After a Natural Disaster: Managing Anger
Ronald L. Pitzer, Family Sociologist and Professor — Family Social Science; and Sharon M. Danes, Extension Specialist and Professor — Family Social Science
Revised April 2009 by Sharon M. Danes; Reviewed March 2010.
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion, and it is an emotion of survival. Anger is a common way to deal with what doesn't make sense, and when we are under great stress, anger allows us to feel less pain. When some people are angry, they yell, swear, or hurt other people or themselves. Other people try to ignore their anger, pretend it is not there, hold it in. But anger almost always comes out, sometimes in ways that hurt others.
To keep anger from becoming hurtful, you must learn how to manage anger. You can manage your anger by:
It is important to acknowledge that we do not always have control over what angers us. Review Anger: When You Do Not Have Influence, a short audio-streamed Powerpoint presentation to learn what to do when you find yourself in that type of situation.
Change How You See Things
Changing how you see things means changing your perception of other people's behavior. People often become angry because they jump to conclusions about others and assume the worst about other people's motives and behavior.
We often perceive people's actions are meant to "get us." When was the last time you got angry because you thought someone deliberately did something rude or inconsiderate? Perhaps they cut in front of you in a line or passed too close in their car. You may perceive their behavior as an intentional decision to do you wrong. But there might be other explanations. Perhaps a person cutting in front of you really didn't see you in line.
What's this anger about anyway?
Another key to keeping anger from becoming hurtful means looking at how you perceive the anger. To help you do that, first view a short audio-streamed Powerpoint presentation called, What's this anger about anyway?.
The next time you become angry, stop and think: What am I angry about? The behavior? Or what I think it means? If you find you are angry about what you think the behavior means, try changing your perception of the behavior and see if that alters the intensity or duration of your anger.
Read the following situation to see how perception influences our reaction to other people. Answer the questions at the end. Discuss your answers with your group or family.
Giving people the benefit of the doubt when they do something that you could very easily perceive as someone "out to get you" is a very generous thing to do. Being generous becomes easier with practice and can make your whole life more enjoyable. The next time someone does something that you would usually perceive as "out to get you," think of two very generous motives for that person's behavior, and notice how it alters your perception of a situation. For example, if someone pulls ahead of you at a four-way stop, one generous thought might be to decide they are student drivers on their first day and they don't know the order for proceeding at a stop sign. Another generous thought might be that they are rushing home to drive a pregnant woman who is about to give birth to the hospital. This activity may seem a little silly at first, but the more you practice it, the more you see how you can manage your anger, and even your mood, by changing how you see things.
Say How You Feel, Why, and What You Want
Saying how you feel, why, and what you want to change helps you relieve tension, see your situation in a clearer light, and, often, helps you see a solution. People who talk about their feelings cope better with crises than those who do not.
When you say how you feel, do it without violence. Lots of people yell when they are angry; that's OK. But belittling other people, putting them down, insulting them, shaming them, or verbally abusing them is not OK. These are violent, destructive ways to vent your anger. They build walls between you and others. In contrast, saying how you feel without violence builds better relationships.
So talk and then listen. If you are angry, the people you live and work with pay the price of your anger. So once you start to tell them why you are angry and what you want to change, expect them to want to talk, too. In talking and listening, focus on how to solve problems, not on blaming. A good way to start focusing on solving problems is to learn to say "I" instead of "You." This will do two things:
- Make the person you are talking to more willing to listen to you.
- Give you power over your own feelings.
If you say "I want the way we talk to each other to change," it shows you take responsibility for the way you feel. If you say "You need to change the way you talk to me," it sounds like you are accusing or putting someone on the defensive.
Change the following "You" statements to "I" statements. Describe how you feel when the behavior you want changed occurs.
"You" statement: You don't talk to me enough.
"I" statement: I feel distant from you when we don't talk often.
"You" statement: You didn't make your bed, even after I told you to.
"I" statement: I feel____________ when_____________
"You" statement: I always have to pick up after you because you're such a lazy slob.
"I" statement: I feel____________ when_____________
"You" statement: You are lazy. (To change this to an "I" statement, you'll need to make up a behavior that has occurred which prompts this accusation.)
"I" statement: I feel____________ when_____________
Creating Assertive and Thoughtful Behavior
Being able to say what you feel, why, and what you want changed is the first step to relieving tension and slowing the escalation of the anger. Understanding the difference between conflict management and resolution is also important. That understanding helps you develop assertive and thoughtful behavior to communicate your needs to manage the underlying issues creating the anger. To help you in gaining this understanding, review the audio-streamed Powerpoint presentation entitled Conflict Management Versus Conflict Resolution
This activity helps you learn to 1.) be assertive, 2.) talk without violence, 3.) work with a partner to solve problems. Think of a situation in which you became angry. Fill in the blanks in the following statement in order to communicate how you feel, why, and what you want.
"I feel ____________________________
and I want ____________________________ ."
(For example, "I feel really bad when you yell at me... because I feel like you don't respect me. I want you to stop doing that.")
Have each person in your family practice completing the sentence. When everyone has had a chance to practice the statement, think of one or two other situations in which you became angry, and practice completing the statement with those situations so that you become comfortable talking assertively.
Now take this one step further to practice problem solving. Work with someone else and choose one person to be a talker and one to be a listener.
