser, so the arguments just get worse. It might often be possible to stop them as soon as they start, before they get nasty. One way we might be able to avoid them altogether, or at least stop them right at the beginning, is by compromising.
For instance, if we and someone else both decide to go and see a film, and we suggest one, but the other person says, "We always go and see the films you want to see!!" then instead of arguing about it and then beginning to argue about other things till it gets nasty and the evening's ruined, we could say something like, "Allright, how about if we see a film you want to see tonight, and we'll see one I want to see tomorrow", or, "How about if we separate and each see the one we'd like to see, and meet up for coffee afterwards and tell each other about what each one was like?"
Thinking up little compromises like that could save a lot of arguments.
To give another example of how little changes in our routine could stop us getting angry, people who get really irritated every day by traffic jams on their way back from work could change their route so even if it was a longer one, they wouldn't get irritated by having to stop and go so slowly all the time.
Actually, I once heard someone say he was talking to someone who got stressed every time he had to stop at traffic lights, and he advised the stressed man to think of the times he had to stop as his own personal times, where he could do something just for himself. Then he could de-stress himself a bit by taking slow steady deep breaths for several seconds. That can calm stress a bit. When he began to think of the stops as his own personal times to relax, the man didn't mind being in traffic jams nearly so much.
So we could think about what provokes us and see whether we could make minor adjustments to things so we stay calmer.
The author says even if we don't think we should have to make adjustments because it's other people who are in the wrong, like if we keep being bothered in a bar by someone who irritates us and one solution would be to change the bar we go to, but we don't see why we should, because they're the irritating one, it might be as well sometimes to be happy rather than standing on principles.
If people treat us inconsiderately, they're not necessarily just doing it because they want to be nasty to us. Thinking they are might be one of the main things that makes us angry with them. But their behaviour might not really have anything to do with us. It can help us stay calm if we try to think about other reasons they might be getting on our nerves.
For instance, if our boss criticises us unfairly and tactlessly, it might be because he's under pressure from his own manager who's just had a go at him to get work out faster, and he's taking it out on us. Yes, he shouldn't behave like that towards us. But it still might help us get less angry if we reflect that that might be what's going on.
The book says that at other times, even just realising that someone who's disagreeing with us really does believe they're right can help us stay calmer, since we'll realise they're not just disagreeing because they want to get at us personally. They're just sincerely disagreeing with us, in the same way that we're being sincere with them. Not taking things personally can help us not to get so angry.
The author says people are usually far too wrapped up in themselves and their issues to sit around working out ways of making us angry. Their annoying behaviour might not have anything to do with us whatsoever. They might be in a really bad mood because they've got problems with their marriage, or they're in pain, or perhaps they learned to behave angrily as a child and it's become a habit. There are lots of things it could be. Those things aren't excuses for their behaviour. But at least if we realise anyone who behaves badly towards us might not be out to get us personally, it might help us stay calmer.
The author says angry men often feel as if no one really cares about them. But we can get our needs met better if we speak up more and tell people what we want. Maybe it's because we don't do that sometimes that people don't seem to care about us much, because they don't realise what we want.
Sometimes, people learn not to speak up much in childhood because they know they won't be listened to or something. But whatever it was that made us like that, we can change it. If we're more assertive, which is somewhere in between being too passive to speak up and being angry, then other people might care more, because they'll understand us better. They won't be antagonised because we're asking them angrily for something, but nor will they not understand what we want because we're not explaining ourselves.
The author says one technique for being assertive is to more-or-less repeat what we're saying to someone who keeps querying what we're saying, if we think they're really not interested in trying to see things from our point of view but just trying to put obstacles in the way of listening to it.
The author gives an example of how it could work. This is the kind of thing:
Imagine if our next-door neighbour has a yappy little dog who keeps messing on our driveway. We might have hinted to him about stopping it doing that quite a bit, but he never listened, either because he didn't understand our hints, or because he didn't want to. Before, we would get angry, and that would just cause an argument, and he'd go away fuming, and not do anything because he was too annoyed with us. But one day, we decided to try something different.
Imagine if one day, we decided to just tell him straight what the problem was and suggest a solution. So we said to him with a smile,
"I'm wondering if you could keep your dog on your premises; it's a nice enough animal, but it keeps messing on my driveway, and I don't like the smell and having to clear it up. Thanks."
The neighbour might agree to what we want, but he might not. If he doesn't, perhaps he'd say,
"Just shove the mess onto the grass; manure's good for plants."
If we didn't really feel we could explain any more reasons why we didn't want the dog mess in our garden, we could basically repeat ourselves. We might have to resist the urge to get angry with him and have a go at him. But then we could just say calmly something like,
"Just the same, I'd like you to keep your dog off my premises."
People might not always agree to do what we want quickly, so he might come back with something like,
"How am I supposed to control him 24 hours a day?"
He might not really want to know the answer to that question, but just be trying to get out of doing it. So if we can't think of any good ways he could stop the dog wandering onto our driveway off-hand, we don't need to worry. We could just say something calmly like,
"It's not my job to tell you how to control your dog. Just do something to stop him messing on my driveway, please. OK? Thanks."
That way, we'll have got the message across without getting angry, so hopefully the problem can be solved in a more friendly way.
If it isn't, we might have to do further things like calling the environmental health department. But at least telling our neighbour assertively what we want gives us more chance of getting what we want than if we just quietly fumed or shouted.
It's fair enough for people to expect us to explain all our reasons for wanting something done in the beginning. It's if they keep raising objections after that and we're sure they just want to confuse us into giving up so they can get their own way that basically just repeating ourselves can be a good idea.
The author says that one reason it's important to be assertive and speak up for what we need politely is because if people don't know what we want, we probably won't get it.
Also, when some people don't think we're going to stand up for ourselves, they'll take advantage of our silence, by perhaps doing things like pushing in front of us in a queue, leaving us hanging around in a restaurant not being served, or whatever. Going from quietly fuming to being abusive just gives us a bad name and makes people dislike us. The more ways of politely but firmly standing up for ourselves we learn the better. If we can be respectful, and yet very clear about what we want to happen, then we're more likely to get what we want.
People tend not to understand hints. So not being clear about what we want can lead to confusion in other people who don't really know what the hints mean and so don't give us what we're trying to ask for. And then if we get frustrated at not getting it and so get angry and abusive, we can be even less likely to get it. So being polite but straightforward is the best thing to do.
