This self help guide to dealing with anger, conflict and argument and ways of building self esteem and confidence so as to be able to act assertively.
Because I am committed to spreading these ideas you have my permission to reproduce this with my name and contact information, for colleagues, friends and clients.
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Anger is an emotion that we all experience from time to time. It can motivate us to stand up for justice or to firm our resolve to right a wrong. However sometimes, when angry, we say or do things we later regret.
Anger is an emotion that we generate within ourselves – so we can alter it
We cannot directly change other people’s behaviour but we can alter how we feel about it.
Aggression is the behaviour that may stem from anger – it can be a way we behave towards another when we feel overwhelmed with angry feelings or when we feel attacked.
This book looks first at the feeling of anger and then at the behaviour that may follow. It will give you ways of managing your anger constructively and help you to find ways to avoid a non-productive row escalating – when each person is the loser!
Assertiveness may be seen by some people as aggressive or arrogant behaviour, but true assertiveness respects the feelings of others rather than trampling over them! This book will show you ways of building your self- confidence and self-esteem so that you find it easier to talk calmly about your needs and feelings. If you are truly assertive then you are more likely to have your needs fulfilled because you can ask without arrogance and do not need to bully people into doing what you want through fear.
Chapter 1 : Temper, temper!
Anger -good or bad? – or both?
Feelings of anger may motivate us to deal with problem situations. It can alert us to the fact that an injustice is being done and can give us the energy we need to fight to right a wrong.
Sometimes we bottle up tension and negative feelings until we explode into a full scale temper – but it is much better to learn ways to manage our feelings so that we do not need to explode! We all need to find some safety valves.
Anger, of itself, is not necessarily bad, but we need to learn how to control it or it may control us.
Anger becomes a problem when it arises too easily and too often, is too intense, lasts too long or leads to aggression. It can take away our choices of behaviour if we allow it to do so.
It is also worth remembering that although external events and other people may encourage a feeling of anger, we actually make ourselves angry, even if we are not consciously aware of doing so. As this is the case we can learn ways to help ourselves deal with the feeling more constructively.
Anger is often a way we use to cover up feelings of helplessness, embarrassment, guilt or fear in front of other people. Sometimes it is easier to build up anger and have a rant and a rave rather than face the underlying feeling of inadequacy. We feel angry when our pride is hurt, when we take criticism personally as an attack upon ourselves rather than on something that we have or haven’t done. (See page x) In my own experience I can remember how angry my parents were with me, when as a little girl, I got lost on the beach on a seaside family holiday. I was very happy sucking a lollipop sat with the Red-Cross lady. But I can understand now how my parents must have felt – worried and helpless and feeling the implied criticism that they couldn’t look after a small child properly without having her wander off!
Suppressed anger can be very destructive, leading to many problems, not only irritability, impatience and raised blood pressure, but also many psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions and muscular pains. Negative feelings, like anger, don’t just go away if we put the lid on them. They stay around and influence how we feel and react to other people. Suppressed anger builds up so that you operate from a high base line of anger and are more likely to flare up and lose your temper.
How can I recognise when I feel angry?
Anger doesn’t arrive full-blown. Unless you are already operating at a high base level of anger, it builds gradually.
It is very useful to notice how you begin to experience anger in your body – how does it feel for you as you get angry.
Often it starts as a feeling of tension somewhere, but don’t take my word for it, next time you get angry notice for yourself how you build it up. These things often happen out of our conscious awareness but it is very useful to become aware of how you make yourself angry and how it feels for you. You are a unique individual and only you can really know how you do things internally.
When I start to feel angry I get a tightness in my chest and a knot like feeling building in my stomach – what do you experience? These physical feelings can be a message to you if you are alert to notice it, and then you can do something to intervene before the feeling gets out of control.
Building it up
When we feel angry we tend to focus on things that confirm our feelings of anger and this acts to fuel these feelings further. Our mind always seems to do this. Whatever emotion we are feeling at the time, our mind looks around and notices mainly those things that tend to confirm our feeling. We look at the world through an emotional filter.
We can also build our anger by going over and over in our mind the situation that triggered our anger and often talking about it to ourselves internally.
What happens when we get angry?
When we are in a full blown temper we cannot think rationally or behave wisely. It is an adrenalin state very similar to anxiety, panic or excitement. Our body responds by increasing our heart rate and our breathing. It increases muscle tension, and may give rise to feelings of nausea. It may give us a feeling of tightness in our chest or a choking sensation in our throat. We may feel shaky, or faint and sweaty. These are all effects of the adrenalin produced. It gives rise to a lack of concentration and may cause us to make more mistakes. Prolonged anger stops us from having joy in life and alienates people around us.
This gives us our first clue as to one way we could help ourselves to manage anger –
You cannot be angry and relaxed at the same time.
How can I recognise anger in others?
Apart from the obvious verbal signs such as a raised voice, and physical signs such as muscle tension, clenched fists and a flushed face there are less obvious signs that are worth noticing such as restlessness or ‘displacement activities’. These may consist of tapping hand or foot or some other repetitive movement or task and may be used when the person thinks it unwise to express anger directly.
It is no wonder that frequent or prolonged episodes of anger gives rise to physical problems. We continue to feel angry by running over, in our minds, the negative experience that gave rise to the feeling of anger in the first place. By running over and over the anger-provoking situation we can build up the feeling of anger further. This is often helped by inflammatory internal dialogue – talking internally to ourselves about how it should have been and how awful it was. No wonder we start feeling tired all the time – we can use up a tremendous amount of energy in prolonging anger and other negative feelings.
Have you felt really angry with your boss or a client or a six foot rugby player? It is not always appropriate or wise in these situations to express our anger to the person concerned. What do we do then?
Write a letter?
We have already seen that anger that we bottle up and do not express or deal with is destructive to ourselves – both emotionally and physically.
You could allow some outlet for your emotions by writing the person concerned a letter (but don’t send it!). By writing down how you feel it gives you some distance from your feelings so that they become more manageable and less overwhelming.
A safe way of helping ourselves deal with anger is ‘Silent Abreaction’ :-using visualisation techniques to allow our minds to ‘let go’ and disperse these strong negative feelings.
In this technique you sit down, close your eyes and visualise a place such as a quarry or a mountain, miles away from anywhere or anyone. There you find a rock that is suitable for your anger. You imagine projecting all your anger into the rock so that it becomes your anger, maybe marking it in some way. You can adapt it in any way you wish in order to link it to your particular situation. You then deal with that rock in any way that you think fit. It can be smashed up by a sledge-hammer, a pick or even a pneumatic drill. Enjoy really giving it some welly! If you want to hurl verbal abuse at it in your head then do so, no-one will be disturbed. When you are satisfied with the end result and the rock is in tiny pieces, the anger has been dealt with. Decide what seems right to do with the dust that is left and then allow yourself to imagine going to an appropriate place to feel calm again and bring some of that positive emotion back with you as you open your eyes and return to the here and now. It is very important to imagine a calm place such as a mountain stream or a woodland glade and to get in touch with those feelings of calmness first and not to open your eyes as soon as you have finished smashing up your rock. This may seem very simplistic and you may wonder how it could possibly work. When you have read further (chapter x) you will understand maybe why it works; but for now, try it and see.
An alternative way to let go your anger could be to imagine an activity such as bread making and work out your feelings as you knead the dough, maybe throwing the bread you have made to the ducks swimming on your imaginary river! You could actually do this in reality so that as well as venting your anger safely you get a tasty loaf of bread into the bargain! You could use Playdoh or salt dough to make a symbolic image and then do whatever work you want to on that image. Whenever you have vented your angry feelings like this then make sure you take a little time to get in touch with calmer feelings before continuing with life. (See page x)
Coping with Anger
All too often we think that we will calm ourselves down by drinking some alcohol. This can escalate into a problem in itself but also alcohol helps to lift the lid off our feelings and if we are feeling angry we are much more likely to become verbally and physically aggressive whilst under its influence.
First we will look at ways that you can feel calmer and more relaxed generally and then we will look at some specific strategies you might be able to use if despite feeling calmer generally you feel the anger building inside you.
You can’t be angry and relaxed at the same time.
If we have a problem with anxiety or our stress levels are rising too high we lose our sense of perspective and are much more likely to feel irritable and angry and lose our temper.
When you’re up-tight, little things seem like big things.
We are also more likely to jump to conclusions and to automatically assume the worst in any situation.
If this rings true to how you feel then I suggest you buy a copy of my other book ‘Still – in the storm’. This contains many more detailed ways to help yourself feel calmer, but I will outline here some practical steps that you could take.
Roads to feeling calmer
Firstly, exercise uses up adrenalin. After all, that is what it was designed for, to help our bodies confront or run away from some threat. As an added bonus, exercise makes the body produce chemicals called endorphins which also help us to feel better, giving us a natural “high”.
Swimming, walking, running, and going to the gym are all excellent ways of helping ourselves deal with stress.
Time for oneself?
Exercise is also very useful in that it gives us a little “time out” when often we perhaps do not have much time to ourselves with all the different demands made on us. Time on our own, to allow ourselves time to think, can be very useful. I would go so far as to say that it is essential if we wish to live happy and fulfilled lives. And if we are feeling happy and fulfilled then all those around us will benefit – the ripples spread outwards!
Very often circumstances conspire so that we do not seem to have any time for ourselves – we have to juggle a job, housework, and the family needs and then feel guilty if we take some time to do something just for ourselves. This is a shame because never allowing yourself time to do what you want to do will lead to inner feelings of resentment and increased levels of stress and tension.
It is not cost effective to run an engine into the ground without any attempt at maintenance!
So even taking a leisurely bath can be therapeutic! Enjoy it – knowing that you will function much more calmly and effectively when you have had some time for you.
Still the storm
Often, if we are feeling very up-tight, it is well nigh impossible to sit down and relax straightaway. If it is not appropriate to use up your adrenalin physically then you could sit yourself down, close your eyes, and begin to imagine a time when you were active. This could be something like riding a horse, swimming, cycling, running. Imagine yourself back to a time when you were doing this activity, seeing the things around you that you saw. Hearing any sounds, smelling any smells, and feeling the feeling that you had in your body. Maybe feel the wind in your hair and the temperature of the water or air around you. Really be there. Do not worry if you cannot visualise it very well, some people are better at making pictures in their minds than others. Having enjoyed the activity for a little while, when you are ready, find some way in your imagination to gradually move from being active to just enjoying the peace and calmness of the special place you are in. Maybe swim to a beach and relax on the sand, or dismount from your horse in a woodland glade.
How does it work?
We all have different parts of our brain – our conscious mind, if you like, and our unconscious mind. We also seem to have two ways of understanding things – a rational, intellectual way and an emotional way. We can ‘know’ something but that often doesn’t affect our feelings.
A model (not the truth but a way of looking at something to help our understanding) that may help us to understand why that is, talks about the two halves of our brain, our right and left cerebral hemisphere which tend to function fairly independently.
The left half of the brain, which is responsible for our verbal and language skills, and is the source of our critical, evaluative, logical thought processes, is that part of our mind or consciousness that we are generally most aware of in our day to day activity.
The right side of our brain, which becomes more active as we relax, is responsible for our visual and creative imagination, our intuitive and instinctive part of ourselves and could be equated to the ‘unconscious’ part of our minds. This is where we process our feelings and emotions.
Relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis
When in our normal waking state, our brain functions predominantly in “left brain” mode. As we begin to relax the activity begins to shift over to “right brain”. The critical, evaluative thought processes (predominantly a left brain or conscious operation) start to lessen and suggestions are more readily accepted.
Spontaneous right brain states
This shift in brain activity occurs quite naturally throughout our day. Whenever we find ourselves gazing out of the window in a daydream; driving on “auto-pilot”, with no conscious recollection of the last few miles; whenever we become totally focused on an activity and start to lose awareness of our surroundings, we are predominantly in a “right brain” state.
This is why doing the visualisation I described earlier (swimming or riding etc) will gradually help you to relax. It facilitates a shift into right brain functioning – the right brain thinks in pictures rather than words.
Doing it deliberately
I want to teach you how to access this state of mind deliberately so that you can use it to help yourself to feel calmer and more relaxed. Later on in this book, I will show you ways you can use this right-brained state, trance, hypnosis or relaxation and visualisation, whatever label you feel comfortable using, whenever you wish it.
There are many different ways to increase your right brain activity and if you wish to explore this in greater detail, I refer you to my previous book ‘Still in the storm’.
For now we will stay with describing a commonly used relaxation/self hypnotic technique that I have found most people can use easily.
Only use these techniques when it is safe and appropriate to do so, never in the driving seat of a car. Even though driving can induce a trance-like state it is better not to encourage it! Always move over to the passenger seat.
If an emergency occurs whilst you are relaxing you can get up immediately and deal with it, but, as you focus internally, your awareness of what is going on around you becomes less, so that unless important it becomes easy to ignore. In the same way as you can shut sounds out when you get absorbed in a good book, you may still hear sounds around you but they become less intrusive.
Whenever you decide to sit down and use a formal self-hypnotic or relaxation technique there are a few precautions that it is wise to take. Always tell yourself before you start how long you want to relax for, because when you become practised at doing these types of exercises you may get quite deeply relaxed and experience time distortion. You may feel you have only been relaxing for ten minutes and half an hour may have passed. This could be very inconvenient, so tell your unconscious mind how long you want to relax for and trust it to give you notice when that time has elapsed.
If you are overtired, any relaxation technique may send you to sleep and if this is not desirable, then make sure you have turned on an alarm clock before you start.
How much and how often?
Some people find getting into this focused or relaxed state easier than others but, as with any skill, it can improve with practice. I would recommend that if this is unfamiliar to you, that you practise for five or ten minutes, maybe twice a day, for the first three to four weeks.
The time spent in this way is more than made up by your improved effectiveness and concentration as you feel less stressed or anxious. You can start to become the master, rather than the victim, of your emotions.
Trying too hard
Another important thing to mention is the biggest problem people seem to have with using relaxation techniques is that they try too hard! Think for a moment, about how, when suffering from insomnia, the more you try to fall asleep the more it seems to evade you. A better way is to focus your attention on something else (maybe your left big toe) and then it just happens.
Allow yourself just to be, not to have to be doing. You can be relaxed and you don’t have to be relaxed. Just accept how you feel at the time and let it go. Don’t worry if stray thoughts cross your mind whilst you are doing these exercises. Allow the thought to float in, and then out, but instead of following it, bring yourself back to what you were doing.
You might like to read the following into a cassette recorder and then listen to it whilst following the instructions or simply read it through to get the general idea and adopt your own way.
A Progressive Muscular Relaxation Technique:-
Perhaps you would like to make yourself comfortable, place your feet firmly on the floor, and let your hands just rest easily on your lap. If you prefer, you could lie yourself down somewhere comfortable.
I would like you now to take a deep breath in, and as you breathe out just let your body go loose and slack, like a rag doll.
Just let all the tensions drain away with each outgoing breath.
As you breathe out you can let your eyes close and notice just how comfortable your eyelids can feel, resting gently on your eyes. You can begin to spread that comfort into the muscles of your head and face and neck.
Start to become aware of your forehead, very wide and smooth. Become aware of the space within your mouth, of the position of your tongue.
Notice the muscles of your throat relax as you swallow.
You might like to imagine a colour or a warm glow drifting down your body from the top of your head as you begin to relax.
Let that feeling of comfort drift gently down into your neck and shoulders. Let the muscles around your shoulders go loose and slack, let the relaxation drift down your arms right to your fingertips.
Let your arms feel heavy and comfortable. You might notice a tingling feeling or a feeling of warmth in your hands as they relax.
Maybe as you notice the feel of your arms at your side you can almost imagine weaving a cocoon of comfort around yourself, inside and out and I wonder just how you would experience that cocoon of comfort? Maybe it is be a colour or maybe a feeling or both…drifting down, as you feel more and more comfortable.
Let the muscles around your chest relax, let the feeling of comfort spread down into the muscles of your back and stomach, let the muscles of your tummy go loose and slack as that comfort drifts down.
Let any outside noises just recede into the background and contribute to a feeling of safety and comfort.
Enjoy just being, instead of having to be doing.
Let that comfort drift down into your legs, right the way down to your toes. Let the tension drain out of the soles of your feet into the floor.
And maybe your conscious mind can begin to notice how you feel as your unconscious mind helps you to become more and more relaxed and comfortable.
We are all unique individuals and we each experience comfort in different ways. Some people feel very heavy as they sink deeper and deeper into a relaxed state. Others feel light and floaty as they drift more and more into themselves. Still others lose awareness of quite where their arms and legs are. However you experience it – it is perfect for you.
Become aware of your breathing; maybe imagining breathing in a colour and noticing it spread throughout your body as you relax, letting go any tension as you breathe out.
Just enjoy that lovely comfortable feeling, letting go with each outgoing breath to become just as deeply relaxed as you want to be.
A Special Place :-
I would like you, now, to imagine a magic archway, and through that magic archway you can begin to become aware of a very special place, a place where you can feel completely relaxed and happy, safe and calm.
Let your conscious mind wonder what place your unconscious mind will find for you, what place you will see through that magic archway.
It may be a place you have actually visited or it may be a place that your mind creates for you, it may be inside or outside.
But, as you begin to become aware of that place, you can step right through the magic archway and really be there.
Look all around you, notice the colours, whatever you can see.
Smell any smells that might be there.
Hear any sounds that might be in the place you have chosen, and look to see where they are coming from.
Begin to notice the texture of what you are standing or resting on, the temperature of the air around you. Above all feel the peace and calmness of the place you have chosen.
Really experience this special place, because this is your own special place that no-one can take from you, a place where you can go to when you need to relax, to recharge your batteries, a place where any suggestions you give yourself will sink straight into your unconscious mind and begin to exert an influence on how you think and how you feel and how you behave.
As with any skill, as you practise it will become easier to become even more relaxed, even more quickly. And you will never do this for entertainment, but only to help your own self. If anything untoward occurs whilst you are helping yourself in this way you will wake immediately and deal with it as usual but, especially if you have become quite deeply relaxed, it is nicer to come back to the here and now more gradually. So..
Coming back to the here and now:-
Enjoy those feelings of relaxation and calmness and, in a few moments, when you are ready, you can gradually come back to the here and now.
You can count yourself back in your head from 5 to 1, taking all the time you need, so that by the time you reach 1 you are wide awake, eyes open, feeling refreshed and alert, with all your sensations back to normal, but keeping hold of that feeling of calmness within.
Occasionally, if you have been suppressing various sad emotions, you might start to feel upset and shed a tear as you relax. This doesn’t happen often but you can tell yourself that by expressing that feeling you have dealt with whatever it was that caused it. It is a good idea then to relax again and purposefully think of a happy memory and take yourself back there, getting fully in touch with good feelings before returning to the here and now. If you feel that you have a problem that you need some help with, then please go and see a properly qualified therapist or your own doctor.
Remember that practising this skill will mean that you get better and better at it. When you are used to accessing this relaxed state you will probably find that you don’t really need to go through a long routine but with a few breaths, you can slip easily and effortlessly into it.
The body scan
In addition it is very useful to get into the habit of noticing whether you are holding any part of your body too tensely. Every now and again scan your body mentally and as you breathe out, let go any unnecessary tension. You could imagine a colour you associate with calmness, (or if you visualised a colour in your relaxation exercise use that), flowing down through your body as you let go the tension. We all waste a lot of energy holding muscles tense when we don’t need to and often we are unaware of it.
Thoughts – feelings – actions
When we get angry we certainly feel an emotion, and this links with our thoughts about what has happened – how we interpreted it to ourselves. Our thoughts are like words inside our heads – and we can become aware of what we are saying to ourselves internally. This is called internal dialogue. This in turn leads to us into doing something – our behaviour. There is a continuous cycle between our thoughts, our feelings and our actions and each influences the other.
