Anger can be positive emotion

I’m 9 years old, listening to my father yell at my mother.

She wants to take us children somewhere – I don’t remember where now – but he doesn’t want her to go out, because she’s sick. So he’s yelling at her about it, anger boiling and building until it powers his fist right through the wall.

I’m 11, standing with my younger brother outside a drugstore watching our father pick a fight because he’s drunk and angry about the outcome of a football game. He exchanges punches with a stranger. Blood drips from his lip.

I’m 13, a passenger in a car speeding along a winding country road on a rainy night. My father is driving much too fast, passing other cars around blind curves. He knows I’m terrified, but my fear just makes him angrier, and that makes him drive faster.

My father was brilliant and charming and funny, a man with a great sense of humor who could answer any question. Of his five children, he openly favored me, and I loved him with all my heart. I feared him just as much.

Anger ruled our home; it was the single most acceptable emotion, and it dominated all the rest. One of my brothers was a peacemaker, another was the lightning rod. I was the watchful one, always alert to the sudden mood change and inevitable explosion.

Growing up surrounded by abusive anger meant always being scared by it. Anger was something you ran from, something you hid from. The idea that such a negative and often violent emotion could be used in a positive way never occurred to me.

Anger Management skills

Some tips for dealing with anger from the American Psychological Assn.:

¢ Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won’t relax you. Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as “relax” or “take it easy.” Use imagery.

¢ Change the way you think. When you’re angry, your thinking can become exaggerated. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones.

¢ Realize that problems can’t always be solved. Make a plan, and check your progress along the way. Resolve to give it your best but also not to punish yourself if an answer doesn’t come right away.

¢ Learn to communicate. Angry people tend to jump to – and act on – conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. Slow down and think through your responses. Be careful of words like “never” or “always” when talking about yourself or someone else.

¢ Learn to listen. Really hear what the other person is saying, and take your time before answering. Listen to what’s underlying the anger. It’s natural to get defensive when you’re criticized, but don’t fight back.

¢ Get counseling. If you think your anger is really out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on other important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to handle it better.

“A lot of people think anger is just bad and should be eliminated,” says Dr. William DeFoore, author of “Anger: Deal With It, Heal With It, Stop It From Killing You.”

“That brings about efforts to stifle and control it that just won’t work.”

He offers different perspectives on anger.

Healthy move

Anger is an emotion, and all emotions are OK. Anger exists for self-preservation; we need it to survive in a world that’s sometimes dangerous. Anger is emotional energy we can use to create and maintain healthy boundaries. Anger doesn’t have to be violent.

“When anger is healthy, it doesn’t necessarily look or sound or feel like anger,” DeFoore says. He gives the example of someone who hates something that’s going on in the community and decides to run for City Council to change things.

“Nobody would define them as angry persons. They’ve used the energy of anger to spur highly effective action,” DeFoore says. “Healthy anger disappears inside a powerfully effective person.”

He encourages clients at the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas to use anger to help them reach fitness goals. First, visualize an image of declining health and deterioration with age – makes you mad, right? Then visualize an image of the kind of future you really want.

“Hold the two images side by side and use healthy anger to say, ‘No, I’m not going there,’ to the negative image, and, ‘Yes, I am going there,’ to the positive,” DeFoore says. “Then use that determination to do the next-best thing: Put on your workout clothes and go to the gym.”

Exercise can help neutralize anger by sending endorphins into your system, making you feel energized and calm.

Calm, in fact, might well be the opposite of anger, says Ron Potter-Efron, a Wisconsin psychotherapist and, with wife Pat, co-author of a dozen books, including “Letting Go of Anger: The 10 Most Common Anger Styles and What To Do About Them.” But the first step toward the state of calm requires acknowledging you have a problem with anger. The next step: Make a commitment to stop the worst of your behaviors.

Stop screaming

Listening is the key to ending anger-driven arguments.

“If your anger’s escalating out of control, stop talking – it’s only going to get worse, not get better,” DeFoore says. “If there’s still the possibility of communication, the two people aren’t screaming at each other or losing control, it’s extremely powerful to use reflective listening.”

Stop defending your position and repeat to the other person what he’s just said.

It’s normal to get angry, and it’s OK to tell people you’re angry and why you’re angry. It’s not OK to scream that at them.

“It’s an illusion that anger gives power,” DeFoore says. “It does feel powerful. But when you work with abusers, you find that every single one of them defines themselves as a victim. They’re running on fear, and anger is their feeble attempt at gaining power in situations where they feel powerless.”

It would have been pointless to tell Dad he had a problem with rage – just as pointless as telling him he had a problem with alcohol – and it’s unlikely that anyone around him would have dared.

Had some brave soul confronted him, he would have denied it. Anger addicts often dismiss or refuse to recognize their problem. Anger was the way my father did life; it was just that simple. And changing would have meant staying sober.

“It’s very common to find people with anger problems to be heavy drinkers,” DeFoore says. “To work on an anger addiction without addressing the alcohol addiction is a total waste of time.”

He says some people use alcohol as a means to control their anger, but it also can be a catalyst for releasing it.

“In some cases, when they don’t drink, they don’t fight,” he says.

The healthy expression of anger can help prolong your life, research shows.