So, for instance, if we'd like to get more attention from our wife, it's best if we explain clearly what we'd like and why. We don't have to complain about what we're unhappy about. That'll risk antagonising her, and she doesn't have to know all about it before things can change. We just have to explain the outline of our feelings and ask for what we'd like to happen instead.
I heard about someone who said she learned early in her marriage about how much better the results can be when you ask for change rather than complaining about what's wrong, when one day she wanted to ask her husband if he'd go out at weekends more with her. She said he worked hard during the week, so he just liked to relax at home at weekends, whereas she wanted to be more active.
So one day, she sat him down and said she was fed up that they didn't go out much and that all he wanted to do at weekends was to hang around the house. He'd go out to dinner occasionally, but not much more than that, and she thought it wasn't very exciting. When she told him that, he started defending himself and it turned into an argument, until After a while, she said in a loud voice that she didn't understand what all the fuss was about, since all she wanted them to do was to go into the city every four to six weeks and do something out of the ordinary.
He said, "That's fine. Why didn't you just say so?"
She was surprised that he was so willing to do what she wanted, and wondered why he'd made such a fuss at first; but then she realised that she'd annoyed him by condemning him for his perfectly justifiable behaviour in wanting to relax at weekends, while she was criticizing his behaviour because she was trying to justify asking for what she wanted, when she didn't need to justify it. She just needed to ask for a small change.
She said that after that, she would always try to just ask for what she wanted, rather than stating all the reasons why she was unhappy at not getting it.
She said another reason people might not be getting what they want is because their requests are too vague. For instance, they might tell their husband or wife that they'd like less tension in the house, or better communication, or more closeness. But their partner might have no idea how to go about helping to make things like that happen, especially since they won't know exactly what the one making the request means by it. So it's best to think of exactly what we'd like to happen and ask for that.
She said she and her husband resolved their differences about how to spend weekends when she asked him for specific things, like if they could go out to a new restaurant or a show once a month, and if he'd go out for a walk or to watch a film with her once a week. She said that sorted out the problem. She said it wouldn't have worked so well if she'd asked for things that left him puzzled as to what she really wanted, like that she wanted him to be more adventurous or involved in the relationship. But telling him exactly what she wanted helped a lot.
That's part of assertiveness, explaining clearly what we need and want before we get angry about not getting it.
So it'll help our peace of mind if we're assertive with everyone around us. For example, if we're worried about what our boss thinks about our work, we could perhaps ask for regular clear performance appraisals. If we don't think people around us are considerate of our feelings, it might be because they don't know what our feelings about things are and it hasn't occurred to them that we might be unhappy, so we could give them an outline of our feelings, for instance saying if we're hurt or anxious or frustrated, and then tell them how we'd like their behaviour to change.
Actually, I did once hear about someone who got so good at assertiveness skills that they suddenly started being a lot more assertive with their boss ... and got fired. So I suppose we need to be a bit careful.
The author says it might be a bit too big a change to start expecting ourselves to be skilfully assertive all at once. So it might be best if we work up to it, practising with little things first and building up to bigger ones. For instance, one little thing we could start with might be if we got short-changed in a shop; we could politely point it out and ask for the correct change. We wouldn't have to get aggressive. It would be best if we stayed calm all the time, but insistent. We would have to make up our minds not to bother too much about what the other customers thought of us.
Other examples could be if someone disagrees with us, we can explain our point of view in a calm, constructive way, listening to their point of view, prepared to change our opinion if we think the other person's right after all, but otherwise prepared to calmly and respectfully but firmly stand up for ours.
If someone pushes in front of us in a queue, we can calmly explain to them that people have been waiting longer than them and show them where the end of the queue is; but if they refuse to move, it's best not to make any more fuss than is worthwhile. There's no point in blowing things out of proportion and behaving as if trivialities are really important. After all, just one person pushing in isn't going to hold us up much. One thing about being assertive is that we need to judge what's worth being firm and insistent about and what isn't.
The author says when we've had some practice being assertive in little ways, we can move on to bigger issues. That partly means letting people know more and more about our feelings and the way we'd like things to be. For instance, if we'd like our wife to express that she's proud of us for getting a new job, we can let her know that her pride in us means a lot to us. That kind of thing. Sometimes, people won't compliment us or express positive feelings because they've got no idea we'll appreciate them. If we let them know we do appreciate any gestures of caring they make, chances are they'll do them more.
That'll be especially important if we feel a bit depressed. We might be tempted to isolate ourselves then, but if we're in the midst of people who we know care about us, we'll probably feel a bit better.
The author isn't saying we should tell everyone about every thought and feeling we have. He says we ought to use our common sense to decide who to tell what. But he says if we start telling people more than we have in the past, we will see the benefits in time.
He says we can't expect to see benefits straightaway though, or all the benefits we'd like, because people will be busy looking after their own needs, and also won't be used to thinking about us in the way we want them to. We can't expect them to attend to our needs all the time in any case. But if we let them know how we feel, they should want to care more.
Sometimes, we might not get treated how we think we should be even after we've been assertive for a while. Other people might think their needs conflict with ours and come first, or they just won't be interested enough. We'll just have to decide how to behave in those circumstances, but there should be lots of ways we could behave other than getting angry.
One thing that might help us is if we realise that other people aren't responsible for our feelings. I've heard it said that other people don't make us angry or make us happy or whatever. We get angry or happy in response to things they say or do, but they're not responsible for causing our feelings, because it's not as if we're puppets being controlled by them. We have the choice of how to respond to some extent.
So if we don't think we're happy enough in life, we don't have to think they're responsible, but we can take responsibility for creating our own happiness, whether that be motivating people around us to join in something good with us, or if they won't, doing something we enjoy ourselves.
The author says some people worry about being assertive, because they want to please people, and think being assertive will make them come across as bossy so people won't like them.
But the author says it's impossible to please everyone all the time, and trying will only be frustrating. Two people might want two different things from us for a start so we can't please both of them. Or what pleases one person might not be the best thing for us. For instance, if a boss wanted us to do overtime but we really wanted to go home and relax, and our wife wanted us to go home as well because she wanted to see us more, doing the overtime just to please the boss would take its toll on us, partly because it would mean displeasing our wife. Saying "no" more often probably won't upset people as much as we think it will anyway. If they don't like it, they'll probably get over it quickly.
Assertiveness could save us a lot of angry confrontations.
To give an example, a man with a teenage boy who kept borrowing the car and leaving the fuel tank nearly empty when he came back might have been used to yelling at him all the time afterwards even though it didn't do any good. What he could start doing is telling the boy calmly that in future, there will be a penalty for doing that, which will be that he isn't allowed to use the car for a week and he has to fill the fuel tank up when he borrows the car again. So the father's being firm, but calm. He's talking with an air of authority and making it clear that there will be fair consequences for misbehaviour, which is far better and more likely to get the son's respect than going into a rage and yelling or deciding on a punishment in anger. But if the son comes home with the fuel tank almost empty again the next time he borrows the car, the father can calmly enforce the penalty he said he would. It'll avoid the old ways of behaving.
If the boy still disobeys, the man could perhaps increase the punishment, and then just as calmly tell the boy, and just as calmly put it into operation if the boy still disobeys. But making it clear what we want from the start will be much better than not saying what we want and then getting angry when we don't get it.
Of course, we still need to take other people's feelings and needs into account and not get assertive at the expense of the rights of others.
Rehearsing assertive behaviour will be a good thing, so we can remember what to say better when we get into situations where it's necessary.
For instance, if we're going into a meeting and we want to say something in it, we can write notes beforehand, planning the way we'd like to say it. We can try to predict the arguments that might be raised against what we say, and plan our responses to them, where we can be calm and concise when we explain our opinions, not aggressive.
The more we practice responding to people and their arguments assertively, the better we'll be at it when we're in arguments like that for real.
One technique we can use to help us respond calmly but firmly rather than angrily is to imagine ourselves feeling calm when we imagine responding to people. If we keep imagining we're calm but authoritative, confident and poised when we imagine responding to people, it'll come as more of a habit when we're actually in those situations. So instead of looking obnoxious and aggressive, we'll look as if we deserve respect and as if we're confident about what we're saying.
We can imagine we're speaking clearly and making a good impression, and also listening attentively and respectfully to what the others are saying before responding.
In some situations, like family arguments, things might get a bit out of hand, and our attempts to be assertive could be met with anger, tears, unfair accusations or other things. If we can imagine such things happening and imagine we're acting calmly and poised throughout such scenes and just stating our case calmly but forthrightly, then chances are, when we've imagined it enough times, it'll come more easily to us.
And we'll find it easier to stay unruffled during an argument if we keep our minds fixed on the issues we're actually arguing about and the reasons we're asking for what we're asking for, so we're less likely to get side-tracked into insult matches and that kind of thing. If we can keep bringing the conversation back to the important things which are the issues it's supposed to be about, then we've got a better chance of getting our point across and getting what we want. If we allow conversations to degenerate into insult matches, the thing the conversation was supposed to be about might not get mentioned again and might be forgotten about in the heat of the argument, so it just doesn't get sorted out. So if we can resist responding to an insult with another insult, or to an unfair accusation with another one, but we keep bringing the conversation back to the issues we really want to talk about, we'll be more likely to get what we want in the end.
The author says it's typical for us angry men not to have much that makes us happy in life. He says it's hard for a lot of angry men to just relax and enjoy ourselves, by doing things such as getting involved in hobbies we like or whatever. He says a lot of angry men don't even take the amount of leave they're due from work.
He recommends we have a very serious think about what we know makes us happy and what we think would make us happy, and then if it's a reasonable thing to do, go ahead and do it. For example, he says if our marriage or another relationship isn't giving us the happiness we'd like it to, we need to think of how it could be improved, and set about working towards improving it. That could involve marriage counselling, or maybe giving our wife more attention, helping her with more things so she's more appreciative of us, showing more appreciation for her, spending more time with her doing more things, or whatever. Chances are that the more effort we put into our marriage, the happier it will get.
Or if we'd like to be more adventurous, such as doing things like travelling more, we could plan how to do more things like that.
Or we could think about hobbies we'd like to take up.
Things probably won't improve on their own; we need to put the effort into actively making our lives happier.
Or if we've been really dissatisfied in a job, we could think about what kind of job we'd really like to do and plan how to go for that.
We can think of it as giving our whole life an overhaul.
The author says things won't always improve, even if we put lots of effort in. But they're more likely to improve if we do. We should take it upon ourselves to revitalise our lives.
Adopting a decent exercise regime might make us feel a lot better if it's an exercise we enjoy. It could give us more companionship if it's one we do with other people, like a fun sport, perhaps. And regular exercise is good for relieving stress, so it's good at helping with anger and anxiety and depression. It can burn off energy, so doing a good bit of exercise when we're angry could help us calm down.
We might get enjoyment from spending time with the children more, before they've grown up and we miss out on the opportunity. We could think of fun things to do with them.
We could think back to the things we've done in the past that we've enjoyed and think about whether we could take them up again. And we could perhaps think about what our family and friends have done, to give us more ideas for hobbies we could perhaps take up.
Also, it'll be good to think about things to do that'll give us more fulfilment in life, such as helping other people by doing voluntary work, which might give us a feeling that we have a worthwhile purpose in life and give it more meaning for us, and give us a sense of being valued because we do something important for others.
Or we could perhaps get involved in the running of various organisations or something.
The author says angry people often have quite a few attitudes that stand in the way of greater happiness, more assertiveness and less anger.
He says one's a low level of self-confidence, leading angry men to feel the need to keep making up for their behaviour and putting themselves out for other people at the expense of their own needs, as if they think they have to buy other people's approval. The author says that if we think it's possible we're doing things in the hope that other people will make us feel more worthwhile as people and better about ourselves, we need to find ways we can get good feelings like that on our own, because when other people don't make us feel like that, we can end up feeling worthless, and that leads to anger. So we need to do things that'll give us confidence in ourselves and make us feel worthwhile as humans. If we can achieve things that make us proud of ourselves, and change in ways that make us pleased with ourselves, and take the initiative to do things that make us happy, we can feel a lot better by ourselves.
The author says a lot of angry men seem to believe they should always be busy, doing something worthwhile, rather than relaxing and enjoying themselves. A lot think enjoying something you've achieved is cocky, that relaxing is lazy, and that buying something for yourself is selfish.
He says we have a right to enjoy the good things in life. A good balance of work and play makes for happier people, and actually, the happier we are, the more productive we can sometimes be when we do work. Work can drag on sometimes if we haven't been enjoying ourselves so we can find it more difficult to concentrate on it. If we're happy and relaxed, it can be easier to apply our minds to things so we get more done.
