Anger Management in Action: Think Like An Optimist

Friends Jane and Anthony have very different ways of viewing the world. Jane is a pessimist (“the glass is half-empty”) while Anthony is an optimist (“the glass is half-full”). As you will see, Anthony has better anger management skills because of his optimism.

Let’s compare how they think about similar life experiences:

Scenario 1: A bad thing happens: both lose their jobs
Jane is devastated, convincing herself that she is all washed up, she can never catch a break, her boss was an SOB, it is useless for her to try to be successful, and she is not very good at anything. She is angry and doesn’ t know how to cope with it.

By contrast, Anthony from Addiction canada has a healthier inner dialog, telling himself that he probably wasn’t very good at that particular job, his skills and company needs did not mesh, and the firing was only a temporary setup in his career.

Scenario 2- A good thing happens: both find a new job
Now Jane, ever the pessimist, believes she was able to find a new job only because her industry is now really desperate for people, and they must have been short-handed.

The more upbeat Anthony sees that he landed a new job because his talents were finally recognized and he can now be appreciated for what he can do.

As this example illustrates, research by Dr. Marvin Seligman finds that optimists tend to interpret their troubles as transient, controllable and specific to situations.

When good things happen, optimists believe the causes are permanent such as traits and abilities. Optimists further believe that good events will enhance everything he or she does.

Pessimists, on the other hand, believe their troubles will last forever, will undermine everything they do, and are basically uncontrollable.

Even when good things happen to pessimists, they see these things as temporary and caused by specific factors (which will change eventually leading to a negative outcome)

Why is Optimism Beneficial?
Optimism and hope cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work and better physical health.

In fact, one long term study at the famed Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota found that optimists lived 19% longer in terms of expected life span than did pessimists.

Optimistic thinking skills are also a powerful antidote to anger. In fact, many participants in our anger management classes report their anger lessening as they learn to replace negative thinking and feelings with more positive ones.

How to think optimistically
There is now a well-documented method for building optimism that consists of recognizing and then disputing pessimistic thoughts.

Unfortunately, people often do not pay much attention to their thoughts and thus do not recognize that they may be destructive and leading to negative emotions.

The key to disputing your own pessimistic thoughts is to first recognize them and then to treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life is to make you miserable.

In effect, you can become an optimist by learning to disagree with yourself- that is, by challenging your pessimistic thinking patterns.

For skeptics, it is important to point out that optimistic thinking IS NOT the process of positive thinking in the sense of telling yourself silly affirmations that you really don’t believe.

Rather, it is the process of correcting distorted or faulty thinking patterns that create problems for you.

By teaching yourself to think about things differently (but just as realistically) you can morph yourself from a pessimist to an optimist – and tame that anger bee in the process.

Additional optimistic thinking skills can be learned in our online anger management program: Click below

AngerCoach Online

 

Anger Management In Action: Forgiveness.Let the Past Go

 

Struggling with resentment
Struggling with resentment

Thirty-two year old Elizabeth cried during her anger management class as she related how one year ago her 19-month-old girl was permanently brain-damaged as the result of medical error at the hospital in which she was delivered.

She definitely had a legitimate grievance toward the hospital and the medical staff and felt that she could never forgive them for what she saw as their incompetence. She clearly was not yet ready to forgive—and she needed her simmering anger to motivate her to do what she felt she needed to do legally and otherwise to deal with this horrific situation.

Yet, even in this tragic situation, at some point in the future—when she is ready—Elizabeth might elect to find a way to forgive. For her to be able to do this, after a certain amount of time, she will have to take the step of separating in her mind two things: (1) blaming the hospital for what they did and (2) blaming them for her resulting feelings about the situation.

Elizabeth cannot change what was done to her daughter, but she can change her current feelings about it and she can change how she lives the rest of her life. If she continues to hold an intense grievance, she is giving all the power to what happened in the past to determine her present emotional well being—almost like being victimized again while remaining in her emotional prison.

