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MISMANAGED ANGER STYLES

* Authorís note: The aspect of anger management in stress management classes has been virtually ignored until about five years ago, when it was shown that hostility above all other behavioral Type A traits was the link to coronary heart disease. Further studies showed that unresolved anger was also a direct link to breast cancer. Even now, people still donít give the emotion anger the attention it needs in stress management training. We feel that it merits attention, given the rise in violence in the American community and the predicted rise in work-related violence with disgruntled employees. Here is some additional information that may help you to strengthen this aspect of your presentation.

What has become obvious from research studies conducted to examine the role of anger is that those who mismanage their feelings of aggression far outnumber those who express anger effectively. In his research on the expression of anger, Neil Warner in his book, Make Anger Your Ally, cites four classic mismanaged anger styles or behaviors that people employ to express their anger. They include: somatizers, self-punishers, exploders, and underhanders.

Somatizers: Somatizers, as the name implies (soma means body), represent a passive behavior style that takes its toll on the body. Somatizers are individuals who choose not to overtly express their feelings of anger, but rather suppress these feelings for fear that to show anger will result in the rejection or the loss of approval of those who have caused a grievance. Consequently, this mismanagement style promotes the martyr role for those who choose it. Somatizers distinguish themselves from other mismanaged anger behavior styles in that when anger feelings remained suppressed, these emotional responses soon manifest as physical symptoms such as migraine headaches, ulcers, colitis and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ).

Self-Punishers: A second passive behavior style of mismanaged anger involves those people who channel their anger into guilt. These people often get angry with themselves for getting angry with others. As a result, they deny themselves a proper outlet or catharsis of their anger. Instead, they punish themselves with control measures which in effect lower self-esteem. For example, these limits of control can be seen in food intake (overeating or starvation), excessive drinking, and even styles of clothing, all of which deflate self-esteem.

Exploders: Exploders represent the stereotype of uncontrolled aggression. Exploders are people who express their anger in a hostile manner, either verbally or physically. Like a volcano, they erupt, spreading their hot lava in a path of destruction toward any person around them. Exploders pent up their feelings of anger and then often erupt at people or objects which are not associated with the primary cause of frustration. Explosive behavior is sometimes displaced onto others, where feelings of anger are suppressed toward the provoker, but then released or projected onto innocent victims including employees, spouses, and children who were unrelated to the original cause. In many cases explosive anger is used as a form of intimidation to maintain control of a situation or other peopleís emotions. It is this behavior that is targeted by psychologists as indicative of Type A personality and the factor most closely associated with coronary heart disease.

Underhanders: Like the exploder, the underhander exhibits an active style of mismanaged anger that inflicts mild abuse to individuals within oneís proximity. What separates underhanded behavior from the explosive style is that underhanders usually target their aggression directly at the cause of the threat in what they perceive to be socially acceptable means. Underhanders seek revenge for injustices to their ego and try to sabotage their "enemy" with little acts of aggression in a somewhat socially acceptable way. Examples include walking in late for a staff meeting and sarcastic comments (verbal sabotage), both of which demonstrates a need to gain control of the aggressor. Underhanders see themselves as lifeís victims and although their anger is often directed at the cause, resolution is rarely accomplished.

Warner points out that every individual tends to employ all of these mismanagement styles at some point, depending on the situation and people involved. One style, however, becomes the dominant behavior in each personality and is used most extensively in daily interactions. It should be pointed out that none of these four behavior patterns is healthy (e.g. to switch from a somatizer to an exploder is not recommended). Warner suggests that one begin to recognize his or her feelings of anger, and then channel them to more creative outlets.

CREATIVE ANGER STRATEGIES

Human anger is thought to be uniquely comprised of conscious thought, physiological changes, and some form of related behavior. Therefore, the most successful strategies of dealing with anger involve cognitive coping strategies, relaxation techniques, and behavior modification. The following is a list of suggested ways to creatively deal with your anger. There are both effective and non-effective ways to deal with the various shades of this emotion. The best suggestion is to learn a variety of ways so that one or more can be available when situations arise that trigger the anger response in you. Based on the works of Carol Tavris (1982) and Harold Weisinger (1985), and in the spirit of self-help 12-step programs to modify behaviors, the following suggestions are provided to help you learn to manage your anger more creatively.

