You Make Me Mad!: How to handle those angry feelings

You Make Me Mad!: How to handle those angry feelings

Anger is powerful stuff. Left untreated, it can eat holes in our relationships, smouldering in a corner until it sparks a fire. And living amongst the burnt-out remains of a family or a friendship is no fun …

How to handle those angry feelings

Late one morning in a house near yours, a young mum, ANN, flies off the handle. She’s never had a two-year-old before, and nobody has warned her that a lively kid in wet nappies can make a grown-up so miserable!

For the third time today her kitchen has been destroyed: cupboards emptied, drawers pulled out, milk spilt, raisins everywhere. And now her wee darling is eating the cat’s jellymeat!

“No-no-NO! You revolting little BRAT!” she screams. “WHY do you do this?” She flings herself into a chair, sobbing in rage. “I can’t TAKE it anymore! I KNEW I wasn’t meant to be a mother,” she cries.

Early one afternoon, in a house down the road, KIRI throws a wobbly. She’s just opened the door on her daughter’s bedroom, and it’s a shambles: bed unmade, clothes heaped everywhere, dirty coffee mugs, a half-eaten Big Mac on the bedside table and cold chips squashed on the floor. 

Kiri clenches her fists, anger boiling up. How COULD she! Why can’t her teenager co-operate? 

“RACHEL! Come here!” she shrieks. And from the TV room comes a muffled, “What?” “Come HERE!” she shrieks again. Her daughter wanders out.

“Look at this FILTHY room!” Kiri shouts, tears in her eyes. “I’ve had a gutsful of you! I’ve asked and asked and ASKED you to clean up, but you won’t! You just sit on your lazy bum texting your stupid friends all day!”

Early one evening, in a house across town, STEVE and LYN have a heated exchange. Steve’s arrived home late again, and Lyn greets him with a glare. 

“Do you know what time it is?” she spits.

“Yeah, I know. The motorway was jammed … traffic backed-up for miles.”

“Sure, it’s always the same! Excuses, excuses! You KNEW we were going out,” she snaps. “Why can’t you EVER do what you say? You are TOTALLY THOUGHTLESS!”

By now, Steve’s boiling, too. He snaps back: “Hey, don’t blame me! I didn’t make that old truck break down …” But she turns her back on him.

He storms into the bathroom and grabs his shaver. But the tape inside his head continues the argument: “… a lousy day at work, a hold-up on the way home, and now THIS! I wish I’d gone out with the BOYS – then I could’ve been REALLY late!”

Angry words. Angry thoughts. Angry people. It’s common enough. Most of us are capable of losing it. Oh sure, in public we pretend things couldn’t be better. But in private, behind closed doors, that ideal picture can easily be spoiled: 

“You make me MAD!”

“You drive me NUTS!”

“You get RIGHT up my nose!” 

“When will you …?”

“Why don’t you …?”

“How many MORE times …?”

“You ALWAYS …!”

“You NEVER …!”

Angry words. Angry thoughts. Angry people. But so long as nothing gets smashed and no-one gets bashed, what’s the problem? Won’t it just blow over?
Well, that all depends …

Anger is powerful stuff. Left untreated, it can eat holes in our relationships, smouldering in a corner until it sparks a fire. And living amongst the burnt-out remains of a family or a friendship is no fun …

We hear a lot these days about violence on the street, violence in the home, anger that’s extreme or abusive. And we agree: that stuff’s bad! But is ALL anger wrong? Does it really hurt to ‘let fly’ every now and then?

What do YOU think? What kind of mental image do you have of anger? Before you read on, check out the nine statements about anger in the panel below – and score each of them ‘true’ or ‘false’ or ‘sometimes’. 

Then read what the experts say …

Anger is bad – we’d be better off without it. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES  

Men get angrier than women.TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES  

Angry people are violent and dangerous. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES  

People are angrier today than 50 years ago. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES  

Other people make us angry. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES 

When you’re angry you’re powerful. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES

Hiding anger is better than getting it off your chest. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES  

You can’t be angry with someone you love. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES

Anger is personal – no one else can help us with it. TRUE / FALSE / SOMETIMES

1. Anger Is Bad – We’d Be Better Off Without It: 

Well, not necessarily. Anger’s neither good nor bad – it’s neutral. It’s an emotion, a feeling that comes over us like other emotions – such as sadness or happiness – do. And becoming angry doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us, any more than becoming happy does.

As with other emotions, anger is a God-given tool for survival. It lets us know that something’s not right, that something has hurt us, frustrated us or even frightened us. Anger SPEAKS UP on our behalf. It says, “Hey, I have a right to be here, a point-of-view that should be heard. If you ignore me, brush me aside or walk over me, I’m going to stand up and fight!” 

And anger PREPARES us, physically, for battle – by making us alert, pumping adrenalin into our veins, and increasing our heart-rate.
Anger’s a normal, natural response. But it can, of course, get out of hand …

2. Men Get Angrier Than Women:

The popular idea is that men are more violent than women when they’re angry. And it’s kind of accepted in our society that a man might throw a punch when he’s mad, whereas a woman’s expected to fight with words.

Part of the problem is that men, traditionally, weren’t encouraged to express their feelings and frustrations – instead, they bottled them up until an explosion occurred.

However, none of this behaviour instinctively belongs to one sex or another. A situation that hugely stresses one person won’t be the slightest problem to another. Our emotional make-up is unique to each of us – and our anger will depend on that, not whether we’re male or female.

3. Angry People Are Violent And Dangerous:

Some of them are, of course. But most people, when they’re angry, are neither of those things. However, it’s still easy to feel threatened when somebody lets rip! And people who’ve never learnt to deal with their anger (other than lashing out) are NOT nice to be near.

Alcohol and drugs that affect our ability to think straight only make matters worse: being angry and ‘under the influence’ is a dangerous combination. And people can end up doing things they normally wouldn’t dream of doing.
4. People Are Angrier Today Than 50 Years Ago:

Could be. Life’s definitely more complex. People’s roles and values and standards are changing – and that creates confusion. In the traditional extended family, grandma and granddad, uncles and aunts all used to be on-hand to help people work through their problems. But that’s disappearing in most cultures. And we’re more competitive and clock-conscious than our grandparents were.

With the pressures greater, the frustration levels are probably up – so it’s hardly surprising there’s more anger in the air.

5. Other People Make Us Angry:

We say it often enough: “You make me MAD!” But that’s not strictly true. Anger actually starts in our BRAIN, when we get hurt or threatened. And that ‘stressor’ (as the experts call it) might be something or someone outside – or something going on inside. 

Whatever it is, our senses warn us that things aren’t right. Our on-board computer then starts dishing out orders: “Code Orange, we may have a problem here!” And our body gets us ready for action.

Once the problem’s identified, our brain may say: “Okay chaps, nothing to get excited about. Just a fly in the soup!” But someone else, of course, might regard it as a major crisis: “What sort of restaurant IS this? I’m going to kick up a STINK! Okay team, Red Alert …”

Get the picture? What may be laughed-off by one person can trigger RAGE in another! 

So, do other people make us mad? Not really. We’re each in charge of our own switches – and if we can just control our thinking, we can control what we get mad about.

Sorry, no-one gets off easily with the excuse: “I couldn’t help myself …”

6. When You’re Angry You’re Powerful:

Who’s kidding who? All the evidence suggests that when you let anger take over, you’re not in control. And if you’re not in control, you’re hardly powerful – you’re actually weak and vulnerable!
Some people, of course, measure power by the amount of damage they can do. And there’s no doubt: fists or angry words can stir up a volcano!

7. Hiding Anger Is Better Than Getting It Off Your Chest:

When you’ve got angry feelings bubbling away inside, there are three things you can do:

(i) You can REPRESS it – hide it, stuff it in your internal rubbish bag and pretend it doesn’t exist: “What, me angry?”

Which is exactly what lots of people do. They may be scared of anger (their own or somebody else’s). Or perhaps they just want peace-at-any-price. Trouble is, if anger’s ignored – if those feelings are left to ‘simmer on the stove’ – nothing really gets resolved. Until what’s causing them is identified and sorted out, very little can change.

(ii) You can EXPRESS it – get it off your chest and blast away. A verbal or physical outburst can sometimes make you feel better. But there’s a price: we often end up ‘dumping’ on the people we’re closest to. And that can start a ripple-effect that’s rather hard to stop:

Mum, who’s had a horrible day, shouts at the kid who’s struggling with his maths homework. The kid now feels angry, too (“What did I do wrong?”), and ends up hitting his sister. And Mum feels worse than ever for having screeched and yelled!

The trouble with expressing angry feelings is that someone usually cops the lot unfairly!

(iii) You can PROCESS it – admit that you’re angry, try to figure out why, then use those feelings to generate positive change. But more on this third option shortly …

8. You Can’t Be Angry With Someone You Love:

Oh yes, you CAN! The closer we get to someone else the more we’re aware of our differences. Not just differences in the way we do things – but also differences in the way we think and feel. 

These differences may seem trivial, but they’re the stuff that conflicts feed on. Which explains why we can so easily get steaming-stomping-mad with the very people we love the most!

9. Anger’s Personal – No One Else Can Help Us With It:

That’s utter nonsense! True, you don’t need some killjoy pointing the finger: “You shouldn’t FEEL like that!” Nor do you need a pat on the back: “There, there, dear, you’ll be all right …” But a friend who will truly listen, accept your right to be angry, and try to see things from your point of view – that person is a friend indeed. 

And that kind of help can be very good medicine!

To sum up: anger can be a healthy and useful force. When it signals that something’s wrong and prods us into action, it can lead to things being improved in our personal lives or wider world.
But anger also has a DARK side. Uncontrolled, or unresolved, it can wreck things. For example: 

(i) When we stay mad, it twists everything out of focus. We can no longer see his fine qualities and strengths, her kindness and desire to co-operate – all we can see is what he or she has done wrong.
That lurking, still-there anger is like a brick wall in our relationship: it’s nearly impossible to overlook.

