Anger is one of the most readily identifiable and easy to discern emotions we deal with each day. From being cut off in traffic to something going wrong at work to breaking your favorite glass – anger happens. We have read so much pop-psychology regarding anger that we have almost made it a bad word. It is as if people who are truly centered and enlightened will no longer get angry. This is not only wrong, it’s goofy.
Anger is a necessary emotion that everyone has and needs to experience.
Anger provides perspective for the other emotions, and it acts as a barometer in how well we can control our range of emotions. Anger is real. But there is a difference between anger and being mad.
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Louie hates the time between 5th and 6th period...
He has 5th period American History which requires him toting a book that is roughly the size of all his other books combined as well as his backpack, binder, and all his other classroom supplies. After 5th period History, Louie has to go to his locker and get his gym bag and put his books away, and then make it to the gym in the 5 minute time period between classes. It doesn’t help that Mrs. Trent, the History teacher, likes to lecture until the bell rings and that you aren’t allowed to get everything packed up until she is through lecturing. To put it mildly, the race to the gym is more exercise than the PE class!
The 5th period bell rings, and Louie begins the mad scramble of putting his books and papers and pen away and rushing for the door and down a flight of stairs and across the courtyard to the lockers. He frantically spins the lock on the locker door and misses the second number so he starts it over again. 2 to the right and then to 18, one spin to the left and then 4, finally a half a spin to the right stopping at 29 and the lock will…
“Hey!”, Louie shouts at Chad as Chad reaches over his shoulder and snaps the lock shut and spins the dial. Chad is laughing thinking he has pulled a prank on Louie. He has no idea how stressed Louie is at the moment... and Louie doesn’t react well.
Louie shoves Chad back and yells, “Why do you always have to be such a jerk?!?” Chad is taken aback because he was just horsing around, and Louie is usually a good sport. Chad says, “Sorry” and turns to walk away. Louie stops Chad and apologizes for calling him a name and as he reopens the lock, he quickly explains why he is in such a hurry and why he reacted so angrily towards Chad.
Louie was angry, he overreacted and he was wrong to call a name, but he quickly regained control, set his anger aside, apologized, and moved on.
Chad won’t spin his lock again after 5th period.
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Anger happens every day.
Overreactions occur every day. That is what apologies are made for.
Yes, it is much better to always have complete control of your reactions, but the honest truth is that we all get angry and we all say and do things we wish we had not done. That is life and life is real.
But again, there is a difference between getting angry and being mad...
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Callie looks at her phone as it buzzes with another text. She has had a running text conversation with Kendra about a joint homework assignment, and she is starting to get aggravated because in Kendra’s last text she seemed to imply that Callie wasn’t doing her share of the work. The text that is beginning to get under Callie’s skin reads “heading to library, again, want to join me?” That word “again” is starting to crawl up Callie’s back and sit on her like a ton of bricks. “What does she mean “again”? I’ve been to the library. I’ve already done my part of the bibliography. Where does she get off saying “again” as if I haven’t already been there doing my fair share?” Callie just looks away from the text and the more she thinks about it the madder she gets.
Another buzz goes off and there’s another text from Kendra – “Still at the library, you coming?”
Now Callie is just full on mad...“Still at the library”?
Every time Callie reads “Still at the library” she gets irritated because Kendra is really pushing it that Callie isn’t doing her fair share of the work. How would Kendra even know what I have done? Callie just ignores this one and in fact doesn’t return any texts to Kendra and doesn’t answer when she calls later than evening.
The next morning Callie is walking to her locker and is still mad. Who does Kendra think that she is to question her when she doesn’t even know what work she has done? What gives her the right to accuse her of not doing her fair share? Why should she have to run to the library just because it’s a convenient time for Kendra? The more Callie thinks about it the more frustrated she feels and the more she wants to just tell Kendra to back off. And here comes Kendra.
“Hey Callie”, Kendra says “I missed you yesterday.”
