(This blog entry is excerpted from Julie Christiansen’s book, Anger Solutions: Proven Strategies for Effectively Resolving Anger. To purchase your copy, please visit: store.angersolution.com).
There are many common misconceptions about anger: what it is, what it isn’t; how it works, why it works; what it’s for, and how to express it. Anger is one of those great emotional paradoxes.
We as human beings experience anger on a regular basis, but unlike happiness, sadness and fear, we struggle with its expression. When we’re happy we laugh. When we’re sad we cry. When we’re afraid, we tremble, run, fight, or hide. But when we’re angry, we somehow get stuck. Somehow, throughout the course of time, we have come to believe that anger is too volatile, too dangerous, too violent an emotion.
I suppose if you look at the history of mankind, from Cain to Judas to Jack the Ripper to Hitler, the examples we have for coping with anger haven’t left us much we can, in good conscience, use. However there are two sides to every story, and two ways to learn from history. When I think of Joseph, Jesus, Churchill, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King, I see another side of anger. I see that anger is different things to different people. What sets one group apart from the other is a little thing called belief.
Belief is at the root of everything we do. To borrow from the title of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s books, “you’ll see it when you believe it.” This is not some hokey, “psychobabblish” notion that is all about “mind over matter”. It is a simple truth; one that has existed since the dawn of time yet has been widely ignored or discounted by the populous at large.
When we get up in the morning, swing our legs over the side of our beds, and plant our feet firmly on the floor, we are doing so based on a belief (that the floor is still where it was when we went to bed the night before). If we truly believed that while we were sleeping the floor had dissolved and turned into Jello, would we be so quick to jump out of bed? I don’t think so.
If you stop to think about it, everything we do in the course of a day is based on certain beliefs we hold to be true. Many of those beliefs are so deeply ingrained that we cannot even consciously acknowledge their existence. If asked to articulate what belief allows us to drive our cars without fear every day; what belief enables us to perform the daily duties of our jobs, or to nurture positive trusting relationships with some people but not others, chances are the majority of us would not be able to articulate them.
The journey of life can and will be virtually impossible to navigate if we fail to use our built-in guidance systems. The most powerful of those is our personal belief system. Beliefs have the power to shape us, to make us, and to break us. Depending on what you choose to believe in, you may be an incredibly strong individual, with the ability to take on new challenges, to learn new things, to take risks, and to effectively deal with the consequences of your actions. Your choices regarding your beliefs may also transform you into a weak, dependent person; one who is afraid to try, afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, and afraid to take responsibility for your own behaviour. What you believe about anger is directly correlated to how you respond to situations that cause anger. If in angry situations, you find yourself withdrawing, blaming, aggressing, or retreating, perhaps the beliefs you have held to be true are limiting you and shaping you into a person you do not wish to become.
Not long ago, I was talking with a client about his particular limiting beliefs. I remember sharing with him the notion that belief is the basis of action, and watching as revelation dawned in his facial expression. He wrote it down in his notebook in large, bold letters, and repeated the phrase a few times to himself, “Belief is the basis of action.” To paraphrase his response, he said to me, “Already, my outlook on life is changing, just by hearing that one statement. I’ve been paralyzed, and afraid to act; but, if I truly believe that I have something to offer the world, if I truly believe that I am talented, if I truly believe that I am capable, taking steps toward my goals is so much easier! This has been the missing link for me. I wonder why I didn’t see it before. ”
There is nothing wrong with challenging your beliefs; that is, as long as you are doing so in a systematic and open way. Often people will challenge their foundational beliefs by espousing the exact opposite of the principles they have always lived by.
- A woman who has remained passive in an abusive relationship one day comes to the realization that she enables her abuser by being passive. She swings to the other side of the pendulum and kills her abusive spouse in his sleep.
- A mother that traditionally vents her anger by crying in the bathroom decides that this technique is no longer useful for her. She begins yelling at her children.
- Children that have striven for perfection in order to be accepted, decide to rebel. They slack off in school, listen to dark, depressing music and begin using drugs.
- A quiet, non-confrontational, community-minded storeowner shoots the robber of his store with a shotgun after being robbed five times.
You see, just because you realize that the thing you have always believed is wrong doesn’t make your next choice of belief or action right. Often what is required is not a dramatic 180-degree turn, but rather a slight shift of attitudes, beliefs, and actions.
Anger Solutions provides you with the tools you need to make those subtle shifts, and to challenge your beliefs openly and systematically. The tools contained in this little toolkit will enable you to picture anger for what it really is. They will help you to examine your belief systems and to understand both the positive and negative ramifications of holding on to those beliefs. You will gain an increased awareness of your own responses to anger, and insight into the responses of those around you. Anger Solutions will show you how to free yourself from the bondage that anger puts you in, and how to make anger work for you instead.
Christiansen, J. (2003). Anger Solutions: Proven Strategies for Effectively Resolving Anger and Taking Control of Your Emotions. St. Catharines: Leverage U Press. (Trade Paperback, 225 pages, $24.95 +GST, Shipping and Handling). Available at: store.angersolution.com.