Honor Your Anger: How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life

Honor Your Anger: How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life

by Beverly Engel

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Honor Your Anger is a clearly written, insightful look at a topic that concerns everyone. You can indeed learn to understand and manage youranger, and this book will show you how."
—Robert Epstein, Ph.D., West Coast Editor, Psychology Today, Director Emeritus, Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, University Research Professor, California School of


Honor Your Anger is a clearly written, insightful look at a topic that concerns everyone. You can indeed learn to understand and manage youranger, and this book will show you how."
—Robert Epstein, Ph.D., West Coast Editor, Psychology Today, Director Emeritus, Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, University Research Professor, California School of Professional Psychology

"A critical first step for people who have trouble getting in touch with theiranger and expressing it in direct and appropriate ways."
—Virginia Williams, Ph.D., coauthor of Anger Kills and Lifeskills

Do you act out youranger in destructive or underhanded ways? Or do you suppress youranger and turn other people's abuse and criticism against yourself? Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. But if it's channeled in negative directions, anger can do real damage to you and your loved ones.

In this provocative, healing book, psychotherapist Beverly Engel explains why your personal anger style may be hurting your relationships, your career, and yourself. She then shows you step by step how to transform a negative anger style into a positive one. Once you've discovered how to express youranger in healthy ways, you'll find that anger can empower you, motivate you to make important changes, and help you gain a sense of control over your life.

Editorial Reviews

Ph.D. Robert Epstein, Ph.D.
This book made me angry! Why couldn't Ms. Engel have written it years ago when it would have helped me through difficult times? Honor Your Anger is a clearly written, insightful look at a topic that concerns everyone. You can indeed learn to understand and manage your anger, and this book will show you how. (West Coast Editor, Psychology Today)
Ph.D. Virginia Williams, Ph.D.
A critical first step for people who have trouble getting in touch with their anger and expressing it in direct and appropriate ways. (coauthor of "Anger Kills and LifeSkills")

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Read an Excerpt

Honor Your Anger

How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life
By Beverly Engel

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-27316-3

Chapter One

One of the Most Important Changes You Will Ever Make

Laurie doesn't know why she explodes in anger so often. She'll be feeling perfectly fine when all of a sudden something or someone will trigger intense feelings of rage in her. Before she knows it, she's created havoc in her environment, upsetting everyone around her. The episode often lasts only minutes and her anger usually subsides for no apparent reason.

Rebecca never seems to get angry. Her family and friends marvel at how calm she remains, even when her husband, Carl, yells at her. But Rebecca has her own private ways of getting back at Carl for his abusiveness. She accidentally spills bleach on his favorite shirt, forgets to pick up his suit at the cleaners the afternoon of an important dinner party hosted by his boss, and often forgets to tell him when his mother calls.

Max often loses it with his children. He screams at them and shakes them really hard whenever they make a mistake, like spilling juice all over the new carpet. Max feels badly afterward, but he can't seem to control himself.

Rocky is supersensitive to criticism. If his wife says something to him that seems the slightest bit critical, he becomes enraged. How dare she insult him in this way! She needs to be punished! And that is what Rocky does. Hesometimes rants and raves for hours, trying to make his wife feel as bad about herself as she made him feel with her comment. To anyone else it is clearly a case of overkill, but to Rocky his wife deserves to be brought to her knees.

Marcie is afraid of her own anger and she is always afraid others are going to get angry with her. Many of her conversations are prefaced with: "Don't get angry." "Don't get mad, but I'm going to be a few minutes late." "Please don't get angry, but I can't go with you like I said I would."

Tara doesn't know when she's angry. She's used food to avoid her feelings for so long that she's almost completely out of touch with what she is feeling at any given time.

Steven uses his anger to control others. Whenever things aren't going his way, he explodes and suddenly everyone gives in to him.

Janine is sweetness personified. She prides herself on the fact that she never gets angry and she seems to get along with everyone. But behind her constant smile and sweet words there is often a hint of sarcasm or contempt. Janine is angrier than she realizes.

Whenever something goes wrong in Roger's life, he immediately finds someone or something to blame. Instead of taking responsibility, he excuses his actions by saying that someone else "made him do it." Even when it is abundantly clear to everyone around him that he is responsible for the negative things in his life, Roger always feels like a victim.

Kate is a self-blamer. When someone gets angry with her, she tends to take on the blame instead of fighting back. She gets angry with herself for upsetting the other person and will often chastise herself mercilessly with negative self-talk.

