Anger management is something we hear about all the time. People say, “He needs to go to anger management classes,” “You need to work on your anger management,” and “She sure has poor anger management.” What do they mean? What is anger management? Why is everyone talking about it?
Let’s begin by simply discussing anger. What is anger? Well, it’s an emotion. Is it a good emotion or a bad emotion? Neither. Anger is neither good nor bad, it just IS. It’s a matter of what you do with your anger that makes the end result good or bad. Let’s say that you go through the Burger King drive-through and you give them a $20 bill for about $7 worth of food and they hand you back several bills that you don’t look at until you get home. At home, you realize they only gave you $3. You get angry. You feel the emotion of anger. Are you doing something good or bad at that moment? Neither. You’re just being angry and there’s nothing really good or bad about that. It’s what happens next that’s important. Perhaps your anger will motivate you to be more careful to count your change before driving off the next time you use a drive-through. In that case, the anger turned out to be a good thing, didn’t it? Now, what if you use your anger the next time you go to the drive-through and you tell the 16-year-old at the window that he and his idiot friends better get your change right this time or you’re gonna come in there and strangle somebody. That would not be a good thing. So, the first main point is that we should not automatically see anger as a bad thing. It’s not bad. It’s not good, either. It just IS.
Okay, now that we know anger just IS, now what? Then we examine the biological function of anger. Anger is a biologically important emotion. The purpose of anger is to get the body worked up to help us defend ourselves against harm. Likewise, the purpose of fear is to get the body worked up to run away from something that is likely to hurt us. So, biologically, we are “supposed to” be scared by things that could hurt us that we might be better off trying to outrun and we are “supposed to” get angry at stuff that looks like it’s going to hurt us if we don’t defend ourselves. Let’s go back to the drive-through. We were hurt. We were slighted $10. Our body needs to make the decision if this is a hurt that should be outrun or fought. Our body doesn’t see the drive-through as a terrible danger, so we don’t lean towards outrunning it. Instead, we get ready for the fight. Our body mobilizes resources like adrenaline and starts the heart pumping faster, getting ready for this fight. However, we are now at home. Who are we going to fight with? It’s like we’re all dressed up, but have no place to go. This is where anger management comes into play. Anger management is the act of recognizing that you are angry and then deciding what you’re going to do about it.
Back to our example, you are all geared up to have a fight, but you have no simple way of fighting with the original offender. Oh sure, you could get right back into your car and drive back to the restaurant, get in the drive-through line, wait your turn, then shout obscenities into the order speaker or you could even respectfully discuss the error and request your money back. Problem is, that takes a lot of energy and time. We rarely feel like going back to address the original harm. So, instead, we tend to take it out on anyone who happens to be nearby, perhaps a husband or wife, a child, or even the family dog or a telemarketer who makes the mistake of calling you on that day. That’s what we end up calling, “poor anger management.” Good anger management is using the newly acquired energy to fuel some type of action that may resolve the problem without violating the rights of others.
There are several places where anger management breaks down. First, you could fail to realize that you are angry to begin with. If you don’t even realize you are angry, you don’t know that you should stop and decide what to do. An angry person who doesn’t realize they are angry might do a number of actions without thinking. Actions made without thinking are frequently bad choices. Another place anger management falls apart is when the angry person knows they are angry, but doesn’t really know what they are angry about. They might try to fix what they think is the problem, but end up wasting a great deal of time because they really aren’t addressing the thing that made them angry in the first place. Another pitfall to anger management is laziness. It takes a great deal of self-control, patience, memory, and persistence to solve the problems that make us angry. Often, it’s just much easier to complain about them, fight with people, and throw stuff. Another place where anger management goes awry is when a person does realize they are angry, they do know what the real problem is, they are motivated to try to fix it, but they are so very angry that they cannot be a productive problem-solver. This person may insult others, verbally or physically threaten others, or do actual harm to people or property. This is the person that needs to learn how to pause and let himself get a little cooled down before responding. It may be helpful for this person to think to himself that the problem won’t disappear if he doesn’t act upon it right this second. It will wait for a few minutes until he calms down. Heck, most problems will wait days, or even years, without going away if that’s what it takes for us to settle down to the point at which we could constructively solve them.
So, in summary, anger is neither good nor bad, it just IS. The purpose of anger is to help keep us from getting hurt. It is important to recognize when you are angry, take a moment to settle down and think about why you are angry, use the energy to motivate you to do something useful to solve the problem, and be certain not to do anything until you can behave like a rational human being. The problem will wait for you. There’s no hurry.