When we get angry we can intervene at each of these three levels.
Intervening at an action level
Exercise / leaving the scene
The best thing to do is to move ourselves away from whoever or whatever is triggering the anger. This also gives you a chance to evaluate rather than leap in with an unconsidered reaction. Going for a walk rather than escalating anger upon anger in a row often leads to improved communication when the two people concerned come together again. If someone is overwhelmed with feelings of anger they are unable to listen and evaluate what is happening. Exercise allows the body to use up the adrenalin and then evaluation and communication stand a better chance!
You could focus your attention on something else and as you distract your attention away from the anger provoking situation you become more involved in whatever you are doing and begin to feel less angry. I well remember one occasion when my kitchen got the best clean it ever had – and the physical activity helped me to defuse my anger!
Focus your attention on the task in hand; after all, often the successful completion of that task is your goal, so direct your attention at that rather than at your anger.
My grandmother always told us as children, to take a deep breath and count to ten, and that can work as well!
Intervening at a feeling level
We have already talked about relaxation. When you become practised at self-hypnosis you will find that you can often recognise when you start to feel anger. You can then take a deep breath in, and as you breathe out let the tension drain away.
Humour and anger are incompatible.
There is a quote I came across that fits well here, ‘Laugh at yourself first – beat the others to it!’
If you can take a step away from the situation and see a funny side to it or if you can bring a thought into your mind that makes you smile you will not feel so angry. Maybe imagine the person annoying you as a cartoon character or change how you hear their voice internally to a high pitched squeaking!
Intervening at a thought level
Beliefs that we have to have our own way, that the world must give us what we want, are at the root of much of our anger.
An old zen saying I rather like is this:-
Happiness is expecting the world, others and yourself to be as they are.
Change your thought patterns
If you can notice what you are saying to yourself as you start to feel angry you can intervene and change it. Challenge or alter the things you are telling yourself. Instead of demanding something internally, try changing it to a preference, and you will feel more annoyed than angry. This means you are more likely to find some other, more creative ways of solving the problem. People rarely do what we want just because we shout at them.
Must, should & flexibility
Get rid of the ‘musts’, ‘shoulds’, and ‘have to’ in your internal dialogue; try replacing them with ‘prefer to’ or ‘would like’. This may seem contrived at first, as you change what you say to yourself consciously, but soon it will become almost automatic as your different thought patterns get established.
She must be home by eleven – change to – I want her to be home by eleven.
They have to tidy their room – to – I would like them to tidy their room
He should have told me – to – I would prefer him to have told me.
This will also lead to greater flexibility in your approach to problems as you are more likely to find a way to negotiate what you want done if you are not swamped with anger and getting into a rigid, confrontational situation.
Another habit most of us have is in describing situations either to someone else or internally as ‘awful’, or ‘terrible’. This immediately places it at the far end of a scale from ‘Minor’ to ‘Major’ and loads more bad feeling onto the event. Words that describe ‘all or nothing’ thinking also tend to increase our negative feelings. Things are very rarely black or white but some shade of gray. Words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ fall into this category. Challenging this kind of thinking maybe internally, or out loud, can start to change how you feel. For instance, ‘You never say thank you’ becomes ‘You hardly ever say thank you.’ ‘You are always late’ becomes ‘You are sometimes late, in fact quite often!’ This takes the feeling down a peg or two, you can begin to feel irritation rather than anger.
If you can metaphorically take a step backwards and mentally see the situation either from the other person’s perspective or from that of an outsider you can not only often see alternative choices of behaviour but will find that it is a useful way of de-fusing anger-provoking situations. You need to interrupt with this early on, before the anger builds up, or you tend to get sucked into the emotion and it becomes much more difficult.
It’s hard to see the spot you are standing on
– unless you move off it!
This is a way of obtaining that dissociation, developed for children fighting in the school playgrounds by a friend of mine, Martin Webb.
