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With over half a million copies of her books in print, Judy Ford, M.S.W. is the best-selling author of Conari's "Wonderful Ways" books, which include Wonderful Ways to Love a Teen, Wonderful Ways to Love a Child, Wonderful Ways to Be a Family, Wonderful Ways to Love a Grandchild, and Wonderful Ways to Be a Stepparent. Co-author with her daughter Amanda of Between Mother & Daughter, she lives in Washington state.
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About the Author
With over half a million copies of her books in print, Judy Ford, M.S.W. is the best-selling author of Conari's Wonderful Ways books, which include Wonderful Ways to Love a Teen, Wonderful Ways to Love a Child, Wonderful Ways to Be a Family, Wonderful Ways to Love a Grandchild, and Wonderful Ways to Be a Stepparent. Co-author with her daughter Amanda of Between Mother & Daughter, she lives in Washington state.
Read an Excerpt
getting Over getting Mad
Positive Ways to Manage Anger in Your Most Important Relationships
By Judy Ford
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2001 Judy Ford
All rights reserved.
In the Presence of Yourself
What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and with out it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.
Anger is the abyss that separates us from ourselves. From losing our tempers easily to feeling a slow burn to hiding how irritated we really feel, all of us experience anger as a troubling emotion. We all have trouble identifying anger when we feel it and difficulty expressing it appropriately once it's felt. When we're depressed and filled with panic, we blame it on our circumstances, our jobs, our hormones, the traffic, and each other. When we're gnarly to our loved ones and rude to complete strangers, we feel perfectly justified. It's their fault! A myriad of things make us mad, and we have a million excuses for our behavior.
How we express anger depends on our circumstances and conditioning. We hide under pleasant public faces, then in private we rant and rave, threaten, hit, smash objects, and throw things. Men and women are equally capable of verbally abusing each other. And we've all known folks who dump their anger onto children or onto someone less powerful than themselves. When it comes to anger, everyone's halo is tarnished.
Anger causes tremendous confusion. That's because there are two sides of anger. On the one side, anger is an indispensable emotion, which when used productively allows us to develop ourselves and our relationships. On the other side, when anger covers up pain and fear, it clogs our energy, dilutes our joy, and keeps us off track, going in circles, making no headway. Instead of helping us, anger becomes self-defeating.
The moment you identify anger and admit to yourself that you feel it, you've taken a giant leap toward freeing yourself from its clenches. You experience a moment of liberation when you acknowledge that you're not happy about something, and even though you may not yet know what to do about it, you're not going to pretend any longer that everything is perfect. In that breakthrough moment, you're released from the fog of denial and can tap into the energy that you'll need to move your life along.
Often a spiritual or personal crisis provokes this shift. When your psyche is cracked, when your heart is broken, when the world you've built your dreams upon is lying in shambles, there's not much left to do except to notice miracles and patterns. Miracles are brief "hellos" from the Divine that assure you of a better way, that a bigger plan is in the making. Patterns are automatic behaviors that you've overlearned. In the past, those behaviors may have helped you survive, but they've now outlived their usefulness. Seeing and changing your patterns requires your attention and your willingness to struggle. Like it or not, we all go through life's initiations, and in the process we discover who we really are. Often that might include asking the questions: "Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing? Why am I feeling so mad?"
Getting to know yourself and all your emotions—including anger— is the process of becoming an individual. It is not a quick or an easy trek. It's certainly not as simple as deciding one night that you won't lash out again and then putting your resolve into practice. It's a process full of thrashing around. No one gets it right all the time. It takes years of polishing and practicing.
It's worth the difficulty, however, because when you're honest with yourself you do feel better, and life gets sweeter. So try not to beat yourself up for what you did or didn't do in the past. Instead, notice how your circumstances are changing and what you're learning. Say to yourself: I can get angry, but I won't stay mad.
When you're mad, hurt, or afraid, frown and frown freely for as long as you like. It sounds simplistic to say that frowning can be the beginning of a change in some of your destructive patterns, but it's worked for me. Frowning actually makes me feel better than pasting on a phony-baloney grin. Here's my experience:
I was raised in the "Be nice" school of anger management, which holds that no matter what I'm feeling or thinking I should always put on a happy face. I can still hear my mother's voice saying, "Why can't you just be nice?" After my husband died, I thought that I literally had to "grin and bear it." Believe me, I was trying my best to smile, but I couldn't fake it. I couldn't laugh, giggle, or pretend that I was fine. I was frowning and gloomy most of the time. People noticed and didn't like it. Strangers made the most ridiculous statements to me. "It can't be all that bad," they said. "Smile," they coaxed. Wanting to be nice, I'd try to accommodate them, but wearing a mask of cheerfulness felt so bizarre that I could barely muster up a grimace. I was frowning and struggling to ignore the disapproving glances.
Standing in the grocery line, the clerk said, "Smile, it's not that bad." Without skipping a beat or apologizing I stunned myself by answering, "I don't feel like smiling. My husband died."