He says a lot of angry men seem to believe they don't deserve to be happy. But actually, the happier we are, chances are the less angry we'll be, so the more we will deserve to be happy.
The author says a lot of angry men think if someone disagrees with them, it must automatically mean they're wrong. But it might not. We might be right; we might be half right. If we're wrong, it doesn't make us defective as people. So we may as well learn to relax and not be so bothered about insisting on being right. We'll be happier if we realise that if we're wrong, it's only an opinion that's wrong; it doesn't mean there's something wrong with us as people.
And the author says a lot of angry men think if someone disapproves of them, it must mean they've done something wrong; but that's not necessarily the case, since people all want different things from us, only they won't necessarily tell us what they are. Trying to fit our behaviour to fit other people's expectations will be like trying to play to rules of a game we don't even know, since different people want different things. It's impossible to please everybody. If we're doing what we personally believe is right, that should be an important guide for us. We should be willing to listen to the opinions of other people who might have wisdom and can improve our own knowledge. But we don't have to feel bad about not knowing everything or not being right all the time, and we don't have to automatically assume we must be wrong every time their opinion conflicts with ours.
The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves.
Anger itself does more harm than the condition which aroused anger.
--David Oman McKay
Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.
Anger makes us strong, Blind and impatient, And it leads us wrong; The strength is quickly lost; We feel the error long.
Anger is momentary madness, so control your passion or it will control you.
The book says violence is always wrong, and we need to have more respect for people and their property than to be violent against them, and we should find other ways of solving disputes and things.
It says violence against children is particularly nasty. It says angry men often get out of control really when disciplining children. It says children seem to have a habit of doing just what'll annoy us. But we should be careful about how we discipline them. It says a lot of people spank them in anger, and the punishment has a lot more to do with their own temper than it has to do with what the child's actually done, and that isn't fair. So it's best if we punish them when we're feeling calmer, and if we feel we have to spank them, it should be for a very good reason, like to prevent them getting into danger, such as if they're in the habit of running across roads without looking.
It says children should never be hit on the head, or with objects, or hard enough to leave bruises.
It says some men feel sure harsh physical discipline's good for children, saying it didn't do them any harm when they were growing up! But the author says if that's the case, why do they have such problems with anger? He says there are usually far more effective disciplinary techniques than physical punishment. And they're less dangerous as well.
He says some angry men say physically punishing their children prepares their children for the real world or makes them tough. But in reality, if any men who were abused themselves look back at their own childhoods, they might well question whether the abuse they suffered really prepared them for the real world, and made them more likely to be happy in it, and better able to control their anger. The author says what children really need to prepare them to handle the real world better is confidence, confidence to try new things and branch out on their own. He says abuse does not produce confidence; abuse makes children scared to make a move on their own; it teaches children that if they stand up for anything, they'll suffer. Abuse makes for angry and resentful children who feel helpless to avoid pain.
And children aren't going to like to be around anyone who harshly physically punishes them, so doing that ruins a father's relationship with them really, when other methods of discipline could be found, and the relationship could become a lot more enjoyable for both father and children.
He says children naturally imitate their parents. They start behaving in the way their parents do. So any parent who settles disputes with aggression will be raising children who do the same, who might bully other children at school and grow up to have the same problems with controlling their tempers as their parents do. Any parent who feels their life has been limited by their anger problems is setting their children up to have the same problems unless they change.
On the other hand, any man who changes can start teaching his children new ways of behaving. His children will in time start imitating those new ways of behaving. So someone who behaves well can have more hope that he'll raise children he can be proud of. A man who can control his temper shows his children how to do it. He shows his children that when something goes wrong, the thing to do is to look for solutions. They might otherwise have learned to go into a fit of rage that could get them into a lot of trouble. So demonstrating good behaviour could keep them out of a lot of the trouble for years to come that they might have got into otherwise.
The author recommends that anyone in a disagreement or another angry situation where they're beginning to feel out of control just walks away immediately.
I've often worried that I might hit my wife one day, so I think I'll take notice of this advice.
He recommends that if we think we might be losing it, we just get out. Perhaps we could go for a walk. Or even just sit outside. We should just make sure we do something to get ourselves away from the situation that's bothering us.
But he does say we shouldn't go for a drive in a car or on a motorbike or whatever, since if we're that angry, chances are we won't be driving carefully.
Of course, the thing we're arguing about won't get resolved if we walk away. But really, it probably wouldn't get resolved anyway if we were that annoyed, since when people get angry, we tend not to talk things through and come to reasonable conclusions but just start insulting each other and trying to put the other one down. So we'd probably need to get back to the issue when we were calmer anyway if we really wanted it solved. Also, a lot of arguments that end up really heated start over silly little things anyway that we might decide just weren't worth arguing about when we're not angry any more.
What really counts when we think we might be building up to getting violent is that we get away! When we learn to control our tempers better by doing other things, we probably won't need to get away. But till we do, it's probably best that we do.
The book recommends we could say a phrase to ourselves over and over again to imprint it on our minds, like, Don't hit; walk away. Don't hit; walk away. The author recommends we could repeat it to ourselves over and over again during the day, possibly throughout a session of about fifteen minutes, or for much shorter sessions several times a day. If we can think of ourselves as being determined when we say it, all the better. It might feel silly to do, but the more we repeat the phrase, the more likely it is to come automatically to us when we're actually in a situation where we're getting angry and it's going to be a handy reminder for us.
We might feel bad about backing away from a heated argument because we might think it looks as if we're chickening out of it or admitting we're wrong. But it's using self-control. It takes a bigger man to use self-control than it does to lose control and get violent. It shows greater skill and strength of character. So it's actually something we can be proud of.
If the person we're arguing with isn't used to us walking away, they might wonder why we're doing it and even jeer at us, perhaps calling us a coward. People get a bit stupid when they're angry. They might be a bit slow to catch on to the fact that we're walking away for their benefit. We can always explain to them when things have calmed down that we've realised that arguments don't get anywhere when we're both angry, and we're far better off talking things through when we're both calm.
They might even try to follow us out of the house, trying to get us to come back. But we should ignore them, because we know what's best for us both and we shouldn't get side-tracked by someone who doesn't right then.
