Manage Anger In Your Family

Do you have memories of growing up in a household where anger was a predominant emotion expressed? Were your parents or anyone in your family stuck being angry? Or do you find yourself angry with your loved ones at home, at times unprovoked and unnecessarily, and feel bad and helpless about it? 

One of the greatest challenges that a family faces is when someone at home has anger issues. Anger is one of the most commonly reported problems in families today. It shows up in different ways, including domestic violence, child abuse, marital conflicts, sibling rivalry, and generational tensions. Why do we direct our anger at people we know and love? Is it because of the hectic pace of modern family life and our own inability to cope with the outside world? Or is it that the dynamics of the family itself is responsible? It is a bit of both.

Family temperament: Anger is inherent in the family temperament. Parents are the role models for children. If the children see their parents react with anger they pick it up and start modelling their own behaviour accordingly. If the children find that older family members routinely use anger to control other family members, they decide that it is the best tool to get things done their way. If adults display a temper and use it to get children to comply or spouses to listen it is more common for young children to feel that the ideal way to get mom or dad to comply with their wants is to throw a tantrum. The parents or the elder members have to realise that while anger may be one way to gain control in the short-term, it always backfires and destroys relationships in the long-term.

Displaced anger: In many families, it is common for the parents, especially the father, who has had a rough day at work to carry their frustrations on the way home. They bring their anger home and react to other family members with unprovoked hostility and abuse. This happens because they know that it is safer to vent with people who will not abandon them. Family members stick by you, even if you get angry. Unfortunately, long-term and chronic venting at loved ones will break down the trust and a feeling of safety between the family members.

Failure to manage anger is a real problem. A family has to realise that it is indeed an issue with a member or more than one member when it is too frequent or chronic, too intense – as in rage, impairs health, affects performance at work, school, or leisure time, undermines relationships and hinders personal and spiritual growth of the members. Since anger is a reaction to stress, people with anger problems are at greater risk for stress-related physical problems such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, sleep and eating disorders and feelings of fatigue.

Here are a couple of tips to manage anger constructively:

  • Learn to understand your own anger and other responses. Only you can do something about them. Recognise when you’re ‘reacting’ rather than ‘thinking’ – the first step toward choosing a different response. There are four common instinctual reactions. Think about which ones are most typical for you and your family members. What do you do when you get upset?
  • Take responsibility for what is in your control. Be responsible for your thoughts, emotions, behaviours and other reactions. Don’t blame others for them. A blame game has only losers, no winners at all.
  • Be objective. ‘Step back’ in your mind and interpret events as accurately and objectively as you can. Look for the difference between your view of an event and the event itself. Exaggerated negative interpretations create unnecessary anger.
  • Avoid striking back. When you feel angry, you might find yourself attacking right back. Even when don’t act on the urge to physically strike out, you may let loose words that escalate into full-fledged name-calling or a shouting match.
  • Mind your language. Don’t use expletives and labels. They will all lead to further anger and stress. At times the wrong words used could make a mark on the other individual’s mind forever.

However, if you are the type that expresses anger passively, or are dealing with someone who is angry in a passive way, at times out of exhaustion, it would not serve the purpose either. Here are a few things to do:

Don’t give in. Giving in is a bad idea. The trouble with giving in is that later you feel resentful, the problem remains unsolved, and the person who has evoked this reaction in you feels victorious. They will just keep pushing, asking for more as they try to find out where the limit is. Resentment grows until ultimately you have taken more than you can bear and strike back without thinking of the consequences.

Don’t shut down. Sometimes when you are too angry or the family member is too angry with you, it is difficult to think straight. There is helplessness and a feeling that nothing can do to make things better.

Don’t Break off. Sometimes an instinctual reaction is to throw up your hands and emotionally break off your relationship with the angry person. This may lead to silence and cold vibes between family members. The emotional costs are great and instead of finding a way to work together, you’re pushed apart.

An increasingly complex family dynamics and hectic life means that anger in the family can never really go away. There will be occasions when things will heat up. It would be a wonderful idea if the family could lay down certain rules for the member experiencing anger at any given time. They could

  • Find safe and healthy ways to vent their anger. Find alternative outlets for the pressure that builds up through the day. Exercise, sports, and physical activities, meditation, relaxation training, and healthy diets will ensure a much more powerful buffer to stress.
  • Give themselves more time to get home on a bad day or ask family members for a few moments alone to detox the day’s stress.
  • Increase social support network.
  • Seek professional help. There’s absolutely no shame in it. After all, for every angry individual, working on your anger is a way of showing that you care for your family.

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