Anger Management in Action: Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

I have listened for over 30 years to couples fighting in couples therapy. This includes dating couples, newlyweds and couples that have been conflicting for 50 years, still trying to understand each other and relate to each other. Why so much conflict between people who  truly love each other – or used to?

While it is obviously complicated, most unresolved conflicts remain unresolved because people use logic only to solve the issue rather than understanding that it is emotions- not just logic- that determine our behavior, get us so upset at each other and motivate us to change. To influence behavior , motivation(emotions) has to come first, then information (logic).

In my experience, many peopke do not care what you know until they know that you care! A person has to be OPEN to listening to what you are saying, or your words will fall on deaf ears. 

Having understanding of this concept can make you very bright……that is, it will give you high emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence and how will it help your relationship?

Emotional intelligence (EI), as used here,  is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, and understand the emotions of your partner and how you should respond to elicit cooperativeness instead of rebellion from your partner.  It is a crucial skill to have in relationships because, in my experience, it is nearly impossible to solve an emotionally based argument with logic alone without dealing with the emotions  lurking beneath.

As proof this, remember the 1996 movie, “The Break-up” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn? In the “wash the dishes” scene, Jennifer’s character (Brooke) asks Vince’s cahracter (Gary) to help her wash the  dishes after a dinner party. He resists. She insists. He relents but with an attiitude and says “all right, I’ll help you with the dishes” to which Jennifer gets angry because of his attitude. Gary then says, What’s wrong? I told you I’d help you with the dishes” Brooke then says: “I want you to want to help me with the dishes.”

Gary, like many partners, had no clue as to what was happening. So, he replied: “Who (in their right mind) would want to do dishes” ?

And on it goes. Neither could understand the other or why the other was so upset. Neither could understand why the other was so uncooperative. Both initiated in each other patterns of responding in their brains (neural circuits) which were pretty much beyond their control at the time they were occurring.

The problem escalated because neither could respond effectively to their partner at a time when the proper response would have de-activated the whole thing. 

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills to elicit cooperativeness from your partner-  at a time when your partner is being the most uncooperative. It is a set of skills to influence your partner’ s level of cooperativeness through your responses to their behavior rather than responding on automatic pilot as you may have done in the past.

This is not easy to do because we are wired (in our brains) to respond in certain ways to other people, including our partners. Too, when we are upset with our partner, we usually think that the solution to the problem is for THEM to change their behavior.  However, those with emotional intelligence skills understand that you can also get your partner to change sometimes by modifying how YOU respond to what they do. This may have immediate impact on them and on the argument. In fact, it may stop the argument dead in its tracks. It may also impact how your partner behaves in the future.

In our example, if Gary had hugged Brooke and acknowledged  her for all her work in preparing the meal, can you imagine there may have been a different outcome? If Brooke had responded to Gary’s refusal in a less hostile way, would that have made a difference? Maybe. The odds certainly would have improved.

Successful couples sometimes experiment and try different ways of responding to each other until they find a way to “fine-tune” their communication and learn to interact with each other to elicit cooperativeness instead of defiance, rebellion, or passive-aggression.

Being mindfulness of the affect that your response is going to have on your partner is another skill of emotional intelligence that should be practiced daily- but only by those who want a more peaceful and less conflictual relationship!

Emotional intelligence skills are central to our approach to both anger management and couples therapy. Two of the most important emotional intelligence skill that we teach are empathy and social awareness. To learn more, we suggest:angrcoach or angecoachonline.com

Do You Display Defensive Anger? Three New Strategies to Deal with Verbal Attacks!

Doc, the new client said, I am not an angry guy. I only get angry when people piss me off. The rest of the time I am fine

This humorous interchange occurs often in our anger management classes. We gently explain that, of course, it is much easier to stay calm and rational when nobody is attacking us, when nobody challenges us or yells at us, or when nobody accuses us of things we didn’t do. On the other hand, anger and frustration are normal human emotions to experience when we are justly or unjustly  criticized, when we feel disrespected, when people treat us with contempt or when others are raging at us for any number of reasons.