They'll probably soon get used to how we've changed and stop trying to provoke us in the ways they did at first.
Anger is energy. Exercise uses up energy. So doing regular strenuous exercise can get rid of some of the energy that would otherwise be going into making our anger worse, so we can be more relaxed.
The book says aerobic exercise has been found to be very good for anxiety, depression and anger. It says a man who's worn himself out running, swimming or doing other energetic exercise has less energy left for outbursts of temper.
Yes, I suppose that's true.
But it says things like boxing and martial arts, where we're actually exercising by being aggressive to other people, probably aren't a good idea, because they might put us in the mood for a fight.
Regular exercise we enjoy could well give us a sense of pride in ourselves when we notice we're getting fitter, and it could give us more enjoyment in life, so we won't feel so angry all the time.
Also, a good bit of energetic exercise can make us feel a lot calmer if we're feeling a build-up of anger again and think we might do something violent. Getting out and running a couple of miles or something will get rid of all that energy so we're a lot calmer when we get back. After all, it makes sense. The brain's giving us all that extra energy because the emotional part of it has made a snap decision that we're under threat and need to run away or fight. So using that energy to run makes sense. But then, we could use it to do other types of exercise we enjoy as well.
The author says a lot of people get their anger out of their system in other ways. For instance, they might write about things that are bothering them with far more feeling when they're angry than they would normally. They might not be the things bothering them in their personal lives, but perhaps things that are going wrong in the country that they'd like to see put right.
But if we write letters and things when we're angry, it's worth keeping them till we've cooled down and then reading them again, since we might want to edit them, because people tend to say things in anger that they realise were a bit extreme later.
Competitive sports can be a good way of releasing energy. But the book says it's important not to fight while we're doing them. If we're tempted, it might be better to find another form of exercise where we release energy. It could still be one where we get the companionship of other people and so we get to be happier through improving our social lives, as well as getting rid of dangerous energy by exercising.
There might be other ways we could make ourselves less angry. The author says a lot of angry men find time-pressure to be one of the things that keeps them on edge - having too much to do at work and around the home and places. If we can sit down and really think about whether we need to do so many things, or whether we could plan them so we make better use of the time we have so we can fit relaxing things in as well, then we'll be able to do more things that give us pleasure while relaxing us at the same time, and that'll relieve our anger as well.
For instance, the kinds of relaxing things some people enjoy include:
Going out into the countryside to enjoy the scenery, and perhaps having a picnic. Going to a sports centre and then sitting in a steam room or sauna for a while, if they have such a thing. Doing gardening. Setting time aside to Read an interesting novel. and so on.
It'll help get rid of our anger if we find something we enjoy to do that'll slow us down.
The book recommends we get rid of all weapons and don't keep any in the house, at least till our anger problem's well under control.
While a gun might come in very useful if we were attacked by a stranger, the more quickly we can get our hands on a gun, the more likely we are to use it in a fit of anger against someone we care about. The author says a large percentage of "deadly assaults" with guns are between people in close relationships like marriages, or between friends or lovers.
So it's best if people with guns perhaps give them to someone for safekeeping for a while till they get their temper under control. It's easy to do things in the heat of the moment that we regret later.
The book says it's best if we avoid alcohol, since we can do things when we're drunk that our consciences and impulse control would stop us doing if we were sober. It says people's inhibitions start going long before they actually feel drunk. It says a lot of violence is fuelled by alcohol, and alcohol can intensify angry feelings once we start to get angry.
It says angry men who drink tend to get angry more often, more fiercely, and with less provocation than they would if they didn't. And an angry man who's been drinking is more likely to get physically abusive in his anger. Discussions can turn more heated more quickly.
It recommends that angry men who think it'll be too difficult to avoid alcohol altogether should at least cut down quite a bit.
It says people with alcohol problems often like to deny they drink too much. But they'll know they do realistically if they get violent more when they're drunk, or their health's suffering, or if other parts of their lives aren't going as well as they could if they didn't drink. People will also know they've got a drink problem if they've tried to cut down in the past but couldn't, or if they try to defend their drinking to themselves.
The author says a lot of angry men like smoking cannabis because it makes them feel calmer and more amiable. So they think it's a good thing to do when they're stressed out. He says a lot of angry men lack pleasant feelings in their life so it seems a good way of getting them; but we're better off trying to find other ways of getting those feelings, because the trouble is that when we're stressed and haven't got access to any cannabis, we won't have learned how to deal with the stress in another way so we'll be stuck with it. If we can learn how to get the nice feelings without taking any substances, it'll be good because we won't have to rely on having a supply.
Another benefit of not taking marijuana will be that we're more clear-headed. The book says cannabis impairs concentration and short-term memory, especially while we're under the influence of it, so studying will be more difficult, and trying to cope with a crisis would be nearly impossible.
So it recommends we find other ways of getting good feelings and coping with stress.
If despite our attempts to control our tempers, we're not getting any less aggressive, it might be best to get therapy. The book recommends that if anyone hits anyone, punishes children overly harshly and can't get out of the pattern, breaks any property in a fit of temper, or injures pets after reading about techniques for controlling violence, they get therapy, since it'll be obvious that though they might be trying hard, they can't manage to stop their abusive behaviour on their own.
Anyone who has a problem with alcohol or drugs they can't handle on their own should also get professional help.
I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.
Anger is seldom without an argument but seldom with a good one.
--George Savile, Lord Halifax
Never strike your wife - even with a flower.
The author says angry men tend to come from angry families, since having anger problems is partly a learned behaviour passed down the generations. He says to get rid of our anger, and to make sure we don't pass it to our children, we need to find ways of cooling our relationships with relatives, and change our behaviour towards our children so they don't turn into angry adults too, but have a different example to follow in us that'll set them up for a happier life.
The author says a lot of angry men complain that their parents and other relatives are always criticizing them. They criticize the way they raise their children; the clothes they wear; and they basically keep telling them how to run their lives. The author says if it really seems to be getting too much, it might even be worth moving further away from them for a while and keeping a bit of distance from them.
He says such a decision would have to be thought over very seriously first though, since parents might provide convenient services like baby-sitting that we'd miss out on if we moved, and we might miss out on some of the family get-togethers we enjoyed or something. He says we'd have to decide whether getting away was worth it.
