A lot of you might have heard about anger management before. But even if you have, it’s likely that you might not know what it really is, or might have an image of anger management as being only for people with actual “anger issues”.
Anger management first began in America in the 1970s. While it started as a program geared towards reforming criminals, it was later recognized as an effective way of dealing with emotions and responding more generally to social anxieties. It is now used in a lot of different situations, and has been spread widely throughout the world. Yet it is still not as well-known in Japan. People here tend to think of it as only being for “angry people” and don’t really know about the program itself.
However, almost everyone has been feeling increased stress and anxiety recently as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. So now is a good time to look into anger management and learn about ways to deal with emotions and feelings during challenging times. Anger management also has a lot of lessons for teams, in terms of learning about how to deal with stress and good conflict resolution.
So in the following blog post we’ll explain some of the central ideas of anger management and how it can benefit everyone on your team, no matter how angry they actually are.
Learning not to regret your anger
Anger management is really about learning to not regret being angry. While of course this relates a lot to people who do get angry and make mistakes, this is not the only meaning of anger management. Anger management is not about making people not angry, or making sure that no one ever gets angry. Furthermore, included in the meaning of “learning to not regret the emotion of anger” is learning how not to regret getting angry in certain situations.
Let’s look at some concrete examples of regretting anger.
I was once at a birthday party, and one of my friends asked me to go outside with him while he smoked. I don’t smoke myself, but I had gone out with him before to keep him company. At that moment though, I didn’t feel like going outside with him. I don’t smoke anyway, and I wanted to stay inside and talk with other people, so I would have liked for him to go by himself this time.
But instead of explaining this to my friend, I got angry. I yelled angrily at him, “The conversation is just getting interesting, go smoke by yourself!” My friend looked taken aback and said that I could have been a little nicer in refusing him.
Of course now I was fully taken over by my anger, and so I shot back “I guess it would have been better if I hadn’t come tonight at all then!” By now the mood of the room had dropped completely, and everyone was focusing on our interaction. I had derailed a happy occasion and created unnecessary strife because of my behavior and lack of control in the situation.
Now let’s turn to the opposite end of the spectrum: Have you ever regretted not getting angry at someone?
When I posed this question to my Invite Japan team, I got some very interesting responses. One member talked about her experiences facing power harassment at a previous job. She didn’t say anything at the time, but she wonders whether saying something at the time, whether in anger or not, could have changed her abuser’s behavior and led to a different result. That’s definitely an experience of regretting not getting angry (or at least confronting the situation head on).
So we as human beings can both regret our anger and regret not being angry enough, as the examples above show.
Becoming a person who can get angry well
So what should we do? As I said before, anger management isn’t about never getting angry or not becoming an angry person. Instead, the issue is not in the anger itself, which is a natural emotion like any other, but in how we become angry and when. What’s important is using our anger well when we need to be angry, and learning how to handle our anger when there’s no need for it.
“Getting angry well” refers to three rules about how we treat ourselves, our relationships with other people, and our environments when we are angry. The three rules are:
- Don’t hurt other people.
- Don’t hurt yourself.
- Don’t damage any objects or things.
Most people would agree that it’s dangerous to physically harm ourselves and other people, or break things when we’re angry. However, there are other ways to hurt people, such as words for example. Our words in the fit of anger can be powerful or harmful, and can damage our relationships. We also can’t overlook how our anger can be turned inwardly, and how hurtful we can talk to ourselves when we are upset.
In order to not use damaging words against yourself or others, you first have to approach your anger from a place of understanding.
Understanding the mechanics of anger
Humans are really remarkable. We as individuals can react calmly or angrily to the same exact situation, depending on our mood.
Let’s say you want to buy a drink from a vending machine. You plop a coin in and press the button–but the drink doesn’t come out. One day you might shrug your shoulders and say “Well, I guess it’s broken.” Another day you might get mad and start kicking or shaking the machine. But then why do we sometimes react so differently to the same situation?
The key is context. In those moments when you confront a difficult or annoying situation and get angry, you probably have a lot of negative emotions in you already. Your boss yelled at you so you’re sad or anxious, plus you’ve worked overtime so you’re tired and also hungry…All of these negative feelings inside add up and act as kindling for anger to burn.