The clerk's eyes widened and he stuttered something about being sorry and not wanting to upset me. His face turned red and he bagged the groceries as quickly as he could. I told him not to worry, but I must admit I felt relieved to see him blush and grateful that I hadn't apologized.
Whatever you do, please don't paste a phony smile on your face. Plastic smiles do damage to your soul. We've all known people who've wore silly grins while they talked about something sad. This tendency to smile even when you don't feel like it developed in childhood, when our parents coaxed us into smiling for the camera or for other people even though we didn't feel like it. Making kids smile when they aren't up to it sends a message that it's not OK to be authentic. Even in front of the camera it's better to capture genuine irritable faces than phony stares. The most fascinating snapshots are candid, those that catch people being real. Fake people plaster on smiles when they'd rather be crying, or they smile when they're angry or sad. Slowly they lose touch with their souls.
Some of the most interesting characters are slightly cantankerous. You wouldn't think of telling grumpy old men to smile. People like Walter Matthau or Albert Einstein aren't smiling for the camera. Sophia on The Golden Girls is charmingly cute, cranky, and candid. The next time you see a frown on someone's face, don't be so quick to judge them. Perhaps they're simply hurt or angry. Be happy that they can show it, and that they're being honest.
Frowning when you are unhappy is healthier than covering up your pain by smiling.
Uncover the Hurt
Underneath each little sting of anger is a hurt, a disappointment, a letdown, a small betrayal. Don, a client of mine, says, "When I'm hurt, I get angry. Instead of feeling sad, I get mad. I act as if I don't care. I don't want anyone to know what bothers me." Anger and hurt swirl around together. Anger acts as a shield, covering the hurt underneath. Sometimes we pay more attention to the anger and overlook the wound. If you ignore how hurt you feel, anger is guaranteed to surface unexpectedly. Figuring out what the pain is about will automatically lessen the anger.
Carla wants her marriage to survive, but she can no longer tolerate Don's irresponsibility. Don is unable to hold a job, because whenever he gets annoyed he tells the boss where to go and walks out the door. He makes commitments but doesn't follow through on them.
Don's father abandoned his family when Don was thirteen years old. His mother was devastated and turned to Don for support. Don tried to please his mother, but she was never satisfied. If Don mowed the lawn, washed the car, did the dishes, or folded the laundry, it never quite met her standards. The more she criticized, the more discouraged Don became and the more hurt he felt. He didn't argue about the chores; he just wouldn't complete his homework. The look on his face said something was wrong, but if anyone asked, he shrugged his shoulders.
Instead of crying, Don kept his pain locked away. Once in awhile something unexpected would poke a hole in the wall that he'd encased himself in; then he'd explode. Afterward he would feel ashamed and scold himself for being a failure. He was depressed and immobilized.
You may not know that you're covering up hurt with anger, but if you're troubled, worried, anxious, pacing the floor, depressed, out of sorts, snapping, raging, bellyaching, and going nowhere fast, chances are good that something is gnawing at you. If people describe you as negative, if they have to walk on eggshells around you, or if you'd describe yourself as a "people pleaser," you've probably been avoiding pain.
When feeling out of sorts, try to see all the details of what happened. Perhaps somebody insulted you. Perhaps a memory of old rejection, or a wound from the past needs healing. Perhaps you're feeling left out. Close your eyes and review the situation. Run the scene in your mind and lean into the pain as it arises. Let it hurt like hell, cry, scream, pound your fists. Go into it, don't avoid it. Accept it and experience it. Joy and pain go together—they're both part of life. If you numb yourself to pain, you will also be numb to joy.
Anger is like armor—we put it on to protect ourselves from pain. It never works, because the ache is underneath.
Give Yourself Permission to Be Human
You're upset, you feel a rush of adrenaline, and you say to yourself, "To hell with it!," but you know you aren't thinking straight. You don't want to lose your composure, but you do. You're shaking and you can't remember anything good about the person who ten minutes earlier was the love of your life. Well, you're human.
All human beings get angry. We get mad, blow up, lose our cool, get miffed, throw temper tantrums, get agitated, rant and rave, scream, get pissed off, pout, and sulk. You have, I have, and so have many saints. We've blown up with good reason, and we've been up in arms when we weren't sure why.
Men, women, and children of all ages get angry. Men get angry at women, women get angry at men. Parents lose their patience and snap at their children; children fuss, holler, and throw temper tantrums. Brothers and sisters squabble, lovers quarrel and make up. Husbands and wives have spats, blame each other, defend themselves, apologize, and have the same old argument over again. Coworkers, team members, employers, and employees have differences. It's integral to the human condition.
Brain science offers insight on why we fly off the handle so easily. Everything we see and hear is scanned by the part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala—the keeper of emotional memories—sends emergency messages to the rest of the brain and body, ordering instantaneous "fight or flight" when it perceives danger. Unfortunately the amygdala doesn't do the best job of analyzing the information; it often sends an emergency message when there really isn't one.
