How do I know if my anger is over the top or if it’s justified? Sometimes I feel like I’m going to explode! I know that other people are afraid of me—especially my kids. Sometimes, I’m afraid of myself so I can’t blame them.
First of all, we have probably all experienced rage, whether it’s in the form of being so mad we can’t see straight, having a murderous fantasy, or being afraid we will just “go crazy” if we let out the anger. The distinction between rage-aholism and feeling enraged is not so much the internal experience as the external behaviors. In other words, there is a difference between feeling rage and raging.
Here’s how you can know if your anger is over the top or if it is simply one of the many emotions in your repertoire:
1. Has your anger gotten you in trouble at work, in your close relationships, or with the law?
2. Do you often need to apologize for your out-of-control behaviors in order to get back in the good graces of others?
3. Do you make promises to control your temper and then find yourself unable to keep these promises?
4. Do you feel a momentary rush of power when others are afraid of you?
5. Are you afraid that you’re a ticking time bomb?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may already realize that you have anger issues that need to be dealt with. You are not alone!
The best way to start managing your anger successfully is to stop blaming anyone else for blowing up at them. If you can do this, you are on the road to recovery. As long as you blame, you will feel powerless. And feeling powerless can actually fuel rage. You do have the power to manage your feelings. In fact, you’re the only one who has that power. Don’t abdicate it.
Secondly, anger is a secondary emotion. Underneath anger you will find that you really feel fear, hurt, and/or guilt. So practice checking in with yourself when you’re spitting mad. What were you feeling before you got to that point? It is much easier to handle these feelings than to try to manage your rage once you’ve reached your tipping point.
Thirdly, anger and rage can be coping strategies learned in childhood. If you were humiliated or abused, you may harbor vast amounts of rage. As I write about in Enough Is Enough!, compassion is key. Give yourself plenty of compassion for how you were treated as a child. Don’t minimize the abuse or the effects on your life today. The less denial you hold, the less rage you will also hold. You might consider professional help to release your pent-up feelings safely and supportively. Then recognize that coping strategies may help you survive but they don’t help you thrive. Coping strategies are remnants from when you had no other choices. But they are also immature and therefore not very handy now.
Fourthly, remember that all attempts to thrive require the courage to drop our survival strategies. Even if you don’t yet handle every situation with equanimity, give yourself credit where credit is due. And apologize when you err. We often have to stumble before we become graceful with new behaviors.
Finally, set your sights high. Think of someone whose temperament you admire. Let yourself aspire to be more like them. How do they behave? You will probably notice that they are less defensive and reactive. They may take criticism without acting as though they have any less self-esteem. They may be assertive rather than aggressive. They may have a sense of humor that defuses tension. Whatever it is that you admire about how they handle themselves, practice that behavior. Walk the walk and talk the talk until it becomes more comfortable. Sooner than you might dare imagine, you will identify yourself with this new way of behaving. The goal is to become a person you admire. Or as one bumper sticker says, “Become the person your dog thinks you are.”
Author, life coach, relationship expert, and media guest, Jane Straus works her magic “live” with individuals and couples on air, on the phone, or in the privacy of her office. She is the author of the popular “Enough Is Enough! Stop Enduring and Start Living Your Extraordinary Life,” written after being diagnosed and treated for a brain tumor when she was 48. Her philosophy of thriving is based on her 25 years of experience helping people overcome fears, self-judgments, and limiting beliefs. Her wise, compassionate, and witty approach is uniquely inspiring. Jane lives in Northern California with her husband and daughter. For more information, visit www.JaneStraus.com.