  1. Know your anger style: Is your anger style predominantly passive or active? Are you the type of person who holds anger in, or are you the kind of person who explodes? Are you a somatizer, exploder, self-punisher, or underhander? Become aware of what your current style of anger is. Take mental notes of what ticks you off, and how you react when you get angry.
  2. Learn to self-monitor your anger: Keep track of your anger in a journal or even a calendar. Write down the times that you get angry and what precipitates the events. Are there some predictable trends to your anger feelings? After several entries look for patterns of circumstances or behaviors that lead to this critical mass or boiling point of your anger.
  3. Learn to de-escalate your anger: Rather than show an immediate expression, count to ten, take a walk around the block, get a drink of water, try some deep breaths, or use some mental imagery to relax, but calm down. Research shows that the initial anger response is quickly followed by a long simmering process. Give yourself 10 to 20 seconds to diffuse. Take a moment to collect and regroup your mental faculties. No rational conversation can take place when someone shouts in anger. A positive suggestion is to take a "time out," removing yourself from the scene momentarily to cool off. Time outs are very helpful to validate your feelings, while at the same time get a full perspective on the circumstance. Remember though, that each time out must be immediately followed by a "time in." Find a way to let out some steam creatively.
  4. Learn to out think your anger: What are some ways to resolve this feeling in a constructive way so that you feel better, and everyone involved feels better? Anger carries with it much energy. How can you best utilize this energy? "Learn to construct rather than destruct."
  5. Get comfortable with all your feelings and learn to express them constructively: People who are most targeted for stress related diseases and illnesses are those who are unable to express their feelings openly and directly. In other words, donít ignore, avoid, or repress your feelings. Anger especially is like a toxic acid. It needs to be treated, which can be accomplished by creative (constructive) expression.
  6. Plan in advance: Some situations can be foreseen as potential anger provocations. Identify what these situations are and then create viable options to minimize your exposure to them. This is especially true with people interactions (e.g. family get-togethers, traffic, long lines at the post office, etc). Try to plan your time wisely and work around situations which are prone to light your fuse.
  7. Develop a support system: Find a few close friends with whom you can confide in or vent your frustrations. Donít force this person to become an ally; rather, allow them to listen to and perhaps give you insight or an objective perspective that your anger blinds you from seeing. By expressing yourself to others, you begin to process bits of information and a clearer understanding of the situation will usually surface.
  8. Develop realistic expectations for yourself and others: Many moments of anger surface because the expectations we place on ourselves are too high. Anger also arises when we place high expectations on others and these are not met. Learn to reappraise your expectations and validate your feelings before your top blows off. Learning to reassess a situation by fine-tuning your perceptions is essential to minimizing abundant anger episodes.
  9. Learn problem solving techniques: Donít paint yourself into a corner without any options. Implement alternatives to situations by creating viable options to your problems. To do this you must be willing to trust your imagination and creativity. You must also take risks with the options you have created and trust the choices you make. Remember, problem solving techniques do not include retaliation.
  10. Stay in shape: Staying in shape means balancing your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual components of well-being. Studies show that people who are in good shape bounce back from anger episodes quicker than those who are not. Exercise has been proven to be beneficial as one step in the catharsis process to validate the feelings of anger. Eat well, exercise on a regular basis, give yourself alone time or solitude, and learn to laugh more. Laughter is a great form of stress reduction and it gives you a better perspective on the situation at hand. Remember though, that while laughter is the best form of medicine, anger vented in sarcasm is neither creative nor healthy for anyone.
  11. Turn complaints into requests: Pessimists tend to complain, whine, and moan. Anyone can complain. Complaining is a sign of victimization. When frustrated with a co-worker or family member, take the approach to rework the problem into a request for change with the person(s) involved. Seek opportunities rather than problems. Take a more optimistic outlook on how you perceive situations. This will most likely aid in the request process.
  12. Make past anger pass: Learn to resolve issues that have caused pain, frustration, or stress. Resolution involves an internal dialogue to work things out within and an external dialogue to work things out with others, done of course at a diplomatic level. Most importantly, learn to forgive both yourself as well as others. Forgiveness is an essential part of anger management. Set a statute of limitations on your anger and follow it.


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