I heard about someone who would travel to see her abusive alcoholic parents with her family a few times a year, even though it made her miserable because they were so critical of her and nasty, even though she'd done well in life. She would get very depressed afterwards. But she thought it was her duty to go and see them. But someone recommended that she consider the question of how she'd want to remember her current life when she was looking back on it in twenty years' time. She thought about it. And she said she'd like to remember happy holidays spent in her own home with her husband and son and their friends. So she decided to have more holidays like that and limit the amount of time she spent with her parents to twice a year, sending them cards at other times. When she did go there, she limited her visits to two days, the amount of time she could tolerate them for without becoming seriously depressed. And while she was there, she would go out to involve herself in activities, and invite them along, since things would be better between them if they were involved in something than if they were sitting at home. That made her a lot happier.
If we don't move, we might be able to work out things we can do to stop them being so aggravating.
The book says people get so used to the way they treat family members that they carry on treating them that way in some respects all their lives. And that can keep irritating people. For instance, some people had older brothers and sisters who kept telling them what to do and made it seem as if they weren't intelligent enough to work things out for themselves, and they might still be doing it when they're both adults. Or some people had mothers who kept humiliating them with the things they said, perhaps to try to keep them in line, and they might still do it now, such as saying things like, "You should be ashamed of yourself for the way you treat me. Since you've been married, you hardly even come and visit your own mother!"
That kind of thing might have always made us angry in the past. But we don't have to respond to it in the same way now. And when we start behaving differently, the other people will have no choice but to start behaving differently too, since it'll be as if a different script's playing out. When we react differently, they'll have to as well. I mean, if they're used to us getting angry and that's the trigger for them to launch into a flood of insults against us, if we don't get angry any more, then they won't get their trigger for the flood of insults they expect to launch against us. So they won't get the excuse to do it. so they'll have to keep more quiet.
And if we say things they didn't even expect us to say, like maybe telling them with a calm and quiet unflustered air of authority what our feelings are on the matter and saying that from now on, we'd like them to stop talking like that, then they might be surprised into behaving totally differently, and even doing what we want.
Another strategy worth trying might be for someone who keeps being told what to do by his family to make sure he doesn't start any conversations about the decisions he's thinking of making with them. Another one could be to avoid them more at the times arguments are most likely to happen; for instance if mealtimes tend to degenerate into arguments in someone's parents' house, it might be just as well for them to spend less mealtimes there; and so on.
The author recommends we make a list of all the things about our parents that make us angry, so we can go through them one by one and plan ways of responding to them differently.
Some people make fun of other people just because they think it's fun to get them annoyed, and if they know there are particular issues that they're especially sensitive about, they'll focus on those things more than others and provoke them more. They don't really care about whether what they're saying is true or false, or whether it matters to anyone; they just think it's a laugh to get someone all hot and bothered, not necessarily because they want to be nasty, but sometimes just because the reaction of the person gives them a bit of fun, and they like to have fun. Or sometimes they might do it to get back at someone for something. There are quite a few different reasons why they might do that.
But anyway, if people do that to us and it annoys us, we can think about how to react differently from now on.
Our parents and other close relatives might be especially good at provoking us for fun, since they'll probably have had more experience than other people of knowing what especially bothers us. But when we really think about it, we might realise that the things they kept teasing us about all those years ago don't even need to bother us at all now. The comments that get us most bothered will probably be the ones about the things we're most sensitive about. But things we were sensitive and insecure about as children might be things we realise we don't need to be sensitive about at all now, when we think about it.
For instance, a boy who was particularly embarrassed about his spots as a teenager might have been particularly bothered when his parents called him Pimple-face, and they might still call him that nowadays even though he's grown up and hasn't got spots at all. The name might still get him hot and bothered; but when he really thinks about it, he might ask himself, "Why am I allowing myself to get bothered by this? I haven't even got spots now! And when I did, it wasn't as if I could help it!" So the name might stop bothering him so much. He might have got annoyed automatically before without even thinking about it, because it's as if the brain's programmed to make us react automatically in the way we've reacted to something in the past. So we can get angry before we even think about what's happening, unless we really think it through and realise we really don't need to be angry. Even after that, we might be automatically bothered by it and get bad feelings as soon as we start getting teased about it or whatever. But we can remind ourselves when it happens that we thought it through and realised it wasn't anything to get annoyed about really.
So what we could do is sit down and list all the things we can think of that our family say that will always annoy us, and then think through each one, trying to think up different ways we could respond to what they say. We could go through the list several times so we're more likely to remember them.
One way of handling that kind of thing is that when they start telling a story about us that usually gets us all hot and bothered because we're embarrassed about it or whatever, we could finish the story for them! That'll stop their game! And if we can put a bit of humour into the story, all the better. If we can find something in it to laugh about, that'll defuse the anger we used to feel about it.
Another way we can respond to stories they tell to embarrass us is to just say nothing. After a while, they'll get bored, since they only tell them to get a reaction from us. If we're not giving them a reaction, they won't think there's any point in telling the stories any more after a while.
We might be able to think of other ways we could behave or things we could think to stop what they're doing bothering us. It's definitely worth sitting down and thinking about it.
The author says angry families have a habit of blowing little things out of proportion so much that they can result in great big arguments that can end with people deciding to refuse to speak to the person they had the disagreement with; and sometimes the not speaking can go on for years, even well after what caused it in the first place has been forgotten!
He says that even when both people involved would prefer to end the silent treatment, both tend to be afraid to make the first move towards reconciliation, perhaps because they're scared they'll be rejected and that'll be embarrassing.
The author advises people to make the first move anyway if there's a possibility they'll be able to make up with family members and end up happier. He says it's just a matter of overcoming our worries. If we brace ourselves for the possibility that the person won't want to know, perhaps we'll be less hurt if it happens than we will if we don't. But the author says chances are that they'd like to make up just as much as us.
But the author says there are almost bound to be people in our family who we don't like and aren't interested in talking to any more than we can help it. We might have duties towards them; but apart from carrying those out, we could do what we think will make us happiest in the long-term.
The author says we might realise when we notice one of our children or another child in the family behaving the way we used to behave when we were miserable, that they're probably going to grow up with the same problems we did unless things change for them. Especially if they're not our children, we might not be able to have too much influence over what happens; but we can have some.
We can be someone they can turn to when they want someone to talk to, a guide to give them good advice, and someone who can try to instil confidence in them and a sense of pride in their achievements.