Anger management is partly the trick of not taking the bait – of not dealing with an attack with more anger or hostility on your part. This is NOT to say that we should always just be passive by smiling and taking it. To the contrary, rather than yelling back, insulting with verbal abuse, threatening things you will never do, or bringing up every sin you can think of the other has committed in the past, you can use  much more effective strategies to  defend yourself.

Strategy 1- Take a time out and cool down. This is tool # 8 in our anger management program. It means NOT dealing with it at the moment when things are so heated up. Deal with the issue later when both of you are more calm. This does not mean you should avoid the issue: quite to the contrary, it means to deal with it, but at a better time.

Strategy 2- Calmly but firmly stand-up to the angry person while setting  boundaries and limits. . This means to let them know you will no longer tolerate their abusive anger and that the relationship will be severely injured if they continue. Some angry people only calm down when they are with someone who stands up to them; this is because they secretly despise what they perceive as weakness. I have seen many husbands, for instance, morph from lions to lambs when the the hands of a woman with a stronger personality than them who simply will not put up with their verbal abuse. These raging men do not want to lose the relationship so they are willing to do almost anything to save it.

Strategy 3- Stop Being a “Peace at any price” person. A peace at any price person believes that they should keep things peaceful at any cost, even to their self-esteem, their pride, or their self-respect. These people often find themselves with very angry partners who remain angry even though they do every thing humanly possible to stay out of trouble and avoid fights. The strategy here is to be more up front about things that bother you, before resentment builds and you explode over some trivial event. Some things just have to be dealt with and not avoided. Paradoxically, dealing with the issue in the moment sometimes decreases anger in your partner. Rather than making things worse, sometimes it improves things, especially if you let them know how you feel about the issue and how it is affecting you.

These three strategies are very powerful in dealing with defensive anger either in relationships or in other life situations.  You can learn more by enrolling in our online anger course or our online marriage education program. 

Mindfulness and Anger Management

Mindfulness and Anger Management- Guest Article

We all have moments when things slow down and we are suddenly very present for life. We often have this ‘tuned in’ experience when we are in nature, or it it may happen when we are highly focused on some activity, or sometimes it occurs when we are simply relaxed and available for whatever is going on around us.

The word ‘mindfulness’ evokes images of spirituality and eastern religion, but surprisingly mindfulness is just the ordinary human capacity to be fully present. It is mindfulness that allows you to be here long enough to read these words. You can be mindful of the wind, the taste of your evening meal, a conversation with your partner, or the various sensations in your body.

When we are spinning in thoughts of the past and future we are not at all present, and our mindfulness has faded. When we check out from the present moment in this way, we spin off into a mental world and we lose our center. We lose touch with our body and emotions, and we become susceptible to stress and anxiety, and various conflicted emotions, such as anger. Fortunately mindfulness is natural to human beings, and as such we can train it and strengthen it.

This is where mindfulness meditation comes in. Since it was first introduced to the western world in the 1960’s mindfulness meditation has been incorporated into a range of modern day applications. For example mindfulness is utilized in corporate environments, in various forms of psychotherapy, athletic training, medical care, educational systems, stress reduction, and yes, anger management. Whole departments at major universities such as MIT are now dedicated to the study of mindfulness and its application to a broad spectrum of contemporary issues.

It is safe to say that mindfulness is a 2500 year old anger management methodology. Extensive research shows that mindfulness is helpful with anger management issues in a variety of ways. Studies show that mindfulness decreases rumination associated with anger, it increases cognitive flexibility, boosts emotional well being, and improves overall satisfaction with life. Modern science is increasingly showing what the ancients have known for millennia, that mindfulness really works.

A Mindfulness Anger Management Exercise: Working with Uncomfortable Feelings

A common issue found in individuals with anger management problems is a difficulty dealing with uncomfortable feelings. We become hyper sensitive to life’s loose ends, we are triggered by the slightest inconvenience, and we have a low threshold for anything edgy or uncomfortable. The following mindfulness anger management exercise can help.

-Choose a day and set your intention to notice whenever you feel uncomfortable.