Should you forgive?
The answer to this question always comes down to personal choices and decisions. Some people in our anger management classes feel that certain things cannot and shouldn’t be forgiven while other participants feel that ultimately anything can be forgiven.

As an example of what is possible, the staff of the Stanford Forgiveness Project successfully worked with Protestant and Catholic families of Northern Ireland whose children had been killed by each other. Using the techniques taught by the Stanford group, these grieving parents were able to forgive and get on with their lives.

On the other hand, Dr. Abrams-Spring who wrote a classic book called “After The Affair,” cautions that forgiving a cheating partner too quickly or too easily can be an indication of your low self-esteem. In her view, forgiveness must be earned by the offending partner and not given automatically.

As you struggle with your decision to forgive or not (and remember – it is a decision), keep in mind that recent studies show that there are measurable benefits to forgiveness.

Two reasons to forgive:

  • Forgiving Is Good For Your Health. Studies show that people who forgive report fewer health problems while people who blame others for their troubles have a higher incidence of illness such as cardiovascular disease and cancers.
  • Forgiving is good for your peace of mind. Scientific research shows that Forgiveness often improves your peace of mind: One such study done in 1996 showed that the more people forgave those who deeply hurt them, the less angry they were. Two studies of divorced people show that those who forgave the former spouse were more emotionally healthy than those who chose not to forgive with Service Dog Vest. The forgivers had a higher sense of well being and lower anxiety and depression.

Three tips to forgive

It is common for angry people to think, “I want to forgive and I know I should, but I don’t know how.”

  • Tip 1- Remember, forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience to complete. You must be ready. Realize that this is for you – not for anyone else.
  • Tip 2- Realize that forgiving does not mean you are condoning the actions of the offender or what they did to you. It does mean that you will blame less and find a way to think differently about what happened to you.
  • Tip 3- Refocus on the positives in your life. Remember that a lift well lived is the best revenge. People who find a way to see love, beauty and kindness around them are better able to forgive and get past their life grievances.

More tips on how to handler resentment in our book. Click below

AMTC-AD-Dark

 

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

Dealing With Life Stress: Should We Use a Scale or a Broom?

MHH_cartoon-a-thon_2009-2stress

This cartoon illustrates how stressful life can be, even in normal  situations like family life. (By the way, if you enjoy mental health humor, visit (http://blogs.psychcentral.com/humor) for more.) In our anger management programs, we teach specific methods to handle stress as one of our anger control tools, because stress and anger are very much connected and related.

Is stress control about achieving life balance? Perhaps. Maybe not. In the words of our humorist Chato,

“If you’re seeking balance because your life is a mess, then you’re looking at the wrong thing. What you need to be seeking…….is a broom!”

My experience is that sometimes we might need both a scale and a broom. A scale to keep things in balance and proportion and a broom to sweep out all the stuff that is irrelevant to your life goals and dreams and may be bogging you down, like trying to walk through wet cement.

Lets start with the scale:

scale

Many personal development coaches teach clients to make a pie chart like this……………

pie chart

……..and then teach clients to put a label on each piece of the pie representing life areas where time and energy and spent. Typical categories would be work, family, community, religion, leisure, etc. Then, by keeping track of how much time or effort you spend in activities related to each category, you can easily see if your life is out of balance or not.

Take the case of a 43 year old small business owner who worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He slept eight hours a day, leaving only 6 hours  a day for everything else including his marriage, his family, personal time, etc. Soon, he felt overwhelmed and burned-out and then he felt  “used” by almost everyone because his needs outside of work were not even close to being satisfied or fulfilled. Often people like this have a classic “type A” personality and are seen as “driven.” One client we saw had had three heart attacks by age 33 and still was unable to slow down or add balance to his life.