It may be that we'll be accused of being nosy and interfering by family members, who don't like us taking so much interest in their children. Then we'll just have to decide whether to leave things alone or stand our ground.
The book says if we want happier relationships with the women in our lives, we'll have to stop feeling the need to control them, to start telling them more about our feelings, and to start really listening to what they're saying to us.
He also says it'll mean approaching our sexual relationships differently.
He says the vast majority of angry men he's encountered are dissatisfied with their sex lives for one reason or another.
He says it's very common for angry men to be especially sensitive about their sex lives, and to think of them as having the utmost importance, perhaps because angry men tend not to get much pleasure in other parts of their lives, so they need to make up for it.
But there are quite a few reasons angry men might not be happy with their sex lives.
He says some of those reasons are to do with misunderstandings about sex.
He says one is that many think women always need an orgasm to enjoy sex. Another is that some men think what's important in bringing women to climax is the penis, whereas hand or oral stimulation might work best. Women don't always need to climax to enjoy sex, and he recommends angry men talk to their wives about what they want from sex and what turns them on the most.
He says there's a common idea that men are supposed to know all about women's sexual desires without asking; but it isn't true that men should just know things like that. Men won't know, especially because women don't all want exactly the same thing. In fact, the things women like best can change over time. So it's worth asking sometimes what our partners would like. It won't have to make us feel silly, thinking it'll be as if we're not very good at sex, since different people like different things. If we think about how to ask, we might be able to find a way to ask in a way that won't embarrass us so much. And the more often we talk about it, the easier it will probably get.
The author does warn us not to have the conversation when we're feeling angry or upset, since then it'll be more likely to turn into an argument.
He advises that we tell our partners what turns us on most as well and what we enjoy. Once we've had a frank discussion about what we both enjoy and don't like, and then care about giving each other the most enjoyment we can, then our sex lives should improve a lot.
But then again, he says we can't expect sex to be great every time. Sometimes it'll be better than other times, depending on a number of things, like how tired we are, how much time and effort we feel like putting into it, and other things.
He says one mistake a lot of angry men make is to think sex should always take place often, perhaps even every day. But it can be better if it's less often so people don't get bored, but people put more feeling into it and take a lot more time over it when it does happen because of the enthusiasm they've built up.
The author says we shouldn't think of sex as something we rely on to provide all our happiness and emotional fulfilment. He says if that's what we're doing, we need to find other ways of enjoying life to make us happy as well, since we could be more happy then; and after all, we wouldn't want to eat the same food for every meal day after day, no matter how much we enjoyed it, so we'll need variety in other areas of life as well. It shouldn't matter how many other people we hear boasting about what they do in bed or how often they do it; what we and our wife are both happy with should be what we go with.
It does say we might have to compromise though if we both want different things, for instance if one of us wants sex a lot more often than the other one does.
The author says it's typical for angry men to easily feel rejected. He says if our wife says she doesn't feel like sex on one particular night, it's not like a total rejection, as if she's saying she doesn't think much of us as a person. She's just saying she doesn't feel like having sex that night, and that could be for a number of reasons.
He says that in his experience, angry men often complain that their wives never approach them for sex. But he says it's probably often because many angry men want it so often that their wives never have time for their desires to build up and for them to start wanting it themselves.
He says angry men dissatisfied with their sex lives will probably find them a lot more enjoyable if they stop viewing how often they have sex and how orgasmic it is as things of vital importance, and start putting their focus into having fun and communicating their feelings. Talking about feelings might be difficult at first, but it should get easier.
If our sex lives don't improve, self-help books or therapy might be worth investigating.
The author says a major block to angry men getting true happiness and fulfilment out of their relationships with women is their feeling that they have to control them. When a woman doesn't feel controlled, a feeling of true companionship can blossom, where there's more shared laughter, more vitality in the relationship, and more love.
So the author says angry men need to stop trying to control everything. We should think of it as an issue of fairness - she should be allowed to do everything we can - there's no good reason why she shouldn't.
So we should take the attitude that she's allowed to have her own opinions; she's allowed to have her own job if she wants; she's allowed to go out with her friends; she's allowed to spend money; she's allowed to have an equal part in the decisions we make about money, where to go away for a break, what food to buy, what clothes she wears, and so on. We should consider her perfectly entitled to decide how much time she spends with her family, whether she talks to other people, and whether and how often she has sex with us and whether she has children.
That kind of thing.
The author says giving her more leeway might mean we have to compromise on things, sometimes doing things we'd rather not, such as sharing the housework and childcare if she wants to work, and becoming more involved in the lives of the children and doing things they need for them.
The author says when we start to allow our wives to do more, we might get jealous when we see men looking at them, or when they talk to people about things that don't involve us, or if people give them a lot of respect, or if they end up achieving more than us. He says jealousy's not a sign of love; it's a sign of insecurity. It's often a distortion in our thinking, that we can change if we really think about it.
He says basically, it's an issue of respect. A more satisfying relationship should develop if we develop more respect for our partner and her wants.
The book says we need to treat children with respect and consideration if we don't want them to develop anger problems. Belittling them unnecessarily by mocking them, or punishing them harshly, will make them angry; and if we're always doing it, chances are they'll often be angry, and they'll develop a temper as bad as ours.
There are free parenting courses online that might give us new ideas on how to punish children and how to treat them better.
Sometimes angry kids will lose their tempers all the time, but sometimes, because they keep being shouted at and punished harshly for bad behaviour, they'll keep their anger inside. It might come out in the form of violent drawings about family members or other people being hurt.
Violent outbursts against brothers and sisters and pets a lot of the time are another sign of an angry child. The book says most boys are animal lovers, so mistreating pets could be a particular sign of anger. Injuring brothers and sisters is a sign of anger also, as can be vandalising property or setting fires.
Excessive defiance of rules and authority figures could also be a sign of anger.
So can playing nasty on the sports field.
Children get to grow up angry when their parents don't pay them much attention and don't notice their achievements or seem to care. Children get angry if they're excessively shamed for things, for instance being made to feel really ashamed of themselves for mistakes and things that really are only minor.
Boys can grow up chronically angry even without being excessively physically or emotionally abused. If they see other boys' fathers watching them at sports, taking them to nice places, showing them how to do new things, and so on, but their own fathers don't do that kind of thing, they're going to get angry with their own fathers, because they'll think they don't care about them. They'll wonder why their fathers don't think they're worth caring about.
