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Anger Directment Management
by Michele Christopher
[author's note: sometimes a day is kind of long and you need to grab something from the recycle bin to fill your column up. It happens. Tonight's column was written July 29, 2002. I think most of you will be able to pick up a slight difference in attitude and personality from then til now.]
I've been doing a little research on anger management. All this counting to ten and deep breaths seems good on the surface, but I don't buy it. If you repress whatever anger you are feeling at the moment, it will only come out a different - most likely inappropriate - time.
I think the better device to use is something I call Anger Directment. It's about making sure that the rage and frustration you are feeling is directed toward the part(ies) that have caused the feelings in the first place.
Sometimes, you curse and scream at the person driving next to you because you are in a mood. And sometimes, it's just because that person is an asshole. Former bad. Latter good. Misplaced anger can only lead to things like estrangement, family feuds or an appearance on COPS.
I know that this is not the way you have been taught to deal with anger. Violence begets violence and all that touchy feely crap.
Well, this isn't touchy feely time here. This is reality. This is the place where someone tells you the raw truth - that saying "I feel hurt when you call me a stupid bitch" is gonna get you nowhere except crying into your pillow later on that night. Think of how much better a well placed kick would work in that case.
See, if someone pisses me off enough to the point that I feel violent toward them, why should I repress my anger? Why should I push it deep down where it will only simmer and fester and then boil over long after the event that put the anger there in the first place has passed?
Let's invent a scenario.
You are at work. A co-worker stops by your office to chit-chat. You really don't like this person and have no desire to talk with them. Your dislike for them is valid; this person is a self-absorbed creep who looks down your shirt when you talk and is crude, demeaning, sexist and racist.
You are trapped at your desk as he stands in the doorway. In the space of two minutes he has managed to offend you three times and question your integrity, your work ethic, your sexual needs and your lineage.
Now, someone give me a good reason why I should count to ten and take a deep breath in this scenario. Why should I let this person run rampant over my feelings and let it go as if he did nothing wrong?
I know all you armchair therapists out there are thinking something like "Well, Michele, perhaps you should just look him in the eye and say "I feel angry when you speak to me like that." That whole "speak from the I" bullshit. You know why that won't work? Because people like this hypothetical jackass would just laugh. And then he would walk away and I would spend the whole day bitching to myself about what I could have said and what I should have said. By the time I leave work, I will be in a raging frenzy and I will take it out on the poor, unsuspecting souls who are on the road with me, which will only fuel my anger, and by the time I get home I'll be ready to kick the neighbor's dog just to hear it yelp.
The scenario plays out much better if I call the guy a few choice names, tell him exactly what I think of him, and then throw a cup of steaming hot coffee at his crotch. My anger is relieved, my rage has dissipated and I made my point without being wishy-washy about it. And everyone around me is spared my misdirected wrath. Works out for everyone!
My idea is genius. Instead of trying to manage your anger - which is only therapist talk for supressing your feelings - you direct it at the right people. I mean, come on, a person who throws a beer bottle out the car window or says bad things about your family or assumes you want to crawl under his desk and service him just because you are female and he is male, well that person needs to be told in no uncertain terms how you feel about his behavior. That is called positive directive anger. Whether you kick him in the balls, or chase him down the hall with a flamethrower or hurl a string of curses at him that he has never heard before, it's all good. You are the better for it. When you are done you can sit back, relax, have a cigarette and praise yourself for releasing your rage at the right person.
If you hold it in and mutter some psychobabble to him about how your feelings are hurt and then you do your good breathing exercises, you may find yourself stabbing a little old lady in the supermarket later on when she mistakenly puts her lettuce in your cart. That is negative directive anger. Bad.
Next time the person in front of you on the six items or less express line has 12 items on the conveyer, open up her laundry detergent when she is not looking. Then offer to help her bag her groceries, making sure that the laundry detergent is packed in the same bag as her grapes. You will feel better for it, trust me. As a matter of fact, you will chuckle to yourself all the way home and your good mood will last you well into the night. And you won't have to later on deal with the hundreds of phone calls from relatives asking if that was you they saw being hauled away in handcuffs on the local news last night.
Just follow the basic rule: If a person angers you to the point that you feel the familiar stirrings of animalistic rage building up inside you, count to ten. If, by the time you get to ten there is still team coming out of your ears, punch that person in the face. Hard. Anger released, situation settled.
Who needs $150 an hour therapy when you have me? Thank me later.
Tell your dog to thank me, too.