So to be able to deal with anger well, you have to release that extra stress and energy frequently, like ventilating a room or letting out exhaust. Otherwise it will build up, and you will end up taking it out on someone else or yourself, which is prohibited (see above).
Instead, enjoy a nice cup of coffee, do some exercise, or find creative outlets for your feelings like art or writing. What’s important is to make sure you take breaks from your stress, and find things that you enjoy doing that get you to appreciate the moment.
Knowing the Source of Our Anger
Now that we understand that our reactions can be fueled by the negative emotions that are already within us, let’s try to think about why anger is a possible outcome. Let’s say that a subordinate messages you right before a meeting telling you that they’ll be late. You get angry. Why? Is it because they are your subordinate, or because a person is late? Everyone may have a different way of understanding this situation, but from the viewpoint of anger management, the answer is neither.
According to anger management, the reason you are angry is that your expectations have been betrayed. More to the point, your assumption about how things should be was betrayed. In the situation above, you might react by saying “They should have messaged earlier”, “They should have left the house on time”, “They should have taken a different route”. The more that these “shoulds” appear in your way of thinking about situations, the more anger will also.
Obviously, there are many “shoulds” that we get from society and from other people. Some of them may be important, but others are unnecessary and may keep us shackled to unrealistic expectations or unhealthy ideals. We as individuals have to decide for ourselves what “shoulds” to keep and which ones to get rid of so that we can lead a clearer and less burdened life.
Understanding that anger is a natural emotion and that it is necessary
Based on the conversation so far, many of you might be thinking that it would be better if we just didn’t get angry at all. However, whether fortunately or unfortunately, human beings simply cannot. The truth is that anger is necessary and plays an important role in our lives.
Anger is often called our defensive emotion, and it plays a vital part in our self protection. Notice how animals get angry when they feel threatened, or when they feel that their children are in danger–this is the “fight or flight” instinct. Humans are the same. We get angry when we feel that we need to protect our lives, our families, our property, or our pride. We get angry when what’s important to us is threatened.
When we get angry we feel hot, our blood pulses, and our fists clench. In those moments, our fight or flight instincts are activated unconsciously, preparing us to protect the people or things that are most important to us. Which means that if we were to somehow give up our anger, we would also lose that defensive mechanism that prepares us to protect ourselves and those we love.
You also sometimes encounter people who say that they “never get angry”. What’s probably happening is that they’re bottling up a lot of those angry emotions, or are not able to recognize their anger. They may also be focusing that anger inward rather than outward, so that it doesn’t come off as anger the way we typically view it, which is anger towards others.
These types of people would also benefit from noticing how they react in situations that cause them discomfort, to ensure that they aren’t just displacing that anger somewhere else.
But while we can’t get rid of anger, we can learn how to control it and harness it.
Breaking the chain of anger
When we get stressed and take our anger out on our family, our friends, or those around us, we unintentionally fuel a chain of anger. The people we take our anger out on get angry, and so they too may take their anger out on someone else–their teacher, the grocery store worker, their waiter–and on and on the anger will go. Not fueling this cycle is another important principle of anger management.
This does not mean that only you alone have to be the one to bear others’ anger and not react. Anger management teaches you not only how to react to your own anger, but also how to react to and deal with others’ anger as well. It teaches you how to understand others’ expectations and ideals so that you can diffuse their anger and not escalate the situation. In this way, anger management provides effective tools for conflict resolution.
In this blog post we’ve talked about anger management, how anger is an important and even necessary emotion, and how people can learn to deal with their anger in order to avoid causing a chain reaction.
Invite Japan offers a workshop on anger management for teams to delve deeper into the lessons that this powerful program offers and gain further understanding about the steps involved in anger management. Combined with team building activities and puzzle-solving challenges, it is a great way for teams to learn how to manage emotions among team members, gain conflict resolution skills, and strengthen relationships.
Anger management can help your team members learn how not to regret their anger, and to live healthier and more fulfilling lives, both at work and beyond.