Is happiness higher in people who have a more balanced life? Are these people less stressed? I’m not sure that this has even been directly researched, but it seems intuitively true from observation of happy and relaxed people. Balance comes not only from how you spend your time, but also in terms of  how purposeful or meaningful what you do seems to you. Do what your love and your life will not feel out of balance to you (although others may not see it the same way). Spending much effort doing what you feel you have to do without counter-balancing it with enjoyable or meaningful or rewarding things will lead to much stress and unhappiness. We all have to spend some time on things we don’t like or things we don’t want to do; but happier people balance these things with doing at least one enjoyable or rewarding  thing each day – something they can “look forward to”

Now The Broom…..

broom

Life activities, thoughts, focus on the unimportant or focus on that which cannot be changed can clutter our minds just like stacks of old newspapers can clutter a room in your house. Both types of clutter make it difficult to navigate life because they bog us down, and occupy space that could be much better used. Mind clutter may include things like:

  • Focusing on trivia or the unimportant while missing the bigger, more important issue (for instance, happily straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic, while being oblivious to the fact that the ship is sinking)
  • Devoting significant portions of your life to changing that which cannot be changed instead of focusing on that which can be. This includes people as well as causes or issues.
  • Staying  stuck in a life style or life situation you stopped liking long ago, but yet you stay in it or keep on doing it. Being preoccupied with the negative clogs your mind and your perspective to try new solutions or try new life styles that may be less stressful and bring more happiness. Think: “If I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.”
  • Thinking certain self-talk or holding certain beliefs about yourself or the world which may not be true, yet stop you from pursuing or achieving some life dreams that may still be within you reach.
  • Holding resentments or grievances which poison you inside like a cancer and block your potential for happiness or fulfillment.

How To Tank Your Relationship- Lesson 2

blackandwhitethinking

In our last blog, we taught you Lesson 1 of how to tank your relationship: React to bad behavior by your partner  in way that indicates that you think they are 100% wrong and you are 100% right. Then assume that there is only one way (your way) to view or look at the situation, so there is no need to try to see things from the perspective of your partner.

Today we continue with our lessons on how to tank a relationship- just in case Lesson #1 hasn’t worked for you yet:

How to tank your relationship: Lesson 2- Handle anger toward each other poorly.

african american couple fighting

To tank your relationship, get “stuck” in your anger either as the partner with the original anger or as the partner who is on the receiving end of anger. Either way, getting stuck in anger can quickly turn to  disgust. Eventually, you might even get to contempt for your partner which is a deathblow to most relationships. With a contemptuous attitude, you don’t even bother to get angry back at your partner because you tell yourself “I won’t stoop to my partner’s level by getting angry.”  So you stonewall (don’t talk at all to your partner), become passive-aggressive (get back at your partner in a sneaky way), or emotionally shut-down.

Fact is, research on successful couples (as described in a book by marital therapist Brent J. Atkinson called “Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy”) shows that anger itself is not a dangerous emotion for marriages. Many highly successful couples regularly blow up at each other. Blow-ups are not necessarily destructive (within limits). Rather, partners getting stuck in their resentment for having been attacked is an equally serious  issue that brings down a marriage.

That is because when a person fails to stand up forcefully when feeling disregarded or criticized harshly, they almost always harbor resentment and in internal attitude of contempt (That is, they think of themselves as “better”  in some sense than their exploding partner.) And, as mentioned above, having contempt toward your partner is a very serious problem in terms of longevity of the relationship.

Caution: Only read the next paragraph if you have decided NOT to tank your relationship:

So, what is the healthy way to handle anger in a relationship? First, if you are the primary angry partner, learn to communicate better and deal with normal angry feelings more effectively without destroying your partner or the relationship in the process. There are many ways to handle anger so that you get a better result and you get more of what you truly want from your partner! These techniques (including something called a “softer startup”)  are what we teach in local anger management classes as well as in our online distance-learning program.

