What can you do when you’re just so angry at friends or family?
And how would those anger management techniques differ from dealing with a stranger – such as a store clerk, taxi driver or other service person?
An anger expert, professor of psychology at Hofstra University, and director of the University’s Institute for the Study and Treatment of Anger and Aggression has some advice for you.
by Howard Kassinove, PhD, ABPP
Four self-help strategies
Anger felt when dealing with family members or friends is different [compared to dealing with strangers] because of the ongoing interactions.
To address this kind of anger, the self-help strategies that are quickest and easiest to use are avoidance and escape, relaxation, cognitive restructuring and assertive expression.
1) Avoidance and escape
Directly facing all problems may not be the best solution. Sometimes, avoiding an interaction that is likely to lead to anger is best. For example, allow a spouse to deal with an unfair store clerk or a disruptive child. Learn that you can occasionally lean on others to work out problems.
Relaxation is a great tool to deal with anger, since angry folks tense their muscles and develop headaches and stomach aches.
Find a comfortable chair that will support the arms and legs, and a quiet time. Take deep breaths and focus on allowing the muscles to voluntarily relax. Become aware that muscular relaxation is learned through practice. Soft music often helps.
3) Cognitive restructuring
Cognitive restructuring refers to learning how to appropriately analyze aversive situations. Anger experiences are often associated with cognitive distortions, such as misappraisals about the importance of the event or about the capacity to cope.
Anger is a moral emotion and typically associated with justice-oriented demands in the form of “should.” In addition, angry adults make overgeneralizations about the meaning of behaviors shown by others and they limit their options with “either/or” thinking, such as “Either he’s my friend or he’s not. It’s just that simple!”
Learn to see negative situations as bad, but also as opportunities to develop coping skills and learn new behaviors. Recognize that others do good and bad things. Get rid of those broad generalizations about people.
4) Assertive expression
To be assertive means expressing anger directly, in an appropriate tone and without demeaning the other person. If you have been offended or disrespected, it is okay to say, “When you said my work was subpar in front of the others, I felt angry. I’d like to talk to you about the situation so that we can improve our relationship.”
It is quite another thing to say, “You acted like a real jerk today. How dare you talk like that in front of the others! You have plenty wrong with you also!”
Anger felt when dealing with strangers emerges from transient interactions. You may never see the clerk or driver or waiter again. If you ask yourself how important the annoying situation really is, you usually come up with, “not very important at all.” At most, you have suffered from paying a bit too much for the taxi ride or being delayed a few minutes by the clerk.
Recognize that these are unpleasant events, not catastrophes, and work around them. Go to a different restaurant or go to the store at off hours to return a purchase.
Also, recognize the difference between events that you can change and those that are beyond you. When you take a cab ride, tell the driver about your preferred route. When you order that steak in the restaurant, ask for extra ketchup before the waiter leaves the table never to be seen again.
You have less control over other events. Airplanes, for various reasons, are frequently late. There is little you can do. Accept the delay as an opportunity to read or relax — not disastrous or worthy of anger.