How should we deal with the white-hot fury when someone cuts us off in traffic or the line where we've been on hold the last hour goes dead?
I spoke to anger management specialist Alistair Moes for some much-needed advice.
Start by Recognizing Anger in the First Place
Q. What is the first problem people have about anger?
A. Lots of people don’t notice they're angry but our facial expression betrays what we’re really feeling. Men have been trained by society to just shut off so they don’t feel anything and can’t be hurt. But really, we all feel all of the emotions. And the emotions, their reason for being, is to move through us, to be expressed, and they will do that one way or another.
Q. There’s a new study out that says our serotonin levels affect our ability to regulate angry responses.
A. It goes back to what kind of shape we’re in when we get there – if we had enough sleep, if we had enough to eat, if we’ve been hanging with people who give us inspiration, we’re engaged in life, in work in a way that feels like it’s meaningful. When that trigger hits you, you’re in way better shape right off the bat.
Q. So the second thing we do is take care of the basics before we even get angry. Is anger an emotion?
A. I think anger’s an emotion and sometimes it’s the right emotion. Sometimes your partner just did something disrespectful for the third time and you’ve asked them to stop doing it. And sometimes it’s like, "I’m pissed off. I’m not going to be aggressive or hostile. I’m angry, but that doesn’t stop me from being loving. ‘How can you do this to me?’” We need to connect with that part of the anger. [Other times] it’s helpful to look behind the anger and notice I’m feeling really hurt, or disappointed, or ashamed, or afraid, or powerless.
Don't Get Angry, Get Assertive
Q. So being assertive, not aggressive?
A. Absolutely. If you’re connected to your heart and to your emotions. Most of us grew up with examples – people were passive, or manipulative, or aggressive. But often they didn’t teach us to be really direct and honest and clear. If you can express things in that way, you’ve got no shame. You said exactly what you needed to say, to the right person, at the right time, for the right reasons. That’s all we can do.
Q. Do you recommend time-outs as a fourth technique?
A. Yes. They work. In my book Lose Your Temper, it’s really clearly explained. It’s not avoiding the issue, it’s taking the time when you’ve escalated so much that you’re not capable of addressing the issue and thinking clearly.