Author Topic: Anger management  (Read 3501 times)

Offline JC

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Anger management
« on: July 18, 2010, 02:28:47 PM »
I have not seen anything on this topic on these forums, but I do think that Stocisim and 'Hormetism" have much to say about anger management.  I thought I would report on something I noticed with my own behavior.  I have always tended to be a little hot headed, and I don't like being nagged or challenged by others. Not that I lose my temper or fly into a rage often, but I just get easily bothered.

However, since applying some of the "spiritual exercises" like negative visualization or voluntary discomfort, I find that little things like snide comments, nagging, rudeness or poor traffic ettiquette, don't bother me any more.  And I even take it one step further, using hormetism to deliberately expose and test myself -- I kind of look forward to the next situation where someone is behaving in a hostile or disresectful manner, and watch myself realize that this is really of no harm to me and is actually somewhat amusing or even humorous.  Once or twice I had to actually hold myself back from chuckling to myself, as when a particularly rude store clerk went off on a minor tirade at me. In the past I would have responded in kind, but I just stood there watching it as something of a comedy routine.

Besides causing me to become more interested and observant about action and reaction to human behavior, I'm pleasantly finding how this shift has caused me to become a much less stressed, relaxed person.

I'm wondering if anyone else has had similar observations?

Offline Jbird

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2010, 08:05:56 AM »
That's really interesting, JC! I'm emotionally reactive by nature, and it's always been hard for me to keep my cool in response to similar types of things that you describe, especially with customer service reps on the phone. Sometimes I literally felt I was shortening my life because of how my heart would race, blood pressure climb, etc. And for what? Something so insignificant! I actually never realized I could be any different than the way I felt I was wired, but now I am aware I have a choice (like the Frankl quote you cited in another part of the forum). I've definitely been noticing that I'm more patient waiting in lines or in traffic, and I've noticed that by my remaining calm, I tend to get an apology from the a cashier or someone taking food orders, etc., and the whole experience is so much more pleasant. I don't know if this is just a coincidence, but I recently ended up renewing my cable/phone/Internet service for a LOWER rate than I'd paid the previous year. My goal was to minimize the inevitable rate hike, not actually pay less...but I was being really friendly and chatty with the guy who answered, and he actually gave me more than I was bargaining for...without even having to bargain at all! I also recently had a situation where a client emailed me that I had computed my invoice incorrectly and that it should have been for 25% less. I was angry and upset, and my first response was to email back reflecting how I felt, but I was able to calm down enough to write back to coolly explain my rationale for what I'd sent him but acknowledged that he might have had a valid reason to expect that invoice to be different and to suggest he reconsider because I still wanted to work with him but couldn't work for that amount. I'm so glad I took that matter-of-fact tone because he immediately wrote back apologizing for his error and was sorry if he'd upset me! I couldn't believe it, but I think the outcome could have been quite different had I emailed out of emotion rather than reason. I hadn't written in a way that could potentially damage the relationship. Also, there was nothing for me to apologize for. I was able to simply acknowledge that we were in agreement, thank him for his business, etc. Happy end of story! I've been having similar experiences with family members, neighbors, etc. It was always so easy to take the bait and fight fire with fire. As a result of my awareness of an alternative way of responding to all the little bumps on life's road, it seems like I am on good terms with just about everyone. Where that's not possible, I just ignore the situation. I will literally walk away or not respond to an email or phone call. I don't need to prove a point or have the last word. I seem more able to let things go. I don't know what techniques they use in anger management courses, but it would be interesting to know if they coincide at all with stoic teachings. I think there is overlap with different doctrines on how to handle negative emotions. Christianity's turn the other cheek, zen detachment, etc. I prefer drawing from a western, nonreligious well.

Offline JC

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2010, 05:58:07 PM »
Jbird, my experience with anger management is very similar to yours. What's interesting is that I don't think this is the standard approach of anger management courses, with tips like "count to ten" or "just walk away". In fact, the stoic approach is not any technique so much as a different mindset, and the reduced reactivity is almost like a side effect or extra benefit you get for free. I liked very much your example of taking a very different approach to resolving the billing error with the cable/internet service guy. The Stoics held that benefits and harms of our actions should not be measured in material terms, but rather in what our actions say about our characters. You treated that fellow like a human being, not like a means to an end.  He felt that right away and was driven to respond to you as a person. It was nice that it ended up financially better for you, but I think that with your good attitude you would have felt good about how you handled it no matter the financial outcome.

I think about this when I'm in traffic.  People in their cars treat each other so differently than if they were, say, walking down the sidewalk past each other. As if being behind the "shield" of the car changes everything.  The sad part is that people let anger and reactivity end up harming themselves, making them feel worse, and leading to bad choices.

We should have a better word than "anger management", which suggests that anger is this thing that needs to be kept on a leash.  I think the real idea is to liberate joy and friendliness and to make space for positive human interactions by allowing insults and negative emotion to have no effect, like water rolling off a duck's back. It's not about squashing emotions, but on deciding to give the floor to our positive emotions.  And Stoicism allows this to happen very easily once we realize that things like material advantage and the events of the day should not be given much significance in our lives.