Second, you do not have to suffer in silence if you are in relationship with a person who handles their anger poorly.  The trick is to stand up for yourself and deal with the issue rather than “stuffing it” and building resentment through the years. (Of course, do not put yourself in a dangerous situation by standing up for yourself with a truly raging or violent partner).

Research strongly shows that partners of people who act badly in any way (including anger) have more influence than they think on future occurrences of that bad behavior by their spouse. You do not have to tolerate it and can even change it to some extent if you do the right things.

Gratitude Skill Important For Anger Control

Learning to respond instead of react to frustration and anger triggers is anger tool #3  in our “tool kit” of anger control strategies. An important skill to use this tool is the skill of being grateful for things in your world and in your life. It is almost impossible to be angry and grateful at the same time. But, it is very challenging to be grateful when you look around and see only negatives in your life. You want to ask yourself: “what should I be grateful for exactly?”

Being able to answer that question for yourself is a major step toward anger control and increased happiness in your life. Following are some resources to help you do just that. We begin with a Budhist quote:

“A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it were real, so he escapes the suffering.”

– Buddha

We continue with a concept promoted by David Block, creator of the “Gratitude Balls” to be squeezed whenever you feel depressed, angry, or discouraged. We hand out these balls to participants of our local (Southern California) anger management classes. David recently organized  The First Gratitude Tour of San Diego: Here is his you tube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7NKhHGIlzM

Finally, we turn to the master,  Deepak Chopra, who teaches you how to meditate in order to get in touch with gratitude which he believes is the quickest way to “get in touch with your soul.” His video can be seen also on you tube at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIXIwdhOmSM

Research backs up the claim that being grateful leads to increased happiness! Try it and see if it works for you!

Dr Tony
www.angercoach.com
www.angercoachonline.com




How Positive Emotions Help with Anger

In past blogs I have spoken of a new movement in psychology called “positivity” and have discussed how it has an “undo” effect with negative emotions such as anger.

Put another way, positive emotions erase the lingering traces of negative emotions.

So, if we did “lose it” and get angry, a great way to repair yourself is to find a way to generate positive emotions. According to researcher Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D., over time, positive emotions prompt growth in personal and social resources that increases well-being.

That is, positivity opens us.

But, what are the forms of positivity? What emotions should we try to achieve in order to undue the effect of negative emotions?

According to Fredrickson and other researchers, we should strive for ten emotions which are:

  • Joy
  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love

But, how do you generate some or all of these emotions when you are….well, pissed off?

Frederickson recommends that you start keeping what she calls a Positivity Portfolio – it is like building a shrine to each of these positivity emotions.

Start by trying to figure out when typically that you experience one of the emotions – like joy – or one of the others. Write down what triggers it. When was the last time you felt it? Where were you? What were you doing? What was happening?

In the next blog entry, we’ll continue this process to help you build your portfolio of emotions you should have, to counterbalance all that negative stuff that is in everybody’s everyday life. Stay tuned…

Humor Is Anger Management Technique

Humor is a positive emotion that helps counter-balance anger and other negative emotions in a conflict situation.

Think of a teeter-totter. On one end sit anger, resentment, irritation, and all the friends and relatives of these negative feelings. But, on the other end sit humor and other positive emotions. What will happen? The teeter-totter will shift depending on the relative weights on both ends.

It is not unusual to have negative feelings in almost any kind of relationship, but conflict and emotional distance can occur if the relationship lacks sufficient positive emotions to counter-balance the negative feelings.

For example, Tim and Tina were having a silly marital tiff about feeding the fish in their aquarium. Tim gave them fish food from the refrigerator; Tina thought the food was too cold and might harm them. They actually argued for about 15 minutes. Fortunately, however, they had built into their relationship an “automatic” stop wherein one or the other would say something humorous that would completely diffuse and de-activate the negative emotions that were building.

In this case, Tina said “I know the fish will get a stomach ache because I saw one swimming on its side rubbing it’s belly with the other fin”

This visual completely changed the atmosphere for both of them as they replaced negative feelings toward each other with laughter.

Humor is a powerful strategy to lower your stress levels, dissolve anger and instantly give you new ways to view conflict situations. This gives you, in turn, new ways to respond to a situation. Learning to respond instead of just react is an anger tool that we teach in our live anger classes as well as our online programs.

Often mood is elevated and anger is diffused just in the process of striving to find humor in difficult and frustrating situations. Laughing at ourselves and the situation help reveal that small things are not the earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at the problem or conflict from a different perspective can make it seem less formidable and thus more solvable.

Having Joy in life reduces anger

Forty-four year old Martha was a single mother of a thirteen year old girl (Reva) toward whom she was always feeling angry. They seemed to fight about everything, producing huge amounts of negativity in their home.Things finally got to the point that therapy was required by Family Services who had received a complaint from a neighbor.

Their therapist determined that what Martha and Reva fought about were common mother-adolescent issues such as cleaning her room, doing homework, talking to boys, and what Martha saw as Reva’s constant defiance. Neither Martha nor Reva had deep emotional, personality or other problems such as substance abuse. They just couldn’t get along with each other, although each professed to love the other.

Reva, of course, had a completely different view of things from her mother. She saw her stressed-out mother as always depressed, dour, negative and angry. She could not remember the last time she had heard her mother laugh.

Martha’s lack of joy in life dampened her ability to see positives in a situation, especially when it came to her daughter and Reva’s activities. Martha had let life beat her down. in the course of trying to survive as a single parent. She had few joys left in her daily survival grind. She would dutifully arise each morning with almost nothing to look forward to.

When first seen, her therapist asked her, “what brings you joy? What fells bright and light? What adds color to your world? What puts in a spring in your step?”

At first perplexed, Martha had to admit that she had not even thought of that issue for a long time. The therapist then explored with her sources of joy earlier in her life. Turns out that Martha loves to read, to walk along the beach, to be with friends, and to dance. Unfortunately, she had done none of these things a many years.

In our anger management courses, we encourage people to do whatever they can to elevate their mood before they try to deal with conflicts because the level of our mood greatly influences our perception – how we see – the conflict.This certainly worked with Martha who began doing ONE THING each day she could look forward to that would bring her joy. Amazingly, her mood gradually improved and her relationship with Reva also improved, as Reva started responding to the change in her mother. When we change, it sometimes “pulls” new and different behavior from people around us.

Life can’t be all positive, but it doesn’t have to be all negative either. Happiness and the ability to deal with conflicts is about the RATIO of positive to negative, the balance that we have in our life.

As Martha discovered, often we can change big things in our lives by first changing small things which tips the balance toward positivity. There are many sources of joy in the world; family can give you a surprise birthday party;you could open a letter to find an unexpected bonus; you could sit in your backyard and watch the beautiful birds congregate around your new bird feeder. Joy brings bright and light.

Look for joy your life, and watch the anger start to melt away.

Positivity an antidote to anger

I just came across fascinating new research by Barbara Fredrickson,Ph.D., at UNC, Chapel Hill, described in a book she published called “Positivity.’ In it, she provides much data showing that positivity can enhance relationships, work, and health and also counter-act negative emotions like anger and resentment. The unique findings in this book is not that positivity promotes well-being; rather, the uniqueness lies in her showing that it is the RATIO between positivity and negativity that determines our well-being. She calls this the “positivity ratio.” The secret to reshaping your life for the better is NOT to try to be positive all the time; rather, it is to seed more positivity in your life. This positivity ratio ideally should be about 3-to-1. Below this, people get pulled into a downward spiral fueled by negativity. Yet above this same ratio, people seem to take off, drawn along an upward spiral energized by positivity. Their behavior becomes more creative and they feel uplifted and alive.

Wouldn’t it be better to feel that way than to feel anger and resentment? More at www.angercoach.com and www.angercoachonline.com