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Trading in Anger for Assertive Behavior by Lauren Christiansen

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Every single one of us knows what it’s like to lose our temper. Maybe it’s because we didn’t sleep enough last night, and our child is screaming in the backseat of the car. Maybe we’ve been resenting our boss, and we find ourselves taking our frustration out on our family. Or maybe we see ourselves as kind, gentle people, but we secretly have resentments and suppressed rage. Regardless of how or when we’ve lost our temper, we’ve all know what it’s like to feel irritated, frustrated, resentful, and hateful.

How can we handle everyday circumstances that cause us to become upset? If we tend to always respond aggressively, what is causing us to overreact? How can we avoid coming off as sullen, passive-aggressive, and vengeful? Here’s what to know about anger as a coping mechanism, and how we can learn to trade in anger for assertiveness.

Understanding Anger

Anger can either be directed inward or outward. Outward expressions of anger include yelling, verbal abuse, or in a child’s case, throwing tantrums. Outward anger can also manifest into violence, such as punching a wall or starting a fight. Inward expressions of anger are defined as feelings of self-loathing and self-disgust, often because of something we did in the past, but more often over something that was done to us (molestation, a victim of abuse, etc.) Excessive inward and outward anger can cause an enormous toll on our health, well-being, relationships, and ability to cope with everyday life.

It’s important to remember that the root cause of anger is fear and anxiety. It’s the fear of losing control of a situation, or of being exposed in a negative light. Defensive behavior is typically a sign of low-self-esteem as it’s an inability to see ourselves as anything less than perfect. As humans, we all have a fear of self-hate or admitting that we sometimes fall short. Many people who feel as though they cannot control aspects of their own life or their own emotions utilize anger to gain power over others. Fearful people use anger to control others so they less powerless, and all of it is done subconsciously.

Consequences of Excessive Anger

Here are just a few of the negative consequences of excessive anger:

· Physical Health – High blood pressure, weakened immune system, loss of appetite or increased appetite, and sleeping problems

· Mental Health – Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, guilt, low self-image.

· Relationships – Tension between spouses or in relationships. Frequent outbursts can cause others to be afraid or resentful, further isolating the angry individual. Children with angry parents will have difficulty trusting others because they are never sure when an outburst will occur.

Assertive Behavior

When there is a triggering event/circumstance that would typically cause us to become angry (i.e. spouse makes a cruel joke that hurts our feelings), we can choose to respond in one of two ways. We can become angry (yell at a spouse, give them the silent treatment, make passive-aggressive remarks), or we can respond assertively. Assertiveness is defined as “a skill utilized to stand up for your own or other people’s rights calmly and positively, without being either aggressive or passively accepting ‘wrong’.”

Let’s go back to the “spouse that makes a hurtful joke” analogy. The joke is the trigger. Feeling upset by a poorly worded joke is completely justified. The way we react to the joke, however, is what’s important. For example, we could say, “I understand you are trying to be funny, and perhaps you don’t realize that those types of jokes hurt my feelings. Could you please not make those types of jokes in the future?” Staying calm, speaking in a low voice, and making good eye contact are all part of reacting assertively.

Assertive behavior is based on mutual respect. When we use assertive skills, we teach others subconsciously how we want to be treated. We teach people how to respect us without them even knowing it. As a result, they will learn not to cross certain boundaries in the future. In contrast, yelling and screaming demonstrates that we don’t respect the other person. Yelling at someone only puts them in a defensive position. They won’t listen to what you have to say; they’ll only be thinking about what they can say (or yell) back to make you feel the way you made them feel. Responding in an angry way never gets us the outcome we want.

Tips & Tricks

Here are some more tips on reacting assertively:

1. Take a 10 Second Time-Out

Before you even react, take a few seconds to think. What do you want to get out of this exchange? What type of end result would work for your benefit? Is yelling going to get you what you want? Taking that 10 second time out can help you make sure that you don’t react before you think.

2. Don’t be a Pushover

If you are the type of person who struggles to say “no” to others, you’re probably dealing with a lot of internal anger. Always letting people cross your boundaries and being too afraid to stick up for yourself will only lead to more people manipulating you and taking advantage of you. All of that only causes more internalized anger which will eventually come out in one way or another.

Set boundaries, learn healthy self-esteem, recognize that you are worthy of having an opinion and a voice. If people are taking advantage of you it’s because you are letting them. Start today by practicing assertive behavior. You’ll feel your resentments and anger dissipate over time.

3. Learn Vulnerability

It’s ok to tell others that you need help, or that you don’t appreciate the way you are being treated. Constantly trying to project an image of perfection will cause a lot of internalized anger. Opening up to a trusted friend and telling them your fears and resentments can help you process these complex emotions and avoid angry outbursts.

4. Control Thoughts

Undergoing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be enormously helpful. CBT can help you change your negative and resentful thoughts to more positive and realistic ones. For example, here’s an unrealistic thought that may cause internalized anger: “I hate the way my kid makes the bed, it always looks awful. Now I have to redo it and I’m already stressed out and late for work.” Recognizing how extreme and unrealistic this thought is can help you put your anger into perspective.

First of all, who says the bed has to be made perfectly? Nobody except yourself. Who says there’s a right way to make the bed? Nobody except yourself. Put up a stop sign inside your head as soon as thoughts like this come in. Change the thought to a more realistic one. For example, “My kid made the bed kind of messy today. But that’s ok, it’s not a big deal. I have to go to work so I don’t have time to get upset about this.” The latter is a much more realistic way of thinking that will help rid yourself of negative emotions that lead to anger. Stop expecting so much of yourself and others. It will only cause you grief.

Final Thoughts

Letting go of anger and resentments can be a difficult process. Some of us hold on to old anger; resentments from our childhood that have caused us an enormous amount of pain over the years. Work with a therapist to learn how to let go of guilt, resentment, and old anger. Forgiving others and yourself is the best path forward in learning how to live a peaceful life.. Standing up for yourself in a calm, effective way can be difficult at first. Over time, you will learn that it’s the best way to avoid internalized self-hatred and outward expressions of rage.

Do you struggle with angry outbursts? Do you have trouble standing up for yourself? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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