Taming Your Temper
Ted Crawford, Clinical Therapist
Anger is useful in situations where we need more energy to protect and assert ourselves. However, the intensity of anger often leads to regretful behavior. “Control emotion or it will control you.” This statement makes sense, but we can only control the emotions that we’re aware of. Most see anger outbursts as something from “out of the blue”, but the fact is that there’s a process in which feelings build up to that point first. The earlier we notice it, the easier it is to prevent the SNAP!” Tailor the following plan to your needs.
1) Identify your “hot buttons.” What areas of life does anger tend to overwhelm you (marriage, kids, work)? List the situations and behaviors of others that most commonly trigger you (“when my in-laws visit”, “when my spouse ignores me”, etc). Keep these in mind so you can be prepared to notice rising anger.
2) Pay attention to your body. There are specific physical sensations (tension or pressure in head, neck shoulders, jaw, knot in stomach, irregular breathing, etc) and automatic behaviors (clinching teeth or fists, hand gestures, tightened lips, etc) that are connected to every intense emotion. Pay attention to them so you’ll know when to do steps 3 and 4.
3) Breathe! Deep and slow (abdomen rising and falling – chest and shoulders still). Your midbrain, which controls your adrenaline ”fight-or-flight” response, is heavily influenced by this. Shallow breathing (or not breathing at all) during stress is common, but that just continues alarming the body to stay “jacked-up” for physical action. This is great if a warthog is charging you, but not so helpful in your relationships, such as when you’re trying to assert yourself respectfully with loved ones or authority figures. Regulated breathing signals the brain to “end the fire drill” Concentrate on the inhale/exhale, or count your breaths by spelling out the numbers (“o-n-e… t-w-o, etc”). Remember, “slower breathing = slower body”.
4) Use self-talk to change your perspective. Our emotions don’t come from situations, but from how we interpret them. Say your kid always insists that you “justify” your parenting decisions. Your interpretation: “He’s being disrespectful!” Maybe so, but if that’s all you make of it, you’ll soon need your blood pressure meds increased. Suggestion: focus on what else is true, like: “This is normal for teens. He may need to change his tone, but it’s OK that he wants to know the rationale behind the rules…after all, I do want him to think critically and independently”, etc… you get the picture. Some simpler, more general suggestions are: “What’s gonna happen next if I do/say (so-and-so)?”, “I will not allow his behavior to dictate my behavior.”, “In ___ minutes/hours/days, this won’t really matter.”, “Just b/c her mouth can form the words, doesn’t mean any of it is true”, etc. To be most effective, however, you must discover what self-talk works for you and your particular triggers. This stuff works, but don’t wait until a button is pushed before you begin practicing them. Like any previous negative thinking and behavior that has become automatic, the brain needs repetition to make these new behaviors and attitudes automatic also.
Ted Crawford is a Clinical Therapist for FGH’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides counseling for hospital employees and their families. He is licensed in Marriage and Family Therapy and works with clients on a wide range of issues including depression, anger, anxiety and trauma. Ted also facilitates the local Domestic Violence Intervention Program for men with anger and control issues.
Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services is an extension of Forrest General Hospital, located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs focus on treating gender specific chemical addiction including a specialized track for co-occurring eating disorders. Additionally, Pine Grove offers a focused substance abuse healing program for adults age 55 and over. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual and intimacy disorder issues. Pine Grove was established in 1984 and has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for over 30 years.
Visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com or call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673) for more information.