Anger Management in Action; Setting Realistic Expectations

How high should you set the bar for yourself or others in term of what you expect?

This was a recent discussion topic brought up by Robert in a recent fast-track anger management seminar that we held in Newport Beach, California. Set the bar too high and the gap between what you expect and what you get can cause disappointment, anger, and other undesirable emotions.

Yet, hope springs eternal, especially in regard to family members.

We can spend our whole lives hoping against hope that others will finally change, see the light, treat us better, or acknowledge us in the way we need to be acknowledged.

Yet, as Robert discovered, sometimes this is not to be, despite our best efforts and our noble intent. Robert is 65 years old, yet has almost daily angst over his relationship with his 90 year old father who lives in the Midwest. They talk to each other perhaps 3 times a year, with Robert always having to initiate the calls. His dad says “children should call parents; parents do not have to call children.”

In his dad’s mind that is just a fact, the way the world is. This rule of family interaction is written in a book somewhere, known only to parents.

Despite a lifetime of not being able to emotionally connect with each other, Robert decided enough was enough and made arrangements for him and his wife to visit his father this summer. He emailed the old man, asking if the visit dates were satisfactory. Robert had expectations that his Dad would be thrilled to get a visit (at 90 years old, one doesn’t want to wait too long). He also asked for hotel recommendations nearby.

The father’s response was two lines: “Those dates are OK. Will send you a list of hotels to your home address.” The coldness of it all made Robert’s head reel. Robert experienced immediate sadness, and frustration. These feelings “pulled up” a lifetime of memories of other similar encounters with his father that generated the same negative feelings. Continue reading “Anger Management in Action; Setting Realistic Expectations”

Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?

Silenced

“How did your week go, Samuel?” I asked my married patient who  consulted me for anger management and anger management skills to deal with his wife.

“Much better,” he replied, “because I kept my mouth shut this time when I desperately wanted to argue with her because I knew I was right. I decided to apply one of the anger management tools you taught me.”

“What did you do instead?” I asked him.

Sam replied: ” I took your advice and simply left the house, went into the back yard for 10 minutes to cool off, then came back in and everything was OK. I didn’t argue with her over the issue because it wasn’t that important. I didn’t have to win this time; I just let it go.”

We continued our therapy session pet hair vacuum guide by agreeing that “talking” about an issue doesn’t always solve it. In fact, sometimes it makes it worse. In intimate relationships, sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say.  Believe it or not, over-asking about the issue sometimes becomes the issue.

Have you ever had this conversation with your partner?

“What are you upset about?”

“I’m not upset.”

“Yes, you are. tell me why you are upset. Was it something I said?”

“OK. if you insist. I am upset because you keep asking me if I’m upset.” Continue reading “Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?”

Anger Management in Action: How Can I Be More Patient?

body language-angry young woman

Meet 25 year old Julia who came to our local anger management class for help with the question “How can I be more patient?”

Seems that Julia was constantly irritated with other people.She tried not to be, but her impatience and irritability constantly leaked out with her body language, her attitude, and her sarcasm.

She was not angry in the classical sense of the term- that is, she did not blow up, she did not yell, she did not explode. But she was constantly frustrated, she was often very stressed out, and she found herself almost always disappointed in people around her. This included co-workers as well as loved ones at home.

Inside her head she was saying to herself things like:

  • how can they be so stupid?
  • why they they do it right?
  • why can’t they think like I do?
  • Julia was very bright. She was also a very quick thinker, often two or three mental steps ahead of those around her.This made is difficult for her to be accepting of others who might not have been quite as mentally agile as her, or to tolerate people who had a different thinking style from hers.

    Julia’s problem has its roots in her expectations of people and things. Learning to recognize and adjust expectations is anger tool #6 in our system of anger management as is explained in detail in our anger management book titled “Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century.”

    The gap between what we expect and what we get creates many negative emotions including disappointment, anger, and chronic unhappiness. Learning to adjust expectations is a process which begins with being mindful of what are expectations are to begin with. Mindfulness involves becoming aware of what is occurring in your or body without judging it.

    Awareness without so much judgment is not easy because we live in a society in which we are constantly taught to judge things. Often we “should” ourselves to death throughout our lifespans – convinced that we “know” what is best, what he truth is, exactly how to do things, how others should be or live, etc.

    On the job, we get frustrated because employees don’t “own” their work or don’t buy into the company vision like we do as managers. Adjusting your expectations involves reminding yourself that if they saw things as you did, they would have YOUR job.

    Adjusting your expectations at home requires you to remember that much of what you get upset about involves opinions about how things “should” be – not absolute facts. Just because you believe something doesn’t automatically make it true; your partner may have an equally valid belief or opinion.

    As Julia learned these thought skills, she gradually did become more patient and less angry. She was able to accept that sometimes truth is a point of view, that others have a right to their opinions (even though they may be wrong), and that just because we want something or someone to be a certain way does not mean that they are that way, want to be that way, or that they necessarily even should be that way.

    Finally, Julie learned to accept that many people do indeed have limitations; that does not mean we should get angry at them because of their limitations. Yes, some people are indeed mentally slow, have an irritating personality, have limited skills to do things, have the wrong values in life, are lazy, etc etc. But, I ask, why get ANGRY over these things? Other response possibilities would include ignoring them,having compassion for them, helping them, giving them much more latitude, etc.

    Think about it! Feel free to leave a comment below.

    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

    How Important is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

    In a recent session, 65 year old Dan, a retired insurance manager, was reflecting on mistakes he had made in his life. At the top of his list was an incident twenty years earlier when he received a home visit from a corporate V.P. who was vetting him for a large promotion as a district manager of a large insurance company. Things were going smoothly and the promotion seemed like it was going to be a shoo-in, at least in Dan’ s eyes. Then, came the subtle test which Dan didn’t even realize was a test: The V.P. asked Dan if  it would be possible to drive him to another office, about 100 miles away, the next day so he wouldn’t have to rent a car. Dan politely declined, pleading work obligations at his current office. In his mind, Dan thought the V.P would be impressed that he was so dedicated to the more important office tasks on the job instead of wasting time driving 200 miles (round trip)  the next day.

    As time went, Dan learned that he was being blocked from promotion by one vote. He never did get his promotion and to this day he is certain that this was due to the fact that he completely mis-read the real “test” that the V.P. had exposed him to. It was a failed test he could never recover from. Dan, like many people, lacked a quality for both business, personal, and marriage success called “emotional intelligence” or “EQ.” It differs from “IQ” (regular intelligence) in that it deals with one’s people skills, sensitivity to emotional isses srrounding factual issues, the ability to understand the emotions and feelings of others, social sensitivity, and accurate perception of how your actions are perceived by others.

    Dan did not understand that the V.P. was probably testing Dan’s loyalty to him, Dan’s ability to be a “team,” player, or possibly Dan’s sense of priorities. Dan was completely unaware that his decision would be viewed negatively by the V.P. and did not even perceive the subtle change in the V.P.’s demeanor and attitude after being refused the special favor he had asked for.

    In my experience as a marriage therapist, consultant, and anger coach, lack of or limited emotional intelligence leads to conflicts in the workplace, in relationships and in families. Often  people with low EQ don’t realize they have low EQ, and honestly can’t figure out why people react so negatively to them. Take the example of a couple I had worked with in marriage counseling. Thirty five year old Dorothy was pregnant for the first time. In session, she said to her husband, “I am fearful that I won’t be a good mother.” Instead of reassuring her, his response was: “Why?  that’s a dumb thing to be worried about.” You could see the change of emotion in her face when she heard that, but her husband didn’t have a clue that his remark might upset her.

    In our anger classes we teach the skills of empathy and social awareness to increase a person’s emotional intelligence. In short, one way to increase EQ is to step back and see your behavior or response from the viewpoint of the other person. It is the ability to realize how you might be coming across to others and how your remark or behavior might or might not be seen or heard from their point of view – not yours.

    Persons with high EQ are sensitive to the feelings of others and look beneath just the content of a question or behavior to the underlying emotional issues – and then responds to these emotional issues. Had Dan had higher EQ he would have asked himself how his refusal might be seen by his V.P. That interchange wasn’t about his getting to his next appointment. It was about trust, loyalty and priorities. Likewise, the pregnant wife was really communicating insecurity and also asking if she could count on him for help and support.

    Work on increasing your emotional intelligence and you might be surprised that your life will work better for you. It is worth the effort because research shows that persons with high EQ are more successful, have better relationships, and are actually healthier than others.


    AngerCoach Show – Episode #11 – Anger and Sex

    This months episode we discuss the relationship that sex and anger share. As a practicing Psychologist and Marriage Therapist, I have come across many couples who experience sexual frustrations in their relationships. Often times anger can arise from sexual frustration, and as this episode discusses, sexual frustration can result from anger. In this podcast we teach four practical and easy-to-employ techniques for reducing sexual frustration and anger in your relationship.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    AngerCoach Show – Episode #10 – Is Humor a Remedy for Anger?

    This months episode we discuss the positive effects that a sense of humor can have in dealing with anger. Appropriate humor can help all of us deal with difficult situations better, and if we have a problem with anger humor can gives us new ways to respond to frustrating situations. Humor shifts the way we think and helps us to be response-able – capable of handling stress, frustration, tension and other hard to deal with emotions. In this episode, we also teach four easy ways to develop a sense of humor.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    AngerCoach Show – Episode #9 – Managing Expectations