Lily often assumes others are angry when they aren't, and her fear of others' anger sometimes creates the very situation she's trying to avoid. "Are you angry with me?" she'll ask if a friend or family member seems the least bit preoccupied or distant. Not trusting the answer, she'll sometimes press people again and again until they do get angry.

All of these people have unhealthy anger styles that are negatively affecting their life and the lives of those around them. While anger is a normal, healthy emotion, when you act out your anger in destructive or underhanded ways, or when you withhold anger and take in criticism or verbal abuse from others, then turn it against yourself, it can become a very negative emotion indeed.

When many people think of having a problem with their anger or having an unhealthy anger style, they think of having a bad temper or being unable to control their anger. But as you've seen from the examples above, there are many other unhealthy styles of anger. Some people express their anger too often or use their anger to control or manipulate those around them. Others don't express their anger often enough. Instead they harbor their anger, feeding it until it becomes a monster that contaminates their relationships. In this book, you'll learn that any extreme when it comes to anger can be problematic.

It is apparent that the misuse and abuse of anger has become a problem for people all over the world. The rate of child abuse continues to rise, there is an increase in cases of road rage, and sports violence is becoming more of a problem than ever, involving not only the fans of hockey and soccer games but now baseball as well. Clearly, many people need help when it comes to learning how to contain and control anger. But there are others who need help in learning how to express their anger-to let it out instead of allowing it to damage their health and their relationships or to distort their perceptions of others.

Anger can be a very complicated emotion. Those who appear to not have a problem with anger can actually be the ones who are in the most need of help. Essentially, you have a problem with your anger if

You hurt others with your anger

You hurt yourself with your anger

You allow others to hurt you with their anger

You are afraid to express your anger

You never get angry

You hold onto your anger and are unable to either forgive or forget

You find sneaky ways of getting back at people instead of expressing your anger directly

You are angry a great deal of the time

You are out of control when it comes to your anger

Your tendency to be negative, critical, or blaming is adversely affecting you, your family, your friends, or your coworkers

Your way of expressing your anger leaves you feeling helpless and powerless

Your way of expressing (or not expressing) your anger has jeopardized your job or damaged your career

You don't know why you suddenly become angry

You misdirect your anger (take your anger out on innocent people)

Your anger is eating you up inside

You continually get involved with angry, controlling, or abusive people

You allow yourself to be emotionally or physically abused by someone else's anger

You allow others to emotionally or physically abuse your children

If you are having any of these problems, this book will help you resolve them. You'll learn healthier ways of dealing with your anger and with the anger of others. You will learn how to create an anger style that is not only healthy but life-transforming. You will be encouraged to take on and practice an entirely different way of dealing with your anger than what is normal and automatic for you. This will initially feel like you are taking on an uncomfortable role. But we often need to step outside our comfort zone if we are to make real and lasting changes. The premise is that inside every critical, judgmental person is someone who is painfully afraid of being criticized or judged. Inside every passive, fearful person is someone who is incredibly angry. And inside every person who avoids anger is someone who is seething with anger inside.

How Your Anger Style Affects Your Life

Your anger style is the habitual way in which you handle your anger. While you may tend to manage your anger in different ways depending on the circumstances, most people develop certain patterns. From the way you express your anger toward your partner and children to the way you react to being cut off in traffic, your anger style affects literally every aspect of your life. The way you cope with and express your anger is one of the most telling things about you. It defines your personality, characterizes your relationships, affects your health, and can even influence your value system. Unfortunately, most people do not realize how much their lives are influenced and even shaped by their anger, nor do they realize just how powerful a force anger can be. Anger can motivate you to make needed changes in your life and the lives of others, or it can make you physically and emotionally ill. It can empower you and add vitality to your life, or it can sap your energy and poison your relationships. The way you handle your anger affects your physical and emotional health, self-esteem, motivation, and ability to defend yourself. Your anger style can affect your life in surprising yet profound ways. It not only determines how you react to stressful, painful, or anger-provoking situations but can influence your choice of partners, your interactions with loved ones, the way you raise your children, what you are willing to put up with in a relationship, and even how you express yourself sexually. Your anger style also affects your work performance and work relationships.

If you tend to act out your anger by blaming others, exploding in a rage, or venting your anger at those weaker than yourself, you may choose partners who deny their own anger or who tend to buy into the accusations of others and blame themselves. Conversely, if you deny your own anger or are afraid of your anger, you may be attracted to those who openly express theirs-even when that expression is abusive. It is as if your partners were acting out your repressed or suppressed anger for you.