-Throughout your day, every time you find yourself feeling uncomfortable in some way, simply notice what you do with your body. Do you start fidgeting and bite your fingernails, does your chest tighten up, or do you clench your jaw, or maybe you hold your breath?

-Take a notebook with you and write down what you notice. The idea isn’t to try and change anything, just simply notice what you do and write it in your notebook.

This ‘paying attention’ is a form of mindfulness, and it will shine the light of awareness on how you avoid uncomfortable feelings. That light itself is enough, change will come naturally from your simply being present, so don’t get in the way by trying to change anything. Just notice, write it down, and let it be. That’s it.

Once you’ve tried this for one day then you can apply it any time, and gradually you’ll become more and more familiar with your patterns of avoidance.

Craig Mollins is long time student and teacher of mindfulness, and specializes in a mindfulness approach anger management. You can learn more at his website, mindfulnessangermanagement.com

A Master Passive Aggressive

Some times you have to give the devil his due! Such is the case with my brother Tom, an intelligent but very manipulative young man as we were growing up in Ohio. He and my Italian-American father were constantly conflicting with each other because Tom was..well, very stubborn and my father simply didn’t have the skills to cope with him.

One particular encounter sticks in my mind, even though it occurred many years ago. Tom was a young teenager who decided he was not going to eat all of his dinner one evening. This was a direct violation of our family rules, almost as serious as “sassing back,” having a smirk on your face,”  or out of desperation, starting to eat a steaming plate of wonderful spaghetti before our grandmother finished her never-ending prayer thanking God for the meal.

But, I digress. Back to Tom. He told my dad he was NOT going to eat what was on the rest of his plate because he didn’t like it. Dad retaliated by declaring that he could not leave the table until he finished his meal.

Rather than arguing with him, my brilliant passive-aggressive brother said “OK.” So..he sat there. 7pm. He didn’t move a muscle. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t  fight. 8pm. He was still sitting there while the rest of us went on with our evening. 9pm. We all went to bed. Not Tom. He stoically sat there, “obeying” his father to the letter!

Now it is 8AM. My father comes down to breakfast. Where is Tom? Still sitting there looking at his plate of food. My dad announces: “It is time for you to go to school.” Are you reading closely, because now comes the true art of the passive aggressive! Tom says calmly” I can’t go to school even though there is a test today, because you told me I couldn’t leave the table until I finished my dinner. You can plainly see that I haven’t done that.”

This of course rendered my Dad absolutely helpless and defeated. If he made Tom go to school, he clearly lost the eating issue battle. If he made Tom continue to sit there, Tom got out of taking a test at school he wanted to avoid anyhow.

Brilliant!

My dad ultimately made him go to school, but there was no doubt that Tom had won the power struggle without raising his voice, arguing, or overtly resisting.

Passive Aggression is a way to express hostility toward someone else without appearing to be doing so, often rendering them helpless in dealing with you. Passive Aggressives often deny they are doing it while they are doing it. Instead they deny, excuse, rationalize or otherwise explain-away their obstructive behavior.

Passive-aggression is a destructive way to communicate because its goal is “I gotcha” instead of honest communication. You should protect yourself from such people. If you are the passive-aggressive, you should communicate more directly and honestly.

Watching someone like Tom can be entertaining, but it does not promote trust, closeness, or bonding with people in your life you care about or who care about you.

Do some angry people not show it?

We all recognize the hot-headed person who yells, shouts, has a red face, clenched fists and bulging neck veins when angered or frustrated. It is easy to see that person as angry. But, is it possible to be just as angry but never show it? To suppress angry feelings or turn  them inward so that the anger affects our bodies from the inside allowing us to  maintain a calm and cool exterior?

The answer, of course, is yes! Some people are like volcanoes in that they explode with anger, while others are like slow-cookers in that they simmer with resentment. Still others are “stuffers” in that they don’t acknowledge they are angry at all – to themselves or to others. Yet, stuffers sometimes are depressed, and they often infuriate their partners because of their apparent lack of negative feelings in situations when most people would get  mad or at least agiitated.