    This months episode discusses the benefits of managing your expectations. Learn what your expectations are, where they come from and understand how the world around us influences our expectations. When we understand these things, then we can better adjust what our expectations are when it comes to our lives, our relationships, our families, our possessions and our jobs. If we find ourselves frustrated by these things then it’s possible that we have formed unrealistic expectations about these goals. By adjusting our expectations to more realistic levels, we can avoid the anger that comes from being let down, and we will find ourselves living happier lives as a result.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    How To Tank Your Relationship – Lesson 1

    tanking relationship

    Miguel has just gotten off the telephone with his buddies with whom he made arrangements to play basketball Saturday morning. Unfortunately, he did not discuss this first with Maria who obviously is very upset over this. From her point of view, Miguel often makes plans independently, just as if he was still a single guy. She had other plans for them Saturday morning and now she has to re-plan her whole day. Worse, she wanted more time with Miguel and was looking forward to it this weekend. Miguel, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clue as to why Maria is so upset. To him what he did was “business as usual.” Besides, he felt that a man shouldn’t have to get “permission” from his wife to play basketball with his buddies.

    With this blog, we begin a series of reports on how to tank your relationship.  Researchers now know which habits predict relationship success and which predict disaster, so we herein present a tutorial on what to do to increase the probability that  your relationship won’t succeed or that you will never get from your partner what you need.

    On the other hand, if you learn how to respond differently to your partner (that is, use better relationship habits)  when you feel that he or she is not treating you well, you might just start seeing changes in both your partner and in your relationship.

    In our example, it is obvious that Miguel  acted in a way that Maria saw as selfish and, from Maria’s perspective, he should have talked to her  before he made his plans. But, partners often act  in ways that the other sees as selfish, uncaring, misguided or just plain wrong. (Miguel  sees the situation very differently, as he has a different perspective). May marriage survive and even thrive with one or both partners having these negative traits. So, it is not the traits  themselves that tank a marriage.

    According to marriage research, because of this difference in perspective,  what causes additional damage to the relationship is how Maria responds to Miguel’s behavior (and how Miguel responds to Maria’s upset).  So, let’s now look at different ways Maria could handle the situation:

    HOW TO TANK THE RELATIONSHIP: Lesson 1–   If Maria wants to cause more relationship damage and decrease the chances that Miguel will change, she should repeatedly do the following:

    • Take the attitude that Miguel did what he did because he was selfish, uncaring, or immature.
    • Take the attitude that he did not care enough for her to think about it before he made his plans with his friends.
    • Assume that there is a clear “right” and “wrong” way to deal with same-gender friends and same-gender activities when in a marriage.
    • Seeing Miguel as the whole problem instead of seeing the issue as  their having different opinions, priorities or ways of navigating life.

    Alternatively, Maria can respond differently and increase the probability that Miguel won’t do this again in the future, if she does the following. These are relationship “habits” that research has found are related to better success.

    • She should avoid jumping to conclusions and keep an open mind, asking Miguel calmly why he did what he did.
    • Hear Miguel out and refrain from disputing or debating what he was saying before he was able to explain fully.
    • Tell Miguel in a loving way that she feels hurt and unloved when he makes plans without including her and she would appreciate it if he did not do that in the future.
    • Rather than criticizing Miguel, ask him to work with her to find a solution that takes both  perspectives of the situation into account.

    In our next blog, Lesson #2 on ways to tank your relationship and how to avoid that outcome, if you wish.

    Is humor a remedy for anger?

    funcouple

    I recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona for a visit with a high school buddy that, save for a brief visit two years ago, I had not seen for fifty years.

    What an experience that was – catching up with each other’ s lives covering a half of a century!

    He had heard that I had become a psychologist, but  he had a little trouble wrapping his mind around how he thought I would be versus how he remembered me as a 17 year old adolescent. As old friends often do, we kidded around a lot as we reminisced, after which he asked, “‘How can you be a successful psychologist seeing people with serious problems when you kid around so much?”

    The answer to that question is that appropriate humor is a valid therapeutic technique that can have much therapeutic value, even with people who have quite serious problems.

    As Bill Cosby said: “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything – even poverty – you can survive it. “

    Comic Bob Newhart (who played a television psychologist) said: “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.”

    Actually, considerable research shows that humor is a powerful strategy to lower your stress level, dissolve anger and instantly give you new ways to view situations and thus new ways to respond. Often, mood is elevated just in the process of striving to find humor in difficult and frustrating situations. Laughing at ourselves and the situation helps reveal that small things are not the earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can make it seem less formidable and thus more solvable.

    As we teach in our local anger management classes, as well as our online program, humor shifts the ways in which we can think and thus opens opportunities to be more “response-able” in dealing with whatever  is triggering our anger – without being overwhelmed by it. As Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman and activist) observed: “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”

    Laughter can also help us release pent-up feelings of anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways; it also reduces tension because it is often followed by a state of relaxation.

    So, give it a try.  If you are truly humor-challenged, here are some suggestions to improve:

    • Start collecting amusing (but tasteful) jokes that you can use to brighten the moment.
    • Take anger situations and flip them to see the funny side.
    • Learn to laugh at yourself; it shows you are secure about who you are and what you want.
    • Try seeing the situation from a different perspective