Reducing Anger

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
What would you think of firefighters who come out again and again to extinguish fire in the same building and never bother to look at the source of that fire?  Suppose they never ask themselves what is going on in that place that fuels those flames from time to time.  They would be a pretty strange bunch of firefighters, wouldn't they?  Let's apply the same reasoning to another kind of fire, anger.  Anger management has become the fad of the nineties.  However, we have confined ourselves to merely scratching the surface.  We set our sights too low by only looking for ways to manage the problem rather than strike at the root of the problem.  If we produce less anger, we have less of it to manage.  So let's look at how we produce anger.  

We produce anger through unrealistic demands and expectations we have from ourselves, our relationships, and from the world we live in.  When these demands and expectations are not fulfilled, we get frustrated and angry.  It is helpful to recognize these demands and expectations with a calm state of mind because anger, like any other emotion, occurs swiftly and automatically.  In anger we don't objectively know what really aroused our anger.  Einstein once said that we "cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it."  Let's look at the three categories of unrealistic demands and expectations in detail.  

Unrealistic demands and expectations from others:  Example:  "You must appreciate and accept everything I do."  When I am objective, I know that nobody can do that all the time for me.  Realistically, people are going to appreciate and accept some of the things I do.  Similarly, they will disagree or be unimpressed with some actions of mine.  I need to remember that "they" have their own mindset, values, and preferences.  If I don't change my expectations of others, I will continue taking "them" for granted.  As long as they accept and appreciate my actions, it's all right, but if they criticize me once, I react to them as if they are my number one enemy.  Similarly, it is unrealistic on my part to demand that others must, all the time, support me, respond to me positively, and treat me fairly.  

Unrealistic demands or expectations from the world:  Example:  "All circumstances must be exactly the way I want them and if they are not, this world is a terrible place."  Every time when something happens that we don't like or when events occur that don't suit us, we "can't stand" the world as it is.  If I think about it with a rational mind, I can see that the universe doesn't exist for my convenience.  The universe operates by its own laws and forces and they may very well interfere with what I want to happen.  Bad things happen to good people all the time.  This thing we call "luck," doesn't always reward the right people.  Sure, the undeserving get rich and successful all the time, but is it worth wasting my time and energy in focusing on it and stewing over it?  

Unrealistic demands and expectations from self:  Examples:  "I must never fail."  "I must always act in a way that everyone accepts me and admires me."  "If someone is unhappy with my work or the way I am, that means only one thing, that is, that I have failed miserably".  We get angry a lot of times because we make unrealistic demands on ourselves.  Perfectionism is the sure pursuit of unhappiness.  Our anger with ourselves spills over everything.  When we are unhappy and frustrated with ourselves, we get mad with the whole world and with everybody who inhabits it.  A person with a guilty conscience protests too much.  In order to defend ourselves, we go on the offensive, and blame others before they get a chance to blame us.  

Recommendations:  First make a clear and conscious decision that you are going to take action to control your anger.  Not, "I will "try" to control my anger," but, that "I will take action to control my anger."  Start making notes on what makes you angry.  Try to identify the demand or the expectation that is responsible for your anger when you begin to experience anger.  Classify your reasons for becoming angry in the above stated three categories of unrealistic demands or expectations.  If you experience intense anger that means those are not "expectations," they are demands.  Demands are more forceful and absolute.  "You must give me what I want.  "I must win your absolute approval."  Replace the demands with expectations as no one wants to be ordered around.  A poster of rebellion in an office read, "Requests may be granted, but orders must be disobeyed."  

Once you have lowered your demands to the level of  expectation, that is, that you simply expect but not demand, your anger will go down by several degrees.  The next step then will be to set a life-long goal, namely, the goal of "zero expectations."  It's not a goal that you expect to achieve one hundred percent, or expect to achieve any time soon, but it's goal that you may work towards and keep inching closer to the "zero-expectation-zone."  


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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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