Dr. Yossi Shafer
Anger is often an all-consuming entity, an exceedingly strong feeling that overrides emotion and logical thought. That is because, as explained in previous articles, anger masks underlying emotions that typically stem from taking someone else’s opinion of or behavior toward you personally. When you dig deeper, tune into yourself, and allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to explore your true emotions, you can deal with the root of the problem rather than the symptom.
A life ruled by anger is an unpleasant life for everyone, but most unpleasant for the angry person. You may defend the need for anger – I must show them how badly their words or actions affected me – but while it may seem like the easy way out, it’s never a long-term solution.
Empower yourself to overcome the anger and work through what is actually happening beneath the surface.
Instead of succumbing to anger, indulge in a little introspection. Ask yourself: how does this make me feel? Followed by: what can I do about it now?
The answer to the second question is always one of two choices: accept and move on or find a solution. As the adage goes: For every evil under the sun, there is a remedy or there is none. If there be one, try and find it; if there be none, never mind it.
Try it in any scenario where angry responses are common.
Your son comes home at 11:45pm even though his curfew is 11:00pm. You’re ready to explode. Why? How does this make me feel? The answer may be: betrayed, worried, unappreciated, unheard, losing control. (These responses are especially common if you are a survivor of childhood trauma or neglect.) Then, what can I do about it? The answer there is either (1) accept it: teenagers break curfew all the time, it’s nothing personal or (2) work toward change, either with a consequence for breaking curfew or with an incentive to be home on time. With either solution, you have removed the personal affront from the equation, so the anger dissipates. Feel free to express your true emotions when appropriate: I’m worried about your safety or I’m disappointed and frustrated when you’re not responsible.
Your boss is a certified degrading person who called you irresponsible after you messed up an account. You’re burning with rage. That makes me feel worthless, embarrassed, like a failure. Think: just because he called me an idiot, does that mean I am one? Stop determining your self-worth based on someone else’s judgment of you. As unconventional as this may sound, the same applies to anyone in your life who judges you, including your close friends and family members. Am I really the most selfish husband/friend/parent as alleged?
With your boss’s comment, be honest with yourself: was that a stupid mistake? If it was, you can be disappointed with yourself and then (1) resolve to do better next time or (2) accept your shortcomings without attempting to improve. Both are valid responses, though the first will help you more in the long run. Then, you can choose what to do about your unpleasant work environment: (1) accept it or (2) work toward change, either by having a frank conversation with the boss or looking for a new job. Yes, itis as simple (although not easy) as that.
Your sister calls you selfish for not inviting your parents for the hag. You are furious. If you have a legitimate reason for not inviting them, you feel misunderstood and hurt that your sister, who “knows” and loves you, thinks so little of you. You can (1) explain or (2) keep your reason to yourself and be okay with her thinking that you are selfish, because you are confident that you are not selfish.
On the other hand, if your reasons are selfish, you may feel bad about yourself because she called you out on it. Anger masks your defensiveness and shame over your shortcomings. Now you can (1) admit that selfishness is a fault of yours and try to improve or (2) deny that you are selfish sometimes or simply accept that you would rather not work on it.
There is no shame in having or expressing emotions – in fact, emotions are crucial for effective relationships and functional living – but anger is damaging and unconstructive. When you are consumed by an emotion – sadness, despair, insecurity – you can consult with a professional, mentor, rabbi, trusted friend, or family member, and learn strategies to cope with it. When you are consumed by anger, there is no effective resolution; that is why it is possible – and life-changing – to eliminate it.
Dr. Yossi Shafer, PhD, is the clinical director and a clinical psychologist at Empower Health Center, a private practice of multispecialty psychotherapists. They have offices in Deal/Long Branch and Lakewood and can be reached at (732) 666-9898 or email@example.com