By Daniel Bobinski
Everyone gets irritated or annoyed from time to time, but do you tend to show it? Are you prone to raising your voice or even slamming doors? Perhaps at some point you may have asked, “How do I control my anger?”
I confess, earlier in my life I had a problem with anger. When things happened around me that I didn’t want to happen, I got angry.
My mentor, the late Alex Goodman, taught me a lot about dealing with anger. His philosophy was that whenever people get angry at others, they were really just angry with themselves. At first, that did not make sense to me. If somebody did something that upsets me, didn’t I have the right to be angry?
Alex held his ground. Righteous anger aside, he said that if an event that resulted in my being angry was something I could have influenced, then no, I didn’t really have a right to be angry. Instead,
I had a responsibility to act maturely and learn what I could have done differently. Alex said that displaying anger was more of an attempt to manipulate than anything else.
I chewed on that for a long time. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized Alex was right. So before I answer the question of how do I control my anger, it will help if I explain a little about how anger actually helps us.
Anger is a natural human emotion – a valuable emotion that keeps us alive, especially when we’re very young. When children are born, they lack the ability to talk. They have needs, but they can’t verbalize those needs. Enter “anger.” If you’ve been around newborns, you know exactly how this works. A baby fusses, and quickly the parents are trying to figure out what the baby wants. Food?
A diaper change? A nap? Displaying anger is how a child gets its needs met.
But there comes a time when children learn to talk. When that happens, it’s time to wean them away from using anger. They must learn to express their wants and needs verbally. For example, instead of fussing when they’re hungry, we teach them to say, “I’m hungry, may I have something to eat please?”
Think about it. Temper tantrums are simply escalated efforts at using what’s worked in the past: Relying on anger to get needs met. If parents give in, they’re teaching their children it’s okay to continue using anger to get what they want. But if parents set firm boundaries, children eventually stop relying on anger. Unfortunately, some parents don’t learn this, and their children continue using anger to get their needs met well into adulthood.
So, how do I control my anger?
Well, I concluded that Alex was right. Whenever I sense anger rising up, I realize I’m really just angry at myself for not being proactive in some area. And so, practicing good Emotional Intelligence, I then ask myself, “What could I have done differently so that what happened didn’t happen?” It’s part of self-awareness and self-management, which is fundamental to good emotional intelligence.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. teaches teams and individuals how to use Emotional Intelligence, and his videos and blogs on that topic appear regularly at www.eqfactor.net. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at email@example.com or 208-375-7606.