But brain science doesn't console you when you're shaking. So you try to justify your behavior. Sometimes you're able find good reasons to be mad, and you end up feeling smug. Unfortunately, feeling smug and selfrighteous doesn't add much love or affection to your relationships, and if you continue in that habitual pattern, you'll end up more alone then you've ever been. When all is said and done, it's the quality of your relationship with those you love that matters. Are you using anger to improve your relationships, or are you pushing family, friends, and colleagues away?
To remain close to our loved ones, to live joyful lives, we have to manage our anger. We need to keep each other emotionally and physically safe. Our loved ones must be able to trust that even though we're angry, we will not hurt them with our words or actions. They need reassurance that if we are upset, we'll tell them directly. We won't hold it against them or stab them in the back.
Here's a pledge to make: I'm human, and it's natural to get upset. So that I don't hurt myself or others, I will learn to express my anger constructively.
See Anger as a Blessing
It's a blessing to know when you're angry. My client, Annie, told me about the time she discovered a small blessing in her anger:
Rachelle walked into the door of our apartment wearing my black short skirt and my favorite blue sweater. I saw her and thought to myself, "Those clothes sure look familiar." Right away she announces, "I borrowed your clothes. I hope that's OK?" I was shocked into numbness at her audacity, but that lasted about two seconds, and before she was out of the hallway, I was boiling. "No, it's not OK! I want you to ask me before you borrow my things." I didn't yell, but she knew that I was unhappy.
I finished eating my lunch and wondered why she thought that it was OK to walk in to my room and take my clothes without checking with me. Later when I saw that she had thrown my clothes on the bed, I was bubbling up again.
I called three people to check out if I was being ridiculous and if my angry feelings were justified. My friends listened to the story, and all of them said they could understand my feelings. That night I wrote Rachelle a letter explaining why her actions bothered me. I told her I didn't want her to borrow anything in my room or bathroom without asking permission. She could use anything in the rest of the apartment, but my room and bathroom were off limits. I taped the letter to her door and I went to bed. I felt better, but I was nervous about what she might say. The next morning she was gone, but she'd left me a note saying that she was sorry and wouldn't do it again. The following day the awkwardness between us was gone.
Excerpted from getting Over getting Mad by Judy Ford. Copyright © 2001 Judy Ford. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Preface, "Only Dogs Get Mad"
I Have Plenty to Be Mad About—And So Do You!
Part 1 In the Presence of Yourself
Uncover the Hurt
Give Yourself Permission to Be Human
See Anger as a Blessing
Be Courageous about Your Imperfections
Focus on Your True Nature
Take Care of Yourself
Get to Know the Little Devil Within
Move Out of Uproar
Learn Spiritual Lessons from Anger
Walk the Higher Road
Find the Fear
Take Grudges to the Dump
Confess Your Anger
Beat a Drum, Play a Piano, Dance
Shout Outside, Scream in the Shower
Howl at the Moon
Run Around the Block
Sit on the Ground
Lie on Your Back
Kick and Make a Noise
Look to the Sky, Pray for Direction
Say "Yes" and "No" Frequently
Say Good-bye to Baggage
Bring on Forgiveness
Select an Antidote to Anger
Join the Secret Society of Satisfied Souls
Part 2 In the Presence of Your Sweetheart
See Relationships as a Great School
Learn from Arguing with Your Partner
Recognize the Value of Anger
Pin the Blame on the Donkey
Create a Safety Zone
Intend to Stay Connected
Use the Practical Approach
Give Yourself and Your Loved One Freedom
Watch Out for Time Bombs
Throw Out Old Patterns
Master Conflict, Not Your Partner
Work It Through on Your Own First
Seek a Joint Perspective
Move to Easy Street
Turn Arguments into Intimate Dialogue
Use Magical Phrases
Experience the Contentment of Letting Go
Set Each Other Straight
Forgive When It's Time
Bask in the Thrill of Making Up
Part 3 In the Presence of Children
Acknowledge When Your Child Is Mad about Something
Be a Feeling Detective
Teach Talking versus Biting
Know That What You Say Does Matter
Say "Yes" to Talking, "No" to Punching
Recognize the Spectrum of Anger
Stop the Ripple Effect
Remove Harmful Shame
Deal with Your Child Directly
Listen to Your Child's Complaints
First Give Understanding
Respond to "I Hate You"
Throw Rocks in Water, Throw a Ball, Play Kick the Can
Paint a Mad Picture
Be Smarter Than the Bullies
Coach and Check Back
Take Five Steps to a Face-Saving Dialogue
Be Aware That Children Are Watching
Recognize Warning Signs
Use Talking Sticks
Take a Time Out, Take a Time In
Pledge to Do No Harm
Stay Open to a Fresh Perspective
Part 4 In the Presence of Colleagues
Learn Positive Self-Assertion
Pay Attention to Your Needs
Find Meaning in Your Work
Lead with Gentleness
Use Neutral and De-escalating Language
Practice Good Manners
Watch Your Attitude
Stick Up for Yourself
Clarify the Conflict
Don't Be Outraged, Be Outrageous
Stay with the Discomfort
Get Over Road Rage
Identify Your Hot Buttons
Give Yourself Breathing Space
Spread Heavenly Gossip
About the Author