Your anger style dictates how you react when your children disappoint you, make a mistake, or refuse to mind. Those with a controlling style of anger may punish their children in extremely harsh and insensitive ways, while those who have a more passive-aggressive style may turn a cold shoulder to their children, punishing them with silence or withdrawing love. Those who are afraid to express their anger in adult relationships may end up taking their anger out on their children either because they are less threatening or because a child's love tends to be unconditional.

Those who are controlling or explosive with their anger often create problems not only in their home life but in the work environment as well. They are often fired from jobs, passed over for promotions, or feared and hated by their employees. Those who are passive and fearful of anger often allow their coworkers or bosses to walk all over them. They become so afraid of making a mistake and angering others that they cannot perform at their peak. Others see them as inadequate or passive and don't trust them with important jobs. They are often made to be the scapegoats of coworkers who want to pass the buck and avoid taking responsibility for their own mistakes. And repressed and suppressed anger can thwart creativity and motivation.

Those who are aggressive or controlling with their anger can be insensitive to their mate's emotional needs. Some bulldoze their way in, insisting their partner have sex with them even if he or she is not in the mood or berating her if she doesn't give in. Some will even physically force a partner to have sex. Partners who deny their anger will often put up with such abusive behavior for years but begin to shut down sexually in the process. Few women, for example, feel like having sex after their partner has berated them for hours. Women tend to need to feel vulnerable and trusting in order to be ready for sex and few can feel that way after they have been verbally or physically attacked.

Men and women who are passive-aggressive often use sex as payback for real or imagined slights from their partner. Some feign a headache or other physical discomfort that keeps them from feeling sexual, and some develop various forms of sexual dysfunction, such as impotence or premature ejaculation in men and painful intercourse or an inability to have an orgasm in women.

EXERCISE: How Is Your Anger Style Affecting Your Life?

1. Even though you may not be clear at this point on what your specific anger style is, spend some time thinking about how the way you deal with your anger has affected your life.

2. Make a list of the negative physical, emotional, and behavioral consequences of the way you currently handle your anger.

Why We Need to Honor Our Anger

Like all our emotions, anger is a biological and psychological safeguard to ensure our survival. Biologically, anger is defined as a stress response to internal or external demands, threats, and pressures. Anger warns us that there is a problem or a potential threat. At the same time, it energizes us to face the problem or meet the threat and provides us with the power to overcome the obstacle. So, it is both a warning system and a survival mechanism.

Our first reaction to a perceived threat is fear. When we are faced with a threat to our survival, our nervous system prepares us to meet that threat by raising our defenses. This built-in defense mechanism is found in the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system and is triggered by the release of the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline helps by giving us an energetic boost, which in turn provides us with added strength and endurance to fight off our enemy or added speed in which to run from the enemy. This pattern of biological arousal is known as the fight-or-flight response, an involuntary mechanism shared with all other species.

Although it may not actually be a life or death struggle, we often feel threatened by the behavior or remarks of others; we experience a threat to our emotional well-being. When someone hurts or insults us (or someone we care about) by saying something inappropriate, disrespectful, or vicious, we become righteously angry.

Anger also helps us to defend our rights and therefore it often has a moral or ethical aspect to it. According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language: The Unabridged Edition, anger is "a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by real or supposed wrong." Those who are angry often have a strong sense of injustice, injury, and/or invasion.

Anger gets a bad rap because it is often erroneously associated with violence. But in reality, anger seems to be followed by aggression only about 10 percent of the time, according to Howard Kassinove, Ph.D., co-author of Anger Management: The Complete Treatment Guide for Practice. Used constructively, anger can help us restore our lost esteem, prestige, and sense of power and control over our life. It can help us to recover emotionally and restore our well-being.

The concept of constructive anger is gaining empirical support including evidence that it may have health benefits. Experts say that constructive anger can aid intimate relationships and improve work interactions and political expressions, including the public's response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. A study in Psychological Science by social psychologists Jennifer Lerner, Ph.D.,


Excerpted from Honor Your Anger by Beverly Engel Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

BEVERLY ENGEL is an internationally recognized therapist with an expertise in anger, abuse, and relationships. A psychotherapist for more than twenty-eight years, she is the author of fifteen books, including Breaking the Cycle of Abuse, The Emotionally Abusive Relationship, Loving Him without Losing You, The Power of Apology, and The Emotionally Abused Woman. She conducts professional training programs and has been a guest expert on national television networks and shows, including CNN, Oprah, Donahue, Ricki Lake, and Starting Over.

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