Have you ever come home from work with an expectation that blew up right in your face?
Your "quiet evening at home" turns chaotic when one of your children says they have a science project due tomorrow and your other child suddenly needs cupcakes for the class party?
So much for a calm evening after an exhausting day.
You head to the grocery store for supplies, and your spouse begins to oversee the science project. When you return, you realize you should have also picked up some lice-killing shampoo.
You have no idea what time you actually fell into bed, but the alarm blares far too soon. You get up with an edge and start barking out orders to everyone. "Comb your hair! Get the dog out before she has an accident. Where are the lunches you were supposed to pack last night?" At this point, it doesn't seem like anybody is going to have a good day.
On the way to work, as you yell at the drivers around you, you realize you are angry. The question is why.
Researchers tell us anger is a secondary emotion, the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. It's the primary emotion — things like hurt, unmet expectations, frustration, disrespect, lack of trust, dishonesty, loneliness, jealousy, rejection, betrayal, disappointment, helplessness and exhaustion — that drives the anger.
In many instances, people don't stop long enough to figure out what is fueling their anger. While anger itself is not good or bad, how you handle it impacts not only you but also those around you — your family, co-workers and friends.
Studies show that the emotional part of our brain processes information in two milliseconds while the rational brain processes information in 500 milliseconds — 250 times longer. Simply put, it is much easier to react than to slow down and respond.
Researchers studying couples in conflict asked them to hit the pause button before arguing so a videographer could film the argument in real time. In many instances, the couple had calmed down and moved on before the videographer even arrived.
If you struggle with anger, here are four steps that can help you get a good handle on it.
- First, determine what is driving your feelings. For the parent who expected a quiet evening at home – unmet expectations, disappointment and exhaustion could be driving the anger, in addition to not knowing or forgetting about the cupcakes and the science project.
- Next, acknowledge the feelings in a beneficial way. Instead of stuffing them inside or spewing them all over everybody, consider how you will share your feelings. Statements such as, "I feel frustrated when you wait until the last minute to ask for my help with the science project," is more likely to elicit a conversation than if you lose it.
- Then, determine a course of action. You may decide to help your child this time, but a couple of days later, you can calmly share that you may or may not be able to help if they wait until the last minute to ask for assistance.
- Finally, make a plan for the future. Use this as an opportunity to talk about appropriate ways to deal with anger.
So many adults say they never saw their parents actually deal with their anger. They saw the anger, but never learned what to do with it. Teaching your kids that anger isn't bad or good — it's what you do with it that can build up or destroy relationships — could be one of the greatest gifts you give them.
But don't stop there. Model for them what it looks like to be good and angry.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.