My morning started out just as exciting as always yesterday. I was downstairs, half awake with bed-head hair, getting Batman vitamins for my two pre-kindergarden aged boys, and vaguely listening to the TV as they crunched away on Honey Bunches of Oats, when I heard it again. Wisdom from a preschool cartoon. I’m amazed at how often this happens. With all the garbage we “grown-ups” watch, I’m reminded of the posters you see in classrooms stating, “Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten.”
This is obviously an overstated simplification, but I think of that saying sometimes when I hear the amazing life lessons that my kids are taking in passively as they watch silly cartoons. Yesterday (and today again) it was the Muppet Babies. If you stick around for the end of the video below you can hear the overproduced theme song that hasn’t left my brain the last 48 hours. I’m only slightly less sane than I was last week because of it.
Anyway, during yesterday’s episode, Animal (the wild and crazy Muppet that bangs away enthusiastically on his drum kit) got very angry. Animal’s “big feeling” turned him into a gigantic 50-foot-tall version of himself that had a negative impact on his best friends (Kermit, Miss Piggy, etc.). Does this sound like you at all? Maybe not the giant thing, but the part about your anger hurting those around you? If so, read on! If not, read on anyway, because you likely know someone who struggles to contain their anger. You might be able to better support them, and understanding their process might help.
- Catch your anger early. Unless you are very young or are neurologically/biologically impaired, there’s a great chance that this one step will make a dramatic impact on your anger. So often we get ourselves in difficult spots, say things we end up regretting, etc. because we don’t respond to the first feeling we have. You get a little frustrated… or disappointed… or rejected. Feelings often start small, and only build when we don’t address them early. Let the feeling build, fail to seek repair in relationships, and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be impacted by the feeling transforming into something bigger and more difficult to manage down the road. Catch it early. Address it early.
- Feelings never last forever. Yes, if you fail to address it, your anger will build over time and come back to bite you. However, if you take steps to reconcile ruptured relationships and address the primary problem, you won’t experience the same negative emotional consequences later. Feelings come and go. They can be intense for a while, but they ALWAYS subside. Take some deep breaths. Pray. Go for a short walk. Meditate. Whatever you need to do to cope, do it! This will give your body the time it needs to come down from the angry high. For many people, men in particular, this often takes about 20 minutes. Once your body is calm your brain likely will also be calm, and you will be able to address the person/issue with more respect and wisdom than when you were agitated. If you’re in a relationship with a man who often gets angry, talk with him (*at a time when you are both already calm) about maybe taking 20-30 minute time-outs in future arguments to calm down before coming back to discuss the issue again. Big feelings don’t stay big forever.
- Lean into your support network. If you tend to get agitated easily, try to spend more time with people that care about you. They will build you up and put you in a better emotional space where you can handle life’s frustrations and disappointments. We often get angry because we’ve failed to receive or achieve something. Knowing you have the support of your closest friends and family can act as a buffer against any negative self-talk you might be tempted to engage in when life setbacks happen. Lean into the people who will continue to support you after you fail and go a bit over the edge with angry behaviors. They should also be challenging you to grow, but in a way that shows they love you and want good things for you.
- Finish unfinished business. If you have unfinished business with people, meaning that you have old wounds that have not healed, unforgiven hurts, unresolved anger, bitterness, or resentment, it’s time to let it go. I don’t mean that there should not be consequences for past actions, or that you have to like the bad things that have happened to you in life, or even like the people that have hurt you. What I mean is that you need to FORGIVE the people who have hurt you. (For a post all about forgiveness, click here). This means that you need to let go of emotional hurts from old wounds. Feelings serve a purpose in that they are informative, and can be motivating for us. But they can also get in the way if we hold on to them too long. Finish your unfinished business. Even if the person who hurt you has died, moved away, or simply refuses to respond to your efforts to connect. It takes two people to have an ongoing relationship. It only takes one person to forgive. Don’t let pride get in your way. You don’t need revenge (even though you might want it). You need forgiveness. Probably for yourself for some things, but definitely for the other person. This can happen in stages or percentages, but it does need to happen. Refuse to let other people have control over your feelings. Don’t let your life continue to be about them. Live your own story!
All told, managing anger can be relatively simple if we practice and utilize basic coping skills, keep anger in perspective, cultivate relationships with dependable social support sources, and move beyond past hurts by moving toward forgiveness. This process can be daunting at first, but if we make these actions ongoing habits, they get much easier over time. If you want or need help with this process, ask for it! Freedom from anger is often easier to achieve with someone walking the journey alongside you. Remember, big feelings don’t stay big forever. You just have to do your part to manage them.
Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.