A comment like this would cut any man to the core. And with good reason. When your negative behaviour is reflected back at you by your own children, it really comes home to roost.
You know the score though – all you need is a bad day at work, a longer than normal commute, mild dehydration and low blood sugar and..
It won’t take much to set you off in this condition. You’ve had it up to ‘here’ with this B.S.
Or so you tell yourself.
But why do you take it out on the ones you love. Why do you ‘take it out’ at all. What if there was a better way of dealing with anger that didn’t involve releasing that emotion.
That would be better, wouldn’t it?
I’ve long been the owner of a short fuse and a quick temper. I can quickly ‘flash’, saying things I know I’ll regret later. Which is one of the reasons why I wanted to write this post.
Because if I’ve struggled with managing and containing my anger, then maybe you have too. I think most of us could do with being less angry a lot of the time.
In this article I want to look at:
What is Anger?
Can you really have a ‘righteous’ anger?
Is it ever OK to vent?
Steps and tips to better control your anger.
As fathers, we have a special responsibility to control and manage our anger. If we are unable to master ourselves and our tempers, how will our sons and daughters follow suit?
It’s up to us to set the standard – not as unemotional ice-men – but to show what it means to be in control, even under the most severe pressure.
For men, being alone and active in nature can be the best way to deal with anger and stress.
Anger – A Cumulative Emotion?
As a reservist in the Army, I saw a range of emotions. And I saw greater extremes of emotion – more than you might see in every day life. I saw men overcome sapping fatigue and sleep deprivation only to fail at the final hurdle. Others who had it ‘together’ crumbled at the first hint of pressure.
Sometimes that was others. Sometimes it was me.
Long before that I knew I had problems with anger. I would lose control, lash out. Martial arts helped to calm and channel that impulse, but the anger remained.
“Why do I feel this way? How can I stop?”
The problem with anger is that it is cumulative. If you feel on edge about something, and then someone cuts you up in traffic and then your boss is an arse and finally your bank phones to tell you you’ve been a victim of fraud, those stresses and minor events will pile up.
The next person you come across will ‘get it’.
This manifested itself to me recently one commute. A motorist cut me up and I, already late and stressed, sounded my horn in an long and irritated way.
The man who’d offended me was also in a heightened state has he stopped his car in the middle of traffic, strode over to mine and started to open the door, saliva spraying as he shouted:
Next time, don’t be such a f***ing knob.
How wound up did we have to be to behave in this way to each other? If we’d met in the pub or on the football pitch we would have been best buds (most likely) but enraged by our own cumulative stresses, we become deadly enemies.
This buildup has been studied and proven to be a factor in flash points. In the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Amazon), he reports on this research:
Zillman found that when the body is already in a state of edginess….something triggers an emotional hijacking, the subsequent emotion is…of especially great intensity.
It’s that cumulative effect of small niggles, edginess and buildup that cause us to flash. And that’s when anger becomes a destructive force.
Fresh air and exercise has been shown to decrease anger and press your emotional ‘reset’ button.
The Problem with Destructive Anger
It’s August and I’ve been living in rural Uganda for nearly eight months. It’s been a blast but stressful. I miss my family and wouldn’t mind a shower (my last one was 2 months ago). The dark and quiet nights amplify this.
I’m sitting writing my journal by lamplight when I hear a rustling noise in the orange tree outside my door. Instantly I know what’s happening – kids are raiding my nearly-but-not-yet-quite-ripe crop of citrus.
I jump up, sprinting to the door. Grabbing an axe handle, I race outside and tear down the field, chasing the offending boys who scatter. Panting with the exertion, I return to my house.
Think about it though: what was I doing? What was I going to do when I caught one of the thieves?
Was I going to bludgeon an African boy to death for stealing a bit of fruit?
This is what Goleman calls ’emotional hijacking’ – when ordinary, every-day anger turns that blind corner into unrestrained rage.
That’s the thing – every day you will experience lots of little niggles. Sometimes you get sucked into the drama black hole of emotional hijacking. That’s when ordinary anger becomes a destructive force.
What about when your kids are just ‘at you’ all the time? Boy, do they know how to push your buttons. And if you let that build to an emotional hijacking, you will lose control.
Can You Have Righteous Anger?
I want to cover this subject quickly. You might be thinking: ‘What about righteous anger?’
There are a couple of things wrong with this idea of righteous anger:
1. Who made you the ‘righteous’ one.
That’s a serious point – who made you righteous and the other person/event the thing to be angry about? The Bible says ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’.
