August 2010

netPsychologist.com Newsletter

Tools and Tips For Success With Anger and Emotional Abuse.

(Skip this if you never get angry.)

There is research to show that exercise blunts anger. So, for example, if you know you're going into a situation that's likely to make you angry, go for a run first. That, or some other kind of exercise could help you manage your anger better.

However, for most of us it's much more complicated than that. Although anger is a normal human experience, some will say that anger is one of the most universal and destructive moods. The destructive aspects of anger come into play when anger is mis-directed or applied where it doesn't belong.

The more common destructive application of anger or rage is not physical but emotional. Emotional abuse is so common it can be taken for granted as "normal" and often not even recognized as abuse. In the long run, it can do more damage to a person than physical abuse.

It's been a horrible day for you. You know the drill: gridlock traffic, coworkers and bosses that get crosswise with you. Technology that doesn't work properly. The last straw is when you bend over to pick something up off the floor and the seam in the seat of your pants rips.

But you are able to manage your anger and frustration. Some one lends you a few safety pins and you get through the work day. You walk through the door at home and someone (or animal) you live with says or does the "wrong" thing. And they get it! No, it's not physical, but it's a nasty mood that you brought home and it leads to emotionally abusive interaction: yelling, name-calling, put-downs, blame for things that person had nothing to do with, etc.

Many couples and family members have figured out that a transition period is necessary before interacting with family once you get home. Go to the bedroom before you speak to anybody. Set the pillow up on the bed and pound the pillow. Yell at the pillow all the obscenities you need. Tell the pillow how hard it's been for you because of it getting in your way of progress all day long. Blame it for all your woes. Rip the pillow to shreds to show the pillow how you felt when it split your pants open. Flog the bed with the pillow until your arms are weak. Not only will you feel better after 15 to 30 minutes of this kind of exercise, but you will be a nicer person to live with for the rest of the evening.

Emotional abuse is almost always misplaced anger. Work out your anger literally either with exercise and/or with verbalization's rather than emotionally beating up on your loved ones.

Anger is emotional waste in a manner similar to physical waste. Making waste is a sign of life. How we manage the waste is what matters. Most homes have bathrooms and commodes that accommodate physical dumps. We also need homes that matter-of-factly provide spaces (and time) for emotional dumps.

"Hey Dad, where are you?"
"I'm in here taking an emotional dump, working on my anger. Leave me alone. We can talk when I'm done."
"Hurry up. I need to use the anger room myself!"
"Son, use the one down the hall! I'm in here now."

Taking an emotional dump, that is relieving yourself of pent-up anger, in the wrong place at the wrong time in the presence of the wrong people has negative consequences you will regret in much the same way you will regret taking a physical dump in the wrong room at the wrong time with the wrong people present.

The "Me First, You Second" Formula.


Is This Selfish? math formula

It's OK to put your gas mask on before trying to help others around you as the aircraft you're in loses cabin pressure. At least we understand the idea intellectually on a physical level. If your brain isn't oxygenated, it will not work too well. Both you and the infant or elderly person next to you could all asphyxiate.

When it comes to real, everyday living, the idea finds thin soil in which to grow and become a reality in real peoples' lives. Yes, we understand that if I am hungry, I have to eat. If you eat that will not help me. We get that, but it seems we fail to understand it works the same way for all our needs, the emotional, the spiritual, the social, etc.

"But isn't that selfish to take care of myself first?" No one wants to be seen as selfish so we have trouble accepting this good idea.

However, the formula for health in relationship is: take care of self first and others second. Taking care of self only is narcissism (true selfishness). Taking care of others only is martyrdom (selflessness). The balance point is, "I count, you count," in that order. I take care of my needs first and then I am in good shape to attend to you and your projects.

The middle ground, the balance point, is self-fullness: I count, you count. Me first for me and you first for you. Then we share with each other what (time, energy etc.) we have left over. What a relief it is to have a partner you can trust to be in good shape. I give you me in good shape and well cared for and you give me the same thing.

This is a sustainable formula for durable relationship. Great idea. Not easy to practice.

ps. Here is another person's encouragement to put self first if you want to improve your relationship or marriage.

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Contents of this newsletter © Paul W. Anderson, Ph.D.

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