Susan Steen new Aug 2019 - Copy 2

Susan Steen

"How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.”

-Marcus Aurelius

Driving down the road, he looked over to see a man tossing something near a dumpster, and that something hit his shiny car. He wasn't hurt, but he was angry that his car had been hit by a golf ball. He was so angry that he turned the car around and drove back to where the person tossing the ball was standing. He was so angry that his car had been hit that he plowed into the man and killed him. He was so angry, and he proves the point of Aurelius' words. Much more grievous were the consequences of his anger than the cause of it.

He was so mad.  

Her blood was boiling.

How dare he do that!

She's going to pay for that!

Do any of those words ring a bell? Haven't we all at some point been "so angry" that someone disrespected us, embarrassed us, disobeyed us, or maybe damaged our property? It's safe to say the answer is Yes. What happens after that, though, has nothing to do with the other person or their actions and everything to do with us. Anger is one of the emotions dealt with most poorly in society, and whether it is another person or us, someone will possibly die because of it unless we make some changes today.

AAA (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety) researched police records and found there are approximately 1,200 road rage incidents per year, with 96% attributed to males and 36% of those to individuals 33 years of age, on average. But road rage isn't the only place we see anger causing problems.

The General Strain Theory is more than a theory. It has proven through extensive research that fear is often what pushes the anger button, and the anger often results in violence. Examples of strain might be not getting the job you thought you deserved (which leaves you feeling fear of not reaching the heights you're sure you should), fear of losing a spouse because they were friendly to someone you saw as a threat -- strain that when not handled properly results in workplace violence and domestic violence. Another example might be someone getting ahead of you in traffic, leaving you to fear that you won't get somewhere when you believe you should have been able to. While not all strain develops into this type of anger, it can happen all too quickly, leaving much regret in the aftermath.

Here's the thing -- I have never been comfortable with anger. I haven't known what to do with it when I felt the bubbling up, frustrated feeling, and I really didn't know what to do with it when my children would exhibit anger. I hope I have apologized sufficiently to my now grown sons for not understanding that anger was a natural emotion that they needed to express. I didn't do a very good job with teaching them what to do with it, and I'm trying to make sure all of us know healthy ways to deal with those feelings now.

Daniel Tiger from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood has this advice: When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four. That's a good start, and it's as good advice for those of us over ten as under.

I was watching a friend deal with her young son's anger recently and marveled at how calm she was and at how she allowed him to express all of the rage he was feeling inside. The rule was that he couldn't be violent -- no breaking things or punching holes in walls was allowed. There was no shaming him for a natural emotion. I thought what a powerful lesson to teach that there are appropriate ways to handle our anger.

As adults, anger is still uncomfortable, and those who know how to handle what they are feeling are the best teachers for the rest of us to be able to enjoy life. Maybe this advice from Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D., at Emory University will give you a starting place:

  1. If you feel angry, recognize that it's because something didn't go the way you thought it should go. 
  2. Put a name on what you wish were different. 
  3. Stop reacting and begin generating ideas. What can YOU do to help the situation? Some things are just not in our control, and being angry isn't going to make the situation better for anyone. 

Find a physical release to let off steam when possible. Finding a way to calm yourself down through breathing exercises is a good tool to have on your belt when you are angry in a public place or at home. Take it upon yourself to come up with a plan now before the next eruption.

  • If you think anger is no big deal, please keep in mind that 400,000 people die every year because of anger or other strong emotions' effects on the body.
  • Please remember that children who view anger that results in violence in the home are much more likely to grow up to be adults who handle anger in the same way.

Recently seeing a child who had been traumatized from having an adult threaten him with a gun in anger, I knew this topic was one that still needs to be addressed in most households. Walk away from a scene if that's what it takes, but preserve lives and relationships by learning to handle anger instead of allowing it to handle you. Don't let your consequences be more costly than what caused your anger in the first place. When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four. 

Susan Steen is a Main Street Media of Tennessee columnist.

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