“Yeah, I know. You made it really clear you that you were slaving away on the paper and I was doing nothing.”
Kendra is taken aback and isn’t sure what to say. Callie continues, “Where do you get off implying that I am not doing my share of the load and that I should drop everything and run to the library just because it is a good time for you? Why do you think you get to tell me where to go and when I should work and what I should be doing?”
At this point Kendra is thoroughly confused and the more Callie talks the louder she is getting and the less sense she is making. Kendra genuinely has no idea why Callie is angry. She simply thought she was texting a friend to let her know she was working on their joint assignment and that she was going to be in the library for a while. As she tries to listen and understand why Callie is mad, she wracks her brain trying to think of what she said that could have made her so mad. By the time Callie is finished chewing her out there is a crowd gathered and Kendra hasn’t said a single word just because she is so shocked. Callie turns and stomps away and Kendra just stands there, mouth agape, confused and hurt.
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Louis was angry because something happened and, even though he overacted, his anger was quickly controlled and the situation was handled.
Callie was also angered. But the difference is that she never dealt with her anger and instead let it seethe and she got to the point that she was no longer in control of the situation that made her angry. Instead, she just decided to be mad and stay mad. She decided to infer and to speculate as to Kendra’s intent, and then she let misunderstood words create a narrative in her mind that created a very different story than the words’ real intent. And then she committed the greatest error: she didn’t go to Kendra for clarification; she just accepted this wrong narrative as fact and let it fester and took out her anger on Kendra.
The difference in the way Louis and Callie dealt with their anger is significant. The irony is that Louis didn’t handle his anger correctly, but because he quickly backtracked and was able to correct the situation, it turned out ok. Callie just didn’t deal with her anger and when she finally did, she exploded and hurt a friend, she may have even lost a friend. At the very least she embarrassed her friend and herself.
One of the realities that many people, especially kids, need to learn is that
they will get angry.
They will be in situations that make them mad. They will overact at times and will even say and do things that they will likely regret. But, letting their anger sit and just being mad is much worse, and much more dangerous, than even the quick reaction. Kids need to learn that hiding from their anger and acting like it is not there is not healthy, and it will cause problems for them-- and likely for the people that are the target of their anger.
Instead of festering, people need to learn that the best way of dealing with their anger is just that – deal with it.
If someone makes you mad, talk to them.
If someone does something that angers you, tell them.
It may seem confrontational, but even a confrontational discussion is better than an explosion of emotions that have been bottled up. Kids need to learn how to talk to people when they are mad, and they need to learn to confront people when they are mad. This is a skill that has to be taught and has to be practiced. The best method of teaching this skill is to demonstrate it. If your kids and your students see you confront and talk to someone when you are angry and resolve the situation directly, they will begin to learn how to do it. They will begin to see that it is ok to talk to someone when you are angry as long as you control your anger. Modeling is the best teacher for learning to confront and control anger.
One last point: E-mail and texting are terrible media for resolving problems... but terrific ones for beginning problems.
Words can seem rude or even mean when you cannot hear the inflection and the intent behind them. Electronic messages do not have the benefit of emotion or complete thought, so the recipient will fill in the blanks-- and if they translate it incorrectly, they can start down a road to being angry that isn’t justified. If you get an e-mail or text and you think it is rude or is being sent in anger, the best way to resolve it is face to face and the next best way is to pick up the phone and talk. Talking is a medium to deal with anger, texting is not. Eye to eye is a way of dealing with anger, e-mail is not.
I have a good friend and business partner who demonstrated this to me recently. In an e-mail exchange that was initially innocuous, a misunderstanding grew into borderline territorialism. Rather than letting it fester and letting it become a problem, he picked up the phone and said let’s get face to face. We met and it was quickly resolved. What was beginning to become a problem really wasn’t even worthy of truly being called a problem. What a great example of how face to face can solve many problems that typed words start.
Everyone gets angry. Show your students and your kids what to do by getting face to face and eye to eye and dealing with it.
Anger is real. Deal with it.