From Dr. Jane's Notebook
We live in a society frought with violence. Recent incidents at high schools and
multiple incidents over the past few years, heighten our awareness of the thin line that
seems to exist between the expression of anger and the expression of violence. Obviously,
the situation could get worse. But the more interesting question is, how can things
Dr. Albert Ellis, renowned Psychologist, has spent his life teaching people how to deal
more effectively with anger. Here are a few ideas which he espouses in over 500 articles
and 50 books on the subject. They are readily available in local libraries and bookstores.
- "What disturbs people's minds is not events but their judgments on
events" (Epictetus, First Century A.D.). Albert Ellis' theory and his
Rational-Emotive Therapy are based upon the idea that it is not events that make us react
with anger, but what we tell ourselves about the meaning of those events. When I was
growing up, we used the rhyme "stick and stones may break my bones, but names will
never hurt me". There's no telling how many fights this simple slogan probably
- Between every action and our reaction, we tell ourselves something which
determines our reaction. When someone insults us, we have the choice of becoming
deeply offended and reacting with anger, or we can simply "consider the source"
and not get rattled. Our responses are generally motivated by the desire to be right, to
not be wrong, to not be criticized, and to maintain our self-esteem. However, even if we
feel that we have been insulted, we decide if we want to put our self-esteem "on the
line." So we must take responsibility for our reactions.
- Irrational Belief Systems are ancient for us. Down deep, we often
believe that everyone should love and approve of us, do what we want them to do when we
want them to do it, and not do anything we don't want them to do. In addition, when
someone does something we don't like, we believe that we have a "right" to get
Most of us learned these irrational beliefs during childhood in our families, and they
were reinforced for many years. Anger may have become an automatic response, but it is not
necessarily a constructive response. As adults we have the choice of either maintaining
our childish reactions (tantrums) or developing new ones. If we choose to adopt new ways
of thinking, we may also learn to avoid more serious problems, such as getting
inappropriately angry at work or in our personal lives.
- The first step is to slow down and develop self-awareness. If we do not
wish to become uncontrollably angry, we must stop putting our self-esteem on the line.
When someone does something that you do not like, you need not take it so personally. Step
back for a moment... Consider whether you are really so vulnerable that a single action on
the part of another person can cause you to react irrationally?
Once anger gets started, it is difficult to control, it can get out of hand, and be
totally consuming. Anger is also one of those contagious emotions which brings out
hostility in others and can ruin otherwise good relationships. As an alternative, it may
be better to focus on learning to communicate our negative reactions and feelings in
- Separate the behavior... from the person doing the behavior. If you
want to let the air out of your "anger balloon", here's a simple technique. Most
of us have learned not to tell a child that they are a bad person, when in fact, it is
just their behavior which may be bad at the moment. Instead, we separate the behavior from
the person, and assertively let them know how we feel. We don't wish to destroy the whole
person, we want merely to address the undesired behavior. Likewise, when someone does
something that you dislike, it is better to express dislike for the behavior, than to
reject the entire person. Unfortunately, we often take other people's actions too
seriously, giving the deed more credit than it is worth.
Human beings have a tremendous capacity to change, to learn new ways of being, and to
develop new skills. Anger does not have to rule your life and your emotions. Like any
other bad habit, you can learn to control it if you wish.
ęCopyright, 1994, 1995, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated October 25, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon,