Simba asks: I don’t know how to stop when I get angry. I have this outburst of rage when people don’t do what I tell them to do. I sometimes become violent, and physically hurt that person. My father is always in command and rigid. He was a soldier before. My mother is also dominant and will easily get angry. She wants us to follow her instructions all the time. I think I got their temper combined! SOS!
Thanks for writing such an open letter, Simba.
Everyone gets angry sometimes – dogs, people, even insects. So there’s nothing wrong with anger, but you say it just right when you say that your problem is that you don’t know how to stop when you get angry. Especially if you become violent. Now there are experts in this field, and I’m not one. And I can give you some suggestions – but if you need more, try looking up “Anger Management” and seeing if there are any of these people near you. They can really help a lot.
But in the meantime, here are some thoughts:
1) You’re absolutely right to mention your parents. Now you may have inherited some excitability from them, but the bigger issue is that they were your role models when you were growing up. As a baby, toddler, and small child, you saw difficult issues get resolved through anger! And now you’re realizing that that’s often not the best way. But you have to work extra-hard to change yourself, because this was what you were taught early.
2) The first thing you need to do is to learn the Progression of your anger. What gets you annoyed, what builds that anger, and what is the point when you can’t turn back. For example, I’ll be lying on my bed, sleeping happily, when a squirrel runs over the roof. That really bugs me, so I sit up and give a “Woof.” But unless I’m feeling like exercising, I’ll probably stay there. But then another squirrel chases that first squirrel – and the hair goes up along my back. And then they start fighting, with their irritating barking at each other… and that’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m Furious, and I shoot off the bed, through the kitchen, out my doggy door, and am barking like crazy and jumping to try to catch them even though they’re thirty feet over my head!
Now I don’t really mind that anger, because those nasty little rodents deserve it! But if I wanted to manage that anger, I’d want to look at that Progression. And to ask one particular question: when is the last moment that I have control over my feelings? I would guess it’s when the second squirrel has just run over the roof. So if I wanted to control my anger, I’d have to learn to do something (walk away, meditate, whatever) right when my anger hits that place… or before… but no later!
3) Then we want to look at what it is that causes your anger. With me it’s that I hate those squirrels being so sassy in my yard! For you, maybe it’s that you feel disrespected, or insulted. Or perhaps it’s that you feel threatened. The experts say that Anger is a “Secondary Emotion.” That means that we get angry because we feel something else. I’d argue that it’s almost always Fear. We get angry because we Fear we’ll be attacked, or we Fear humiliation, or we Fear being ignored… or we Fear that those squirrels are going to take over our whole yard!
4) And then once you can see what it is that we fear, maybe you can figure out what you can do about it other than getting angry. Like, if you have a friend who’s treating you badly, instead of getting angry at him, realize that you fear having an abusive friend in your life, and just calmly cut off your friendship.
5) But it’s also good to have a way to get that anger out! Let’s say you nobly walk away from a jerk who’s taunting you to a fight, or you calmly ignore it when you see your ex-girlfriend making out with someone at a party. It’s very important that you realize that, although you’re being really great, all that frustrated anger is still inside you! So what do you do with it? I know a great therapist who has a log in his office, with a hammer and nails, and gets his clients to bang as many nails into it as they need to, just to release that frustration. Punching bags are fine, and playing any active sports is of course great (WHACK that golf ball, SMASH that tennis ball, or of course boxing is just the purest!). For me, it’s always been tug-of-war, trying to rip Handsome’s arm out of its socket by putting every bit of anger I have into pulling that rope! But whatever works for you is great. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone (including yourself – chopping firewood is great, but if you do it when you’re really full of rage, you could do enormous damage to your leg!!)
6) And I’ll finish where I started, Simba. This might be a good issue to talk about with a professional. Even if you do a great job at dealing with your behavior, the fact that you were raised by two people with tough tempers can have a big effect on the rest of your life. So I’m a big fan of loving them as they are, but doing the work you need to make yourself the best you can be too. And a good therapist is just great for this stuff. Especially because they’re not going to tell you you should never get angry! After all, I’m going to take a wild guess, and suggest that you chose that particular pack name for yourself because of a particular movie, where a frightened little lion cub grows up and is able to act on a lot of anger, and save his whole community! Once you learn to control it, Anger can be a very good thing.
Thanks again for a great question. And good luck with all this – you’re on a great journey!