The Fifth Method: Direct Your Anger

Direct your anger directly at the person or situation that generated your hostility in the first place.  For example, you might say to your co‑worker, right at the moment of the criticism, “Ben, if you have something negative to say about me or my work, I would prefer that you say it to me in private.”

With the parking spot incident, you might put your car in park, walk over to the offending person and say, “Excuse me. Perhaps you didn’t notice but I had been waiting for that parking space. My directional signals were flashing my intention. Therefore, I would appreciate it if you would vacate the space so that I might have it.”  Directing your anger at the person or situation that generated your anger in the first place is the only way to prevent that internal pressure cooker build-up of hostility.

You might be interested to learn just how effective these five strategies are in terms of unloading hostility.  Turning your anger inward against yourself will leave your anger at 90 percent.  Gritting your teeth and looking for an opportunity to get even will leave your hostility at 75 percent.  Making cynical, cruel jokes and nasty comments will leave your hostility at 50 percent.  Using project and deflect, especially sports or physical effort of some kind will bring your hostility down to 25 percent.  However in order to completely reduce your hostility to zero, you need to speak directly to the person whose action generated your hostility in the first place.

When you direct your anger, you do not have to do so in a screaming, hostile, out of control manner. You can speak calmly and in a straightforward manner. This allows the other person to really hear your words, not just the hostility.

In the parking lot situation, the other driver may not relinquish the space.  In fact, they might give you the finger.  Nevertheless, you will feel good because you stood up for yourself.  Moreover, you will not be left feeling as if you are deficient in some way, telling the next twenty people you meet about what happened to you in the parking lot.

Ever think about why you do that?  There isn’t a person on the planet to whom this has not happened. Why should you feel compelled to tell and retell the story? It is because you are trying to rationalize your non-response to the situation. Deep down you believe you should have done something to take back control of the situation. Somehow you should have made it work out so that you did not come off feeling like such a deficient human being. You have, however, no idea of what that might be.

From personal experience, I must tell you that speaking directly to the person who stole my parking space actually got good results about 50 percent of the time – they relinquished the space with a verbal apology.  The other 50 percent of the time, I got nasty responses.

There was a woman with two teenaged daughters. Everyday there would be a screaming argument between Mother and daughters about the girls cleaning up their rooms.

Mother:    I want you to clean up your rooms right now!

Girls:     Just close the door and you won’t have to look at it.

Mother:    That’s not the point. Your room is in my house. Get up there and take your clothes off the bed and the floor, hang them up, throw away those paper plates from pizza and those empty soda cans and get it done before dinner.

Girls:     If our mess doesn’t bother us why should it bother you?

Mother:     Because my hard work paid for those expensive clothes which are now on the floor.

And so it continued day after day after day. Then one day, probably because the Mother was simply too tired to fight, instead of screaming at them to clean their rooms, she made her request in a normal voice. Both girls looked at one another and said, “OK Mom”. They immediately went back upstairs and cleaned up their rooms. The Mother was astounded. After dinner she asked her daughters what had made today so different from the months and months of arguments which had produced no cleaning-up results.  One of the girls explained, “Well, Mom, I guess we never really heard you before. We got that you were angry.  Your anger made us want to leave the house as quickly as possible. Today you didn’t sound so upset.”

Anger and hostility are commonplace. Everyone, however, needs some way to discharge or unload their hostility.  There is nothing positive or negative about this process.  As human beings, we each have only a limited amount of psychological space for holding our anger and hostility inside.  When we reach our own critical mass, we simply explode into rage. The essential question is, what method will you choose to unload your hostility?

When you think about  those nice, quiet people who abruptly go ballistic, killing others.  You can understand how, after literally eating their anger for some period of time, the person had reached a breaking point and like a pressure cooker, the lid blew off. These nice, quiet people were living lives of quiet desperation feeling trapped in their situation.

Take the famous story of the wife who was continually being beaten up by her husband.  This meek and mild woman lit a fire to the mattress on which her abusive, drunken husband was sleeping and burned him to death. She felt she had no other way out.

Remember the young man who killed so many at Virginia Tech?  He was a child of war and had been brought up in fear and scarcity.  Now he was surrounded by young people who had been brought up in freedom and plenty. He became envious of all those around him who had so much while he was living on a shoe string.  He believed he too should be living an affluent life and that that life was not available to him. The more he believed such a life was unattainable for him, the angrier he became.  (Recall:  The other person’s perception of the issue is their reality.)

After so long at grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it, this boy’s sanity ruptured and all people could say was:

“He was such a nice, quiet boy.  So polite. I simply can’t believe…”

“He kept to himself most of the time.  A bit of a loner, you know….”

“He was withdrawn, distant and non-communicative ….”

“He seemed depressed most of the time….”

“He didn’t have any friends…” or “He only had this one friend….”

“He didn’t belong to any particular group; he was an outcast…..”

We need to watch our children and monitor ourselves remembering that it is not healthy to hold anger inside.  Make it legitimate to express, discuss and communicate anger before it becomes rage.  Then, make it possible for people to unload their anger in appropriate ways.

In my next blog entry, I will discuss how to help really young children deal with their hostility.

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