 

Most stuffers can’t stuff forever, so they sometimes over-react to situations because they have been holding it in for so long. Better to deal with issues sooner than later, when they are just ripples instead of tsunamis. Expessihg anger appropriately is an important part of anger managenent because it often clears the air, it  shows your partner that you really care about the issue, and it just plain makes you feel better to get it off your chest

Anger is like fire. We must respect it, but not fear it.  We can harness it for our own good and the good of the world or we can let it control us and perhaps destroy those things we love most in our lives.

Try it. Let people know what bothers you by asserting yourself. To learn more about this,and how it applies to relationships,  join our new professional marriage page on Facebook and get a free 50-page ebook titled “Eight Keys To Successful marriage.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Can a Relationship Survive Anger?

Contrary to popular opinion (even among professionals), anger isn’t necessarily bad or destructive to a relationship. All couples have conflicts and frustrations. It is not the anger itself that separates successful couples from other couples. Rather, what separates them is how anger is handled and how the partners communicate with each other while angry over the issues that bother them.

For instance, communicating with sarcasm or contempt are very destructive modes of communication that will bring down a relationship if done too often or too intensely. Another very destructive pattern of anger is something called passive-aggressive where the hostility is kept undercover, but the partner “gets even” with the other with snide remarks, emotional withdrawal, or underhanded actions which sabotage the other.

On the other hand, research shows that communicating anger in a straightforward way can be healthy for a relationship, as long as it is done correctly. For instance, successful couples use what is known as a “soft startup” which does not antagonize the other causing them to stop listening to you.

Furthermore, successful couples have the ability to complain but not criticize the other over an issue that is bothering them. Registering a complaint can be  healthy for a marriage, but attacking the character of your partner(criticizing)  over the issue is not.

As we teach in our anger management classes and in our online anger programs, successful relationships depend on partners having learnable skills to make the relationship successful. Among these is the skill of expressing and communicating anger in ways that resolve the conflict, that don’t drive an emotional wedge between the partners, and that allow both partners to feel better about things later.

 

Accepting Others With Limitations is a Challenge For Some

“I worked hard for my knowledge,” Bob said in a session, but “others want to drain me of my knowledge and skill so they won’t have to do the hard work themselves to learn it.” “Besides, they are so stupid and they are unmotivated to improve themselves.”

Bob was very much into self-development and self-improvement and thought everyone should be too. He would quickly become angry when he encountered people who just “settled,” were happy with an average life and saw no need to improve themselves.

Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone close to you in Bob. The following two thinking errors are causing  angst and anger in Bob and others who think like him:

1. That self-development is a universally good thing and everyone should do it. I would ask; “Why?” In my opinion, people have a right to NOT develop their full potental if they chose to live their lives that way. Who are we to judge others and what is good or bad for them? Besides, how do we know when people are at their full potential? Human beings often misjudge others and expect more out them than is realistic or possible.

2. That everyone has equal capacity to improve themselves. I believe that the motivation and ability to constantly improve oneself is probably distributed among human beings just like other skills – some people have a great deal of it (like athletic ability) and others not so much. We will be less angry if we find a way to accept this and view the world in this fashion.

If we can find a way to change how we think about things and how we view things, we can immediately change how we feel about them. Of course, you don’t have to, and you have a right to think any way to wish, but if you want peace of mind, try these thought changes and see what happens!

Do Anger Professionals Get Angry?

This is a common question that my clients either ask me, or want to ask me as they sit either in anger management class or in private consultation. The short answer is that yes, of course, anger management professionals get angry, like everyone else. But, hopefully the anger management professional uses his own teachings to manage his or her own personal anger. In fact, part of teaching anger management skills to others involves being a good role-model for your clients.

As you may have guessed, I had  an experience once in one of my classes in which a client did everything in his power to argue with everything I was saying, contradicted almost every point I made, and generally was being a major irritant to me and to the other class participants.  This client ( a professional person) in effect was competing with me, much to the detriment of everyone else who wanted to hear what I had to say, not the opinions of a class-mate.

I struggled internally with how to handle this person while being a good role model. This is a similar struggle many of you probably have, when forced to deal with a difficult person such as your child, a spouse, or a coworker. I could feel myself slowly becoming angry inside until I made some decisions to handle the situation differently.

