by Rev. Peter Stimpson
QUESTION # 1: My wife says that I have a problem with my temper, that I blow up all the time, and that she’s scared of me. But aren’t you supposed to get your anger out?
QUESTION #2: People say that I’m moody. While I do get a little sarcastic at time, I try hard to hold my anger in. If that’s wrong, what’s right?
ANSWER: It is all right to get angry, for if we are different, we must argue to resolve those differences. The trick is to argue productively. Anger can be expressed in three ways: aggressively (Question # 1), passive-aggressively (Question #2), or assertively (my advice).
AGGRESSIVE ANGER is overkill. When you yell, throw an ashtray, punch a hole in the wall, or threaten to punch someone, people become frightened, focusing more on how you are talking than on what you are saying. They may also wrongly assume that you are incapable of being gentle and caring, and so your friends do not invite you back and your spouse asks for a divorce. Too much anger leads to too little love.
PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE ANGER is what I call "sneaky anger." Being scared to "bite the hand that feeds you," you express your anger in an indirect and covert manner.
Your sarcasm stings, your silent treatment chills the house, and your procrastination frustrates everyone to death. But, while everyone knows that you are mad, no one knows why, and most people just give you a wide berth rather than baby you with 20 questions as to what is wrong.
ASSERTIVE ANGER is the mean between the extremes. It is calm and rational rather than violent and aggressive, and direct and open rather than indirect and secretive. A few helpful hints are:
• Use "I" vs. "You" Statements so as to avoid blaming or putting down the other. "Honey, I’m feeling left out; I wish you’d talk with me" is less threatening than "You never talk to me; you just sit there and pout".
• Stick with the Present in Specific Terms vs. the Past in Vague Generalizations, pinpointing the problem vs. hurling accusations at one another. "I was hurt last night when you yelled at me" pinpoints the problem, whereas "You always yell at people; last night at me, last week at Billy" only promotes defensiveness.
• Combine the "I" Statement with a Solution, as anger without a proposed remedy is called "nagging". Your solution should, however, be a suggestion, not an order, for the purpose of your talk is to discuss vs. dictate the outcome, producing intimacy, not a winner.
Rev. Stimpson is executive director of the Trinity Counseling Service.