Offline Jbird

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2010, 05:34:10 PM »
Very well put, JC! I especially like what you said about giving the floor to positive emotions rather than squashing emotions. Reading your post made me think about the distinction between emotional responsiveness and emotional reactivity. So instead of just thinking of myself as overemotional, I can be more alert to how much better I feel when I respond to people and situations with joy and friendliness rather than react with irritation and anger. I wouldn't be "me" if I weren't emotionally expressive, but I don't think I'd have an identity crisis if I became less reactive! Like you, I've been testing myself in certain situations where I would normally get really impatient and ornery. An example that comes to mind is waiting in line at the grocery store. I've been letting people that just have a few things go ahead of me if I have a lot. It's so gratifying to experience their appreciation that it feels like I'm getting more of a reward than the pay-off of getting out of the store faster. Another thing I did recently was let someone try something I bought that she had been curious about when we were standing in line. I had my groceries bagged and was about to leave and then I asked her if she wanted to try a bite of what she'd asked me about, and that, too, felt really good because she was so surprised and thanked me for being friendly. So it's like putting more of a value on something (the positive feedback of being friendly) other than the thing that seems important (getting out of the store). Another example is when traffic has been slow and I've started to worry about being late or have felt annoyed and impatient, I've been thinking about whether there is any harm in being slowed down and I'll even think about whether there's some advantage in running late. For example, I was running late to a fitness walk I go to, but I was thinking about how when I show up late, it gives me a chance to run to catch up, and I enjoy that. It's also less time being exposed to conversations that often don't interest me. I was also thinking about how the car is more fuel efficient if I'm not going so fast. I guess this boils down to looking on the bright side, or at least trying to find a bright side. I think that such a mental exercise is itself a worthy thing.

Offline Sanchiaza

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2010, 10:21:47 PM »
These are such interesting posts, thank you!

What has been helpful for me is the realisation that anger is not a primary emotion, but that it is sometimes the only acceptable face of something like hurt, fear or distress, which can be far more scary to experience or admit than being angry.

Also, coming from the perspective that "we are all one", I'm also actively trying to identify which part of me the person making me angry represents and then deconstructing the anger from there. Sometimes I don't even have to do the deconstruction, sometimes the anger just vanishes and only mildness remains!

Offline Jbird

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2010, 06:06:11 PM »
I agree and am aware that there have been times when I have made myself feel angry as a defense against more distressing emotions. I first became aware of this when I attended a family funeral. It's like I funnel all my emotion into something that feels outward directed rather than the underlying emotions that feel self-attacking.

Offline SUGARDUDE

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2010, 02:00:09 PM »
I have always had issues with keeping my anger in.  I had a couple of issues come up the last few days where I bit my tongue.  It was quite liberating emotionally.

Offline JC

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2010, 03:06:16 PM »
Interesting, Sugardude.  Its kind of the opposite of the advice to "express your emotions" to get it all out there, instead of repressing your feelings.  But you found it liberating to bite your tongue.  I do too, and I find that the more I do that and catch myself before I get started, the easier it gets.  I have a friend was always getting into the same argument over and over again.  I just stopped responding and changed the subject.  The recurring argument has just faded away.

Offline mirandamedico

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2011, 04:43:19 AM »
Anger management is really something good to undergo. We know to control our anger and we will go with the standard approach of the surroundings.

Offline aelephant

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Re: Anger management
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2011, 04:53:33 PM »
Just brainstorming here.

Anger management = thought "management"

My favorite metaphor for verbal argument / attack is of a boxing match in which your opponent must stop his glove an inch from your face. He can really wind up and it looks like he's going to hit you, but he always, inevitably stops. In order for you to be injured, you've got to take the initiative to pick up your own gloves and punch yourself in the face.

If you think about it, what does a stranger's opinion matter to you? What should it matter? If someone I've never met randomly comes up to me on the street and says "You're an idiot!" how much belief do I put into his labeling of me? I'd hope none. On what basis does he much that judgment? Why would I value his opinion? He could have Tourette Syndrome or have just taken a bet.

In order for someone else's judgment to "hurt" us, we have to internalize it. In other words, it isn't what other people say to us that matters, it is what we say to ourselves. If that stranger comes up and says "You're an idiot!" and I ask, "Who are you?" and disregard his baseless comment, I'm good. If I start thinking, "Am I really an idiot?" I'm starting down the path to self-attack.

I was thinking about this metaphor / discussion in the context of meditation. One form of meditation is to not seek to manage or stifle your thoughts, but to experience them but not follow them. In other words, my goal in meditation is not to "clear my mind of all thoughts" but to allow the thoughts that do arise to arise, but to relax my awareness so that I am not pulled down the path of any particular train of thought. So if in my self-dialogue, a thought arises that says, "Maybe I am really an idiot" I acknowledge "Ah, a thought that says I might be an idiot" and leave it at that. I don't "believe" the thought or investigate the thought, I just see it for what it is and let it be.

My thinking is that once we habituate ourselves to seeing thoughts for what they are as they arise in our own minds, permitting them but not "believing" them, this process will become that much easier to step into when dealing with the thoughts of others. The only thing that changes is that your mind is not the source of the thoughts, someone else's mind is.