Saturday, July 18, 2015

anger management

a friend recently asked me: "do you ever get angry?"

the question kinda took me by surprise. i am human, after all, and i think all normal humans experience the whole gamut of emotions to varying degrees. but still, we chatted for a while and dissected my behaviour (more like she asked all the questions while i dissected my behaviour). i guess there's something uncommon about my anger. and it might be that thing that gives some people the impression that i don't get angry.

first of all, i'd like to differentiate between irritability and anger.

i'm irritable when i'm hungry, tired, sleepy, in pain.

the problem with being irritable is that it amplifies other "negative" emotions. it also reduces my mental capacity to process what's happening to myself. when i'm severely irritable, i may even switch off the introspection that reminds me that i'm irritable. and in extreme cases, i just "let fly" - say stuff that i will regret.

but that's irritability. i'd say irritability is more of a physical condition than a mental one. i never notice my sleep deprivation or hunger when say i'm doing an 12 hour epic bike trip with just 2 hours of sleep, because though i may be irritable, my overall mental condition is extremely positive.

so that brings me to anger.

to me, there are two types of anger: the quick, short term anger, and the longer term, burning anger.

short term anger is what i feel when i'm put in a bad situation for no fault of mine, lose or break something, stuff like that. there's usually nothing that can be done about it, and there's usually no point reacting to it either.

the longer term anger is what i feel when i see something going terribly wrong, or about to go terribly wrong, and when the actions to prevent or reduce it are not immediately obvious.

it's easy to recognize anger. i'm sure everyone recognizes anger. sometimes before we react, sometimes while reacting, sometimes after. but it's best to identify anger before we react rather than after - hence the popular expression to "count to 10". counting to 10 isn't the best thing to do though (but it's definitely important with regards to anger management, if you aren't gonna try anything more complicated)

when i feel angry and am about to react, i first go through my irritability checklist. i try to gauge how irritable i am, as that gives me an idea of how much i might be blowing something out of proportion.

the next thing is to classify the anger. short term or long term?

short term anger usually doesn't need a reaction. if it's something i did, maybe when i'm calmer i'll do a bit of introspection and figure if it's a pattern that needs addressing, etc. if it's something someone else did or a situation i found myself in, i'll think about whether i should be avoiding that person or situation, or deal with it differently. it's important to do this, because hiding the reaction without looking for a solution doesn't help. sometimes the solution is as simple as "this is how that person is, and there's no getting away, so i'm gonna have to learn to live with it". but it's important to decide that when introspecting, so that when i'm angry the next time, i don't need to rethink it. it becomes "one of those things" that i ignore unless i'm very irritable.

long term anger is the tricky one. first step when recognizing long term anger is to double check the irritability list. is there something i missed? if not, we have a genuine problem. in such a situation, i'll usually make it clear that there is a problem, and then try to dissect it into things that can be addressed and things that can't. sometimes it's just stuff that needs to be discussed. long term anger is usually interpersonal, and having a discussion with the person is definitely the first step. it could be misunderstanding, misinterpretation, miscommunication, etc. i usually don't ask if the person is irritable as that somehow doesn't seem to go down well unless it's someone i'm very close to (yeah, don't we all fight with our significant others?). if it's none of those, then we both sit and dissect it, usually in relaxed circumstances. there are some people who associate the unpleasantness of the original situation with the discussion, and that makes discussing it particularly difficult and sensitive, but it can still be done.

the thing about long term anger is that it's recurring, so even if each discussion doesn't yield to a solution, there are plenty of opportunities to refine it. the important thing is to try.

all this sounds very wishy-washy and idealistic. what about severe or extreme irritability? that's where most of the trouble (for me) comes from. but the good thing is that once you get into the habit of thinking about your reactions, the ones where you didn't think stand out like a sore thumb. and then, of course, you have to take corrective actions.

the first step is to apologize. but also explain why you reacted like you did. tell the person your reaction was out of proportion. tell them that it wasn't important and you shouldn't have reacted like you did. try to make it up to them.

and then think about the cause for irritability. was it avoidable? was it the result of some other experiment (yeah, i'm constantly experimenting with my diet, sleep patterns and other lifestyle stuff, and irritability is a good measure of how well the experiment is working or not). was it something that the person you snapped at had a hand in? if that is so, you need to let them know, and try and figure it out.

the goal for a happy life is to first be non-irritable, so that you're free to focus on positive stuff without having to be cautious about the negative stuff. and anger management eventually becomes a part of your life. it's a system that works for me, and hopefully it'll work for you as well.

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