There’s a lesson in there – we get so wound up thinking we’re right about something that it blinds us to consider the other side of the story. That’s the risk of righteous anger – we could just as easily be in the wrong.
2. Outrage is the opiate of the masses.
Marx said that religion is the drug of choice for the people. But as we transition into a post-religion society, outrage has become the new opium.
We’re addicted to it – there are whole news channels, websites and blogs focusing completely on making us feel outraged. I had a blog post go viral because people were outraged by the cover image (the article was really terrible in its first form). Outrage sells better than sex ever did.
The writer and blogger Jack Murphy got ‘outed’ by a baying press mob falsely accusing him of being a Neo-Nazi (he’s Jewish). The result? He lost his job and had his real name trashed across the internet.
Righteous anger and outrage go hand in hand. Next time you think you feel self-righteous anger, stop and ask whether you are being manipulated by an outrage peddling media.
Manage Your Anger Better (Is it ever ‘OK’ to vent?)
Venting always seems like a good idea. I don’t know much about mechanics but I do know that if you allow pressure to build up in an engine, it needs to be released somehow or you’ll risk an explosion.
But is ventilation the same as conciliation?
Studies suggest otherwise. In Goleman’s book, catharsis – giving vent to rage – is explored:
Psychologists started to test the effects of catharsis experimentally and, rime after time, found that giving vent to anger did little or nothing to dispel it…
Tice [another researcher] found that ventilating anger is one of the worst ways to cool down: outbursts of rage typically pump up the emotional brain’s arousal, leaving people feeling more angry, not less.
I turned to martial arts thinking that it was and outlet for my anger. But I found that, instead of giving me that catharsis, it had a much more holistic and long lasting effect on my psyche. To find out why, you’ll need to read on…
The Anger Management Holy Grail: How to Control Your Anger
How much better would your life be if you weren’t prone to fits of rage? Imagine if you could control your anger? In the U.S., Anger Management is big business, a multi-billion dollar business.
But you don’t have to go on expensive classes or courses to break the cycle of uncontrolled rage. Instead, this four point plan will have you hitting the high notes of emotional control.
1. Break the Anger Cycle
As Goleman stresses, anger is a process, not a one off event. That emotional hijacking (as he calls it) is something that builds over time. As we’ve seen, venting that rage isn’t really an effective strategy – though it might feel good at the time.
Instead you need to be able to break the feedback loop of anger. When those little things your kids or co-workers are doing that wind you up, and then you’re late home, and then dinner is late and you can’t get the Wi-Fi to work until it feels like your going to explode….
That’s too late. You need to be in control long before this moment. Here are some techniques that can help you achieve this.
2. Use Self Talk
Reading Gorilla Mindset first introduced me to the concept of self-talk. It’s powerful stuff too. You probably do it all the time – have a running conversation with yourself in your head.
But did you know you can change your behaviour just by changing your self talk? Here’s how: Next time you feel rage or anger boiling, stop. And ask yourself “Why do I feel this way?”
Keep quizzing yourself until you get to the root of the problem. Even going through that process will take your mind away from your anger and focus on fixing your mood.
3. Control Your Breathing
Breathing is life. No really – if you weren’t breathing you’d be dead. Or close to it. When I was being trained by Mine Rescuers (yes that happened), they taught me that without oxygen, you’re a goner in less than a minute.
So if your breathing is shallow and uncontrolled – like when you’re angry – are you likely to be more or less in control.
If you take time out from your emotional death spiral to breath properly (use the Wim Hof method if you need), you’ll feel calmer and in control.
4. Take Action
No, this isn’t some glib plattitude at the end about how it’s ‘up to you’ and ‘your responsibility’ to be ‘disciplined’.
Instead there’s something you can do right now to be more in control and feel less angry: get some exercise. Here’s Goleman’s take:
Going for a long walk [or] active exercise helps with anger. So do relaxation methods such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation, perhaps because they change the body’s physiology from the high arousal of anger to a low-arousal state…Active exercise may cool anger for the same reason.
So next time you feel that rage building inside, go out into the fresh air, take a walk or do some exercise. You’ll feel calmer and more in control.
And that’s why boxing worked so well for me – not because I got to hit stuff – but because the physical act of exercise has a physiological calming effect.
As fathers, we owe it to our children to be calmer and more in control. Our habits – positive and negative – are reflected back in them, including the way we process and deal with emotions.
Is it time you took back control?
P.S. My book has a whole section on self control. Get it here.