“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”
“Get to bed!” shouted my daughter.
Years ago, our daughter and granddaughter lived with us for a short time. I recall one evening – for what must have been the fourth time – our three-year-old granddaughter, Alexis, climbed out of her new “big girl” bed, claiming that she needed to visit the bathroom. When each resulting visit produced no results, my daughter recognized it was merely a ploy.
“What’s wrong with her?” asked my daughter, now exasperated.
“She’s testing you,” I replied. “At that age, you had testing down to an art form.”
Just then Alexis darted past my office doorway on her way back to the bathroom.
“That’s it,” my daughter exclaimed. She grabbed Alexis and marched her briskly back to the room. This time Alexis stayed in her room, and my daughter reappeared shortly, fuming.
“I think Alexis learned a valuable lesson tonight,” she declared.
“And what might that be?” I asked.
“When mommies are mad, giggling only makes matters worse.”
This humorous slice of life illustrates the danger of underestimating the level of someone’s anger. Anger is seldom a laughing matter. As Eleanor Roosevelt is purported to have said, “Anger is just one letter short of danger.” Unchecked, anger can escalate out of control quickly.
We all know people with a hair-trigger temper. Perhaps you’re one of them. Anger and its consequence have received lots of attention among psychological researchers recently.
In addition to its negative impact on personal and professional relationships and self-esteem in general, anger has been identified as a key factor in the development of many health issues including cancer and heart disease.
A study conducted by a team of researchers at Duke University, under the direction of Dr Bedford Williams, found that individuals “prone to anger” were in “greater physical danger” than their counterparts who smoked, had high blood pressure and even high cholesterol.
Now understand, I’m not suggesting that we should never get angry. Anger is an emotion and in and of itself, neither good nor bad. As with any emotion, the problem arises when we over-indulge it and persist in using anger to resolve any issue that might confront us.
Some claim it was Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, who penned, “Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle or not, the insight is valid and the advice, sound.
When expressed appropriately, anger can be a powerful tool. Throughout history, many of our greatest shifts occurred when a significant number of people became angry with the current state of affairs. Enough so that they took matters into hand and did something about it.
When you feel as if your anger is about to seize control, here are four simple steps that can help move you out of the danger zone.
1. Say, “That’s enough!” Just as every story has a beginning, so must it have an ending. Decide now to stop the damage your anger is causing to your self-esteem, your health and life and the emotional well-being of those around you.
2. Learn to take control. Left unchecked, anger can quickly overwhelm you.
3. Let off the pressure. Don’t let anger build. Find a positive way to release it. Go for a walk or run. Punch a pillow. Get involved in sports. Find out what works best for you.
4. Do something. If a situation needs to change, then use your anger in a constructive way. Remember, doing nothing will only provoke more anger and eventually, hopelessness.
Life is not infinite. We have only so many moments to share here on Earth. Every minute spent in anger is a minute where joy, happiness, love and contentment cannot exist.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator.