Anger and the American Family: Learn to Respond Rather than React

Case #1. Brianna, 32, would get instantly outraged when her ex-husband threatened to file for custody of their two small children. Deciding to respond differently, she bit her tongue, and remained quiet when he began threatening an escalated legal battle.

angry woman 350Unable to get the usual reaction from her, he calmed down and instantly became rational and more reasonable.

Case #2. Tom, 42, would become ballistic reacting to his 17 year old daughter who refused to see she was dating a “loser” boy. The more he yelled, the deeper she dug her heels and refused to give up the boy.

Applying the anger management tool of “respond instead of react”, Tom decided to try something different by includingthe boy into the family activities (as much as he could stand). After about three weeks of this, the daughter—on herown—decided her “prince-charming” wasn’t the person she needed to enhance her life and ended the relationship.

Learn to be flexible

Individuals who practice good health do not continue behavior that doesn’t achieve desired results. Instead, they adjust—or fine tune—their responses depending on the situation.

There are many advantages to learning to be more flexible—and “response-able”— in dealing with the stresses and frustrations in your life.

At the top of the list is a sense of empowerment. It just feels good to know that you are in charge of your responses, instead of being controlled by other people or circumstances.

Case # 3. Sixty-four year old Lynn left anger management class one night to find her apartment completely floodeddue to a burst water pipe.

Adding to her stress, her insurance company initially refused to pay her claim. She later told us, “I decided to use the tool you taught us of responding instead of reacting, so I cleaned up the whole place myself. I can’t tell you how wonderful and liberating it felt to know that I didn’t have to get upset.

Later, calmer, she recontacted her insurance agent who, this time, agreed to honor her claim! Learn to respond differently.

Step 1: Examine your attitude. Negative voices in your head can be quite convincing —persuading you to judge others, be pessimistic, or think negatively, while creating the destructive feelings that go along with destructive thoughts.

Try to create a louder, more persuasive voice that helps you identify an equally believable, more optimistic viewpoint.

Step 2: Regulate your emotions. There are many ways to regulate your emotions and feelings in your life, including being your own best friend, eating well, exercising, playing, listening to uplifting music, getting in touch with a spiritual system, and creating emotional connections with others by sincere listening.

Step 3: Try alternative behaviors. Behaving differently is one of the most effective ways to show response flexibilityand get different results in your life.

But, doing things differently is not easy! We are all creatures of habit and we tend to continue behaving in comfortable and familiar ways.

One of the challenges in behaving differently is, of course, coming up with ideas on how else we can behave differently in various situations.

Start by understanding that much of our behavior is determined by a feeling or emotion we are having—or we wish to have. But a specific behavior does not HAVE to be connected with that feeling.

Try alternative behaviors when you get those angry feelings by asking yourself, “What are some other ways I can dealwith this situation?”

Often they include behaviors like taking a brisk walk, assertively communicating with your family member, taking a timeout, picking your battles, or listening to soothing music.

Ask yourself: What are some other ways I can deal with this situation?

Respond vs. react: The difference between “react” and “respond” is “automatic reflex” versus a “thoughtful, reflective response” that considers different ways of dealing with a situation. A reaction is a kneejerk,automatic action. A response, however, is dealing with a situation by considering options and likely outcomes,then choosing the best.

Dr. Tony Fiore

After graduating from Purdue University in 1972, he has been active in both community mental health, the private practice of psychology, and teaching, coaching and writing for over 30 years. He has completed numerous certificate programs including Human Sexuality at UCLA, Personal Coaching at the Life Coaching Institute, and Anger Management at the Anderson and Anderson program. To add to his experience and training in conflict resolution, he has also received advanced training in Marital Therapy at the Gottman Institute in Seattle, Washington and he is a certified group leader in the Keeping Love Alive Program by Michele Weiner-Davis.

Dr. Tony Fiore is a California licensed psychologist (Lic Number PSY6670), trained marriage therapist, coach, anger management expert, and author. He has worked with hundreds of couples and individuals in his clinical practice and has taught nearly 1000 anger management classes in southern California since 2002. With a partner, he had co-authored several widely-used books on anger management based on a model of anger management which is now taught to hundreds of other professionals across the country.

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