Losing your cool at the slightest provocation? Protect your chill vibe and your physical health with these strategies for constructively dealing with anger, courtesy of psychologist Harriet Lerner, bestselling author of The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships (2005).
1. Speak up when an issue is important to you. While you don’t need to address every irritation or injustice that comes along, if the cost of staying silent is becoming bitter or resentful, it’s best to make your feelings known.
2. Strike when the iron is cold. Avoid speaking up in the heat of the moment when you’re feeling angry and intense. If you feel your temperature rising in the middle of a conversation, try saying, ‘I need a little time to sort out my thoughts. Let’s set up another time to talk about this’.
3. Take time out to think about the problem and clarify your position. Think clearly about what you want to say, how to say it, and when. Angry confrontations only invite the other person to become defensive and see you as the problem.
4. Don’t use below-the-belt tactics. These include blaming, interpreting, diagnosing, labeling, analysing, preaching, moralising, ordering, warning, interrogating, ridiculing, and lecturing.
5. Use ‘I’ language. Say, ‘I think’, ‘I feel’, ‘I fear’, ‘I want’. A true ‘I’ statement says something about you without criticising or blaming the other person, and without holding them responsible for your feelings or reactions.
6. Keep it short and kind. It’s powerful to say, ‘I left our conversation feeling like a smaller person who disappointed you’, and leave it at that. This takes more courage than lecturing or criticising the person for being insensitive or disrespectful.
7. Appreciate that people are different. If you’re fighting about who’s right or wrong, you may be missing the point. Different perspectives and ways of reacting do not necessarily mean that one person is right and the other is wrong. Don’t tell another person what they think or feel, or what they should think or feel.
8. Recognise that each person is responsible for their own actions. Be angry at the right person. Don’t blame your mother-in-law because she’s overbearing and oversteps boundaries, for example. Setting — and maintaining — clear boundaries is your and your partner’s responsibility.
9. Stop trying to convince others that you’re right. If the other person isn’t hearing you, simply say, ‘Well, it may sound crazy to you, but this is how I feel’ or ‘I understand that you disagree, but I guess we see the problem differently’.
10. Never use text or email to express your anger or to process an emotional issue. Confrontational texts or emails will only send a conversation downhill swiftly.
11. Don’t expect change to come about from hit-and-run confrontations. Change occurs slowly in close relationships. If you make even a small change, you will be tested many times to see if you really mean it.