(ii) When we stay mad, it breeds resentment. Anger is normally a one-off thing, triggered by some event or situation. And if it’s dealt with properly, it’ll fade. But resentment is more permanent. Like a snake in the grass, it waits for a chance to strike – and it can poison a good relationship.

“Don’t let the sun go down on your anger!” warns the Bible. In other words, don’t nurse it, don’t let it fester – deal with it, and deal with it quickly.

(iii) When we stay mad, it robs us of closeness. Unresolved anger wedges itself between colleagues, couples, workmates, family members. It makes friends feel like enemies, and lovers feel like strangers. 

Not every misunderstanding or disagreement can be perfectly sorted out. But if it’s important enough to get angry about, it’s important enough to deal with – and put to rest whatever caused that anger!

So let’s ask the obvious question: how can we handle these ‘getting-mad’ moments that bring out the worst in us? What can we do when we catch ourselves being cranky and peed-off – when, instead of processing our anger, we’d rather shove it down someone’s throat?

Well, the following three steps are worth remembering – and worth practicing, one step at a time:

Step 1 – Stop & Think: After the first flush of annoyance, before you open your mouth … try counting to 10, and give your brain a chance to get in gear.

Step 2 – Admit That You’re Angry: Instead of calling it something else, have a chat with yourself – and state clearly what the problem is:
“I feel so …” (angry, annoyed, hurt, mad)
“when …” (spell out what it is you’re angry about.)
“but I realise that …” (this forces you to think about what’s behind the problem – before you erupt!)
“so I would like …” (what do you want fixed up? how do you want things to change?)

Step 3 – Tell Those Responsible: Don’t yell. Don’t even raise your voice. Just try making those four statements to them: “I feel so … when … but I realise that … so I would like …”
Is this harder than it sounds? Yes, of course it is – but it’s far better than doing NOTHING!

Remember ANN, the angry lady we met a few pages back? She found these steps a real breakthrough. “The first time I tried it, I felt like a real nutter. There I was making this little speech to my two-year-old! I can remember it very clearly. He’d been doing his ‘rock-drummer’ act with a wooden spoon on the pot lids, and I was almost at screaming point!

“And then I said it! Something like: ‘I feel really bad inside when you make that noise … it makes Mummy’s head throb … but I realise that you’re having fun … so I’d like you to try the plastic bowls instead.’

“It got me thinking about it from his point of view. And looking for solutions instead of getting more churned up!”

How about KIRI – the angry mother of an untidy teenager? How might this work for her? Well, let’s try it …

She walks into Rachel’s bedroom and – shock! horror! – it’s looks and smells like a TIP! Kiri counts to 10, but her fists are still clenched. So she says the words to herself: “I feel disappointed and hurt when Rachel ignores me. It’s like she doesn’t care if our home is a pigsty.” 

Now she tries to put herself in her daughter’s shoes: “But I realise she’s just finished exams – and catching up with friends on Facebook is more relaxing for her right now than a tidy room.” 

Finally, she looks for a solution: “I would like her to tidy her room in the morning, before she does anything else.”

Now, she needs to share all that with Rachel …

Storming into the family-room and grabbing Rachel’s phone is one way to get her daughter’s attention. But a better way might be to simply say, “Rachel, I need to talk to you – as soon as possible please.”

 Which might mean in an hour’s time, but that’s okay – the bedroom can’t get much worse.

When Rachel does put down her phone – “Yes, Mum?” – Kiri’s into Step Three. And to ensure that the two of them make progress, they should:

(i) choose their time and place: Not in front of Rachel’s friends. Not at ‘peak traffic hours’ (when dinner’s nearly ready or someone’s about to head out the door). And not in the middle of a blazing row: “I’m too upset to talk about it now – let me cool down first, okay?”

(ii) choose to talk and listen. Shouting achieves nothing. Interrupting makes things worse. Moody silences just clog up the system. And words like “you always …” or “you never …” only drag up yesterday’s leftovers.

(iii) be willing to forgive. Forgiveness is like putting down your gloves when it’s your turn for a punch, and saying, “No, let’s call this fight off …” 

And how about STEVE and LYN? Remember – the guy who got home late and messed up their dinner arrangements? 

He can’t control her anger, her dirty looks, and accusing tone – but he CAN control his response: “Lyn, I’m truly sorry I was late. It was out of my hands. And it really annoys me when you imply that I did it on purpose. I realise you’re embarrassed about not being on-time for dinner. How about I call them and apologise, and tell them we’ll be there in 30 minutes?”

Lyn’s response may still be the same (walking off and giving him the silent treatment) – but Steve has left his thinking-brain in charge instead of letting his anger build up steam. The thing hasn’t escalated, he feels a lot better about that – and their evening may yet be salvaged!

Angry words. Angry thoughts. Angry people. As we said at the outset, it’s common enough. Most of us are capable of seeing red. 

Human relationships are a colourful mixture of good and bad, great and not-so-great, pleasure and pain, awesome and awful. But there IS a time to be angry … and that powerful emotion can be an ally, not an enemy.

Like someone once said: the difference between smooth sailing and shipwreck lies in what two people choose to do about the rough weather. 

So when anger next builds up in your gut … when a storm next blows a gale through your heart … the choice is yours!

Keepers of the Vine