If you are the talker: Think of a situation in which you became angry. Have a partner take on the role of the person you are angry with.
- Explain why you are angry without belittling or abusing the other person.
- Say what you want to change to make the situation better.
- Focus on the situation, not the people involved.
- Focus on now, not what has happened in the past.
If you are the listener: You'll be playing someone that the other person is mad at. When they start telling you why they're angry with you, you might feel a tendency (even though it's a role-play) to get defensive and become angry at them in return. Try to resist that tendency and follow the guidelines below to help the other person and yourself practice problem-solving through anger.
- Think about the times you have been angry and needed someone to listen. What did you need to hear from friends and family to help you deal with your anger? What could they say to make you feel better? Say those things now.
- Be supportive. Help the speaker work through his anger.
- Don't give advice, nag, or tell the other person she shouldn't feel angry. Instead, help to come up with solutions you can work on together.
- If emotions get too high, take a time out to cool off. Try again.
Did you resolve the problem you were discussing? Why or why not? How did this activity help you to solve the problem? How did it help build a relationship with your partner?
When you are angry, it is easy to lose control and do things that you might otherwise not do. Learning to calm down when you are angry will help you learn how to deal with anger in ways that won't cause harm to yourself, your things or those of others, or your relationships. When you feel yourself starting to become angry, find a way to calm down. Remove yourself from the situation. We often talk about time-outs for children, but they work for adults, too.
Think about a situation in which you were angry and lost control. How could you calm down so that wouldn't happen again? Listed below are some things you can do to calm down. Which would you use? List three other things you might try.
- Count to 100.
- Do something physical, like walk or run.
- Do work, like mow the lawn or wash windows.
- Go someplace else. If you are angry at home, go to the store.
Children are sometimes hard to calm down. When your child is calm, ask her: "What helps you to calm down and feel better? Is it coloring a picture? Cuddling with your favorite toy? Sitting alone in your room?" The next time your child becomes angry, suggest she do one of the activities she says helps to calm her down.
Anger and the Conflict Cycle
Understanding the root causes of your anger and the events that trigger your anger can help to de-escalate conflict. These understandings can lead to more thoughtful behavior rather than hurtful, instinctive behavior. To help you in doing so, view the short audio-streamed Powerpoint presentation entitled Anger and the Conflict Cycle.
Are you a violent talker? People often use violence without realizing it. If we grow up in a family where verbal abuse or shaming others is common, we pick up those behaviors. We may use them without realizing how painful and destructive they are. The next time you feel angry, think about what you are saying as well as how you are saying it and how it may be affecting the person you are talking to.
Make a list of the words you use against other people when you are angry. Then read the words you have written out loud. Would you want someone else to use these words against you? If you have included insulting words like stupid, ugly, lazy, fat in your list, you use violent language when you are angry. Practice using "I" statements to get out of the habit of insulting others when you are angry. (See Say How You Feel, Why, and What You Want.)
How do you express your anger? Children have trouble expressing their anger and frustration, just as adults do. If children always see angry parents expressing their anger through yelling or breaking things, rather than parents who can calmly manage their differences, they will not learn good coping skills. The following activities help adults and kids talk about how they feel when family members turn their anger on each other.
Conflict Styles Vary
People have different conflict management styles. In managing conflict, it helps for you to understand your conflict style and the style of others around you. Take the Conflict styles assessment. Then view a audio-streamed Powerpoint presentation entitled Interpreting the conflict styles assessment. It will help you interpret what your style means for you and how your style relates to other styles.
Take five minutes for you and your children to draw pictures of how you feel when someone is angry with you. Share the pictures and talk about your feelings, one at a time. Do you feel sad?
This project was originally funded by FEMA through the Minnesota Department of Human Services - Mental Health Division, in cooperation with CLIMB (Creative Learning Ideas for Mind and Body) and the University of Minnesota Extension.
School success — Builds strong parent-child relationships through education and collaboration.
Extreme Weather — Extension resources for floods, wind damage, winter impacts, and more.
After a natural disaster: Coping with loss — The five stages of grieving.
After a Natural Disaster: Ending Isolation — Talk, ask for help, and be with people.
After a Natural Disaster: Talking with Children — Accept kids' feelings, be honest and reassuring, and let them help.
Change: Loss, Opportunity, and Resilience Online Presentation — When change is loss, people grieve.
Bolton, Robert (1979). "Handling the Emotional Components of Conflict." (Ch13) In People Skills. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Spectrum Books (Prentice-Hall).
Carmody, John (1993). How to Handle Trouble: A Guide to Achieving Peace of Mind Doubleday.
Gaylin, Willard (1989). The Rage Within: Anger in Modern Life. Viking Penguin.
Pitzer, Ronald L (1985). Perception: A Key Variable in Family Stress Management. University of Minnesota: Minnesota Extension Service Publication HE-FS-2776.
Reach In/Reach Out: Topics for Counseling Support Groups (1992). Paul Bergmann, University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic and 4-H Youth Development, Minnesota Extension Service.
Tavris, Carol (1983). Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion. Simon and Schuster.
Tavris, Carol (November 1982). "Anger Defused." Psychology Today.
Weisinger, Hendrie (1985). Dr. Weisinger's Anger Workout Book. William Morrow.
Williams, Redford and Angela Williams (1993). Anger Kills: How to Control the Hostility that Can Harm Your Heath. Random.