What did I do differently? Instead of logically presenting more “research evidence” to back up my points and proving that I was “right,” I decided to de-fuse it by saying things like  “there are many ways to view this issue” and “thanks for your input,” and let’s have a talk about that after class,” etc.

This acknowledgement worked beautifully both for myself and for him. It immediately de-escalated the subtle “power struggle” going on between us. This participant needed acknowledgement that her viewpoints were perhaps valid too (even though, I obviously still not agree with her viewpoints). The other class members saw what was going on and hopefully acquired a new tool to learn how to deal with conflicts.

The lesson here? Direct confrontation often escalates anger while acknowledging the opinions or feelings of another person de-escalates anger, even if you don’t agree with them.

Do you remember the old adage: Would you rather be “right” or be “happy”? I would modify that to: “Would you rather be right or create peace?”

Who Attends Our Anger Management Classes?

What is your vision of who comes to anger management classes or takes anger management courses online?

People often wrongly envision that our classes are filled with people who physically abuse their spouses, are court ordered, and are generally the type of people you wouldn’t necessarily invite into your home.

That got me to thinking of who actually has attended my classes in the last 9 years in both Long Beach and Orange. For starters, both men and women attend my classes, but more men. Some are court-ordered, but nobody attends for physical violence. In California domestic violence( DV) or spousal abuse is a separate program which is regulated by the state (anger management is not). We see our program as a prevention to the more serious DV issues.

The most common reason for attendance is “voluntary” although there are varying degrees of volunteerism. Commonly people are required to attend our classes if anger is an issue in divorce or custody battles. Some are “spouse” ordered, but others are mandated to come by their workplace (to keep their jobs). Most are very nice people- in anger management class. Nobody gets angry in class – it is other people they get angry at.

In terms of occupation, clients are all over the board, from physicians to lawyers to oil rig operators. We had a priest once who was required by his Bishop to attend 60 hours. We have had mortgage brokers, air traffic controllers, and teachers. Other interesting occupations have included bar tenders, business executives, and professional musicians.

Some people come to class to appease someone else without really seeing themselves as the problem in a conflictual relationship. Others admit they have an anger problem and want to do something about it. More and more parents are attending because they are fearful that their anger may negatively  affect their children, if it continues.  A small minority resent having to attend but generally have a change of attitude by the time they complete the program.

Often participants feels that “the other person” should also attend classes and learn the skills taught. For this reason, we offer a reduced rate for some of our programs for family members of our participants. While most clients attend by themselves, couples are also welcome, although it is not always appropriate to place partners in the same class.

Control Your Anger – Self-Talk in Action

In our Anger Management Local Classes, as well as in our online programs, we teach participants the value of changing your “self-talk” in order to dial down those angry feelings triggered by any number of events in our world. The following story about a grandfather and his  spoiled out-of-control 3 year-old grandson illustrates this beautifully – and with just the right amount of humor. Here it is:

A woman in a supermarket is following a grandfather and his badly behaved 3 year-old grandson.

It’s obvious to her that he has his hands full with the child screaming for sweets in the sweet aisle, biscuits in the biscuit aisle; and for fruit, cereal and pop in the other aisle.

Meanwhile, Granddad is working his way around, saying in a controlled voice,

“Easy, William, we won’t be long . . . easy, boy.”

Another outburst, and she hears the granddad calmly say,
“It’s okay, William just a couple more minutes and we’ll be out of here. Hang in there, boy.”

At the checkout, the little terror is throwing items out of the cart, and Granddad says again in a controlled voice, “William, William, relax buddy, don’t get upset. We’ll be home in five minutes; stay cool, William.”

Very impressed, the woman goes outside where the grandfather is loading his groceries and the boy into the car.

She said to the elderly gentleman, “It’s none of my business, but you were amazing in there. I don’t know how you did it. That whole time, you kept your composure, and no matter how loud and disruptive he got, you just calmly kept saying things would be okay. William is very lucky to have you as his grandpa.”

“Thanks,” said the grandfather, “but I’m William …. the little monster’s name is Kevin.”