It might be easy for men to forget to pay much attention to the children when the demands of work tire them out, and they're interested in doing their own things a lot, but Children need active fathers to help guide them through the difficulties of childhood and their teenage years. They need comfort and reassurance when they're feeling down or in difficulty; they need steady discipline so they develop a good idea of right and wrong; and they need to feel as if someone cares about them.
The author says if we recognise that our own children or relatives have problems like these, or maybe other children we know do, we can make a difference that'll help turn their behaviour around.
He says the thing is though that when we decide to make a difference, we have to recognise it as a long-term commitment. If we start off showing a more caring attitude enthusiastically and take them to a few nice places or something, but then go back to the way we were, their anger won't go away. Or if we only occasionally show a more supportive and interested attitude, we'll just disappoint them and make them feel let down when we stop. So taking a more caring attitude has to be something we decide to do every day from now on for years.
But even if we don't really feel like it at first, sometimes feelings come after actions. Sometimes, people find they start acting in the way they think would be good for their children even though they don't have any nice feelings towards their children; but after a while, they find themselves looking forward to spending time with their children and doing nice things with them and taking an interest in what they're doing.
So even if we think of it as just a duty at first, we might notice we're enjoying it after a while.
The author advises us to keep the promises we make to children. If we promise to take them out somewhere or something, we'll be hurting their feelings if we don't, unless we have a good reason not to and explain it to them.
Another thing that's important is the way we talk to them. It's easy for us to get into the habit of talking to them in a way that seriously dents their self-image without us even realising we're doing it. For instance, if we say things like, "You're stupid", or, "You're a bad child", we might not really mean those things literally - we might mean they've just done something we think is bad or stupid, not that they are actually bad or stupid people. But they won't know that. They'll think we really do mean they're bad or stupid people all the time. So they might grow up with an inferiority complex, feeling insecure about themselves, so every time they don't seem to be measuring up, they'll get angry, because they'll think people are looking down on them and thinking they're inferior.
So to save them problems, when we're angry with them, we need to try to make sure they know it's only what they've just done that's unacceptable, not them as people. So instead of saying something like, "Bad boy!" we could say something like, "That was a bad thing to do!"
Also, one thing that can really change children's behaviour for the better is if we reward them in some way for every good thing they do do. That doesn't mean we buy them a treat or something every time. The reward could be a compliment or something. It's been found that rewarding children every time they do good things works even better at changing their behaviour than punishing them for the bad things they do, since it encourages them and makes them feel good about themselves and makes them pleased because they've got our approval, so they want to do more things that'll get them all the good feelings and approval, so they'll do more of the things we like them to do. If we praise and compliment them every time we notice they're behaving better than they did before, then they'll be pleased with themselves and proud of the compliments and encouragement, so they'll want to behave better some more.
Also, we'll start to feel a lot less stressed about our children if we actively look out for every considerate or kind or good thing they do. It's easy to think our children are just naughty all the time and feel really annoyed with them. But when we start looking out for signs that they do do good things sometimes, we might find more than we thought, so we'll end up happier with them, and that'll make us happier ourselves.
We might expect our children to be really grateful to us when we start to do more with them and for them. But it'll take time for them to get used to the way we've changed. They might be all the time expecting us to go back to our old ways, so they won't want to get too enthusiastic in case we do and they feel all the more hurt and let down.
Also, we can't expect them to change all at once. They might be doing well for a bit, being less angry and violent or however else we want them to change, but then they might have an outburst of anger again. Since they've taken years to get the way they are, we can't expect them to change dramatically. But if we're patient, we should see more and more hopeful signs.
Also, if they do go back to their old angry ways unexpectedly, it'll be worth thinking about whether we've gone back to our old ways too, since sometimes, when parents go back to the way they were before, children start behaving in the same old ways they used to. It's to do with old bad habits on both sides. And when the parents start behaving in the new ways again, the children start behaving better again.
But also, we're unlikely to be able to change our children completely. If they're used to behaving angrily, they might still be a bit like that all their lives. And it isn't just us who influences the way their personalities are; teachers, other children, and things about society do that as well. So we can't take all the blame for their behaviour. And the older the children are, the more their personalities will be ingrained in them anyway.
But we can do our best to help change them.
The author says that if for some reason we think our children are beyond our control, we could always get professional advice and help in dealing with them. Maybe we could first speak to a teacher or school counsellor; or we could try and see a family therapist or something.
The author says the change we want to make in our behaviour is bound to take time, so if we start off all enthusiastic and then disappoint ourselves by losing our temper or something, we shouldn't think we've failed and feel like giving up. One mistake won't mean we've failed altogether. Change is bound to take time. We've grown so used to old ways of behaving that we won't be able to change dramatically overnight. So we shouldn't be hard on ourselves any time we don't come up to the standards we'd like to.
What we can do though is after any time we've lost our temper, we can think about how we could have done things differently, not to wallow in regrets, but to make plans for the next time we're in a situation that provokes us, so we can try to remember to behave differently.
When we do behave in a better way from the way we used to, we can think of ourselves as being entitled to be proud of ourselves. We can congratulate ourselves. If we encourage ourselves like that, we'll get more optimistic we can change, and enthusiastic to continue.
This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in most of the articles in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.
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Anthony has just lost his job because he lost his temper at work one too many times. He's upset, because he liked the job for the most part. It was well-paid, and now his family won't have the money coming in, he feels a failure.
But when he tells his wife and she tries to talk it through with him, he can't stand it, because he feels as if it shows up his imperfections; so he starts to shout at her and insult her to make her be quiet. She gets upset because of his abusiveness. Afterwards, he realises what he did was stupid, and thinks it would be nice if he could behave differently.
He wonders whether perhaps he ought to get help with his anger problem. He thinks through the way he behaves. For years, people have told him he has a problem, pointing out things he does that annoy them. But he's always been too busy going on the defensive and flinging insults at them to take much notice of what they said, although in his quieter moments, he does wish people would like him more and that he could be more like some of them. For years, he thought the arguments were all other people's fault, but now he thinks about it, he's not so sure.
He determines to change his ways, get a better job, and improve relations with his family.
He finds a self-help book on getting rid of anger problems in the library, that seems quite good. So he takes it home and reads it. He thinks it looks as if it'll help him a lot. He thinks it through while he's reading it.
After that, he does manage to make improvements in his behaviour and his life.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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