If you are getting angry with someone then why not imagine that you have a spray can of bright pink paint and imagine using it. As you imagine them dripping with pink paint, and looking all bedraggled, you may find that you are laughing to yourself instead! Then, take an imaginary step backwards and/or float up above the situation and look at it from that different viewpoint. You can wonder why they behaved in that manner. Maybe they were feeling insecure, maybe they had had some bad news and were in such a state of distress that they did not realise they were upsetting you. As you then look down on yourself you can wonder why you were rising to the bait. Was this situation similar to something that affected you in the past? Have you started to take yourself too seriously? How do you feel about it now? Would you like to give yourself a clown’s red nose? Would you like to pour a bucket of green ‘gloop’ over the other party?
By venting the initial feeling of anger by imagining spraying them with paint, you can then ‘put yourself in their shoes’ and maybe see why they are reacting in the way they are. Remembering that anger is often used as a mask for helplessness, inadequacy or fear, helps us to gain a different and maybe truer perspective. You cannot change someone else’s behaviour but you can change the negative effect it has on you.
Separate the behaviour from the person
Just because someone has done something that you feel is wrong doesn’t mean that that person is a totally evil, worthless person and never does anything praiseworthy. It just means that they are human like the rest of us.
We need to bear this in mind also when we are being criticised ourselves. Because we have done or not done something, does not mean that we, personally, are worthless and a total failure – it just means we have done or not done something, that we have made a mistake. The easiest way to gain experience is by making mistakes; this is how most of us learn!
Time machine tactics
You could also put the situation into a different time-frame. What is supremely important now may fade into insignificance when put against the perspective of ten years, a lifetime or centuries. Try it and see.
Interrupting the process
I have already mentioned that the way we use to fuel and prolong anger is by re-running the negative experience that triggered the feelings over and over in our head and adding unhelpful internal comments. ‘I’ll beat the living daylights out of him when I catch him!’ ‘Why does she always pick on me, I hate her’ ‘……. off! You…….’ etc, etc. There are various ways that you can use to interrupt and stop the process.
We can take a mental “time out” by internally shouting ‘Stop’ to ourselves or imaging a red ‘Stop’ sign in our mind’s eye and then imaging something that is linked to pleasanter feelings such as a holiday, a favourite place or activity or a birthday treat. Some people who find they are frequently jumping into a thought cycle that leads to anger may keep an elastic band on their wrist and twang it to interrupt the cycle.
Physically moving from where ever we are when we start on the anger merry-go-round can also help to interrupt it.
It is ok to have feelings of anger; it is what we do with those feelings that is important.
One of the problems with feeling angry is that we often vent our anger to the wrong person. Anyone around gets caught in the storm, whether it’s their ‘fault’ or not.
Aggressive behaviour usually triggers one of two responses in the other person.
The other party may respond to attack by going on the offensive and the whole situation escalates as both parties dig themselves deeper and deeper into their entrenched positions. This may lead to one party acquiescing but with feelings of suppressed anger and a determination to win the next battle. Negotiation is unlikely and at least one person is the loser.
Alternatively the other party may capitulate without a fight. If this happens then we get what we want, but the other person will feel resentment and suppressed anger. This means we do not have an ally but someone who will hope that we fall flat on our face and will not take any spontaneous action to help. We will deserve all that we get.
A preferred option
If we work out any background anger (Silent Abreaction – see page x) and use ways to reduce our general stress levels (see page x) then we are less likely to feel anger anyway.
By using some of the strategies I have described to interrupt your anger pattern and alter the way you think to yourself abut things, your anger is less likely to build. You can still feel angry but maybe less intensely and as you notice how you generate those feelings in yourself you can begin to control them.
A new skill?
This, like any other skill, needs practice but is well worth the effort. You may be amazed at the effect a small change in yourself alters situations. In any interaction between two people, 70-80% of the communication is at an unconscious level, mostly based on unconscious interpretation of our body language. Our body language is determined by how we are feeling and what we are thinking at the time. As with any new skill as you begin to put these strategies into practice you are very conscious about what you are doing.
Remember back to when you learnt to swim or drive a car. As you become more practised you start to do it without consciously thinking about it. It becomes a new established pattern of habitual thinking and behaviour.
Chapter 2 : Aggression, Conflict and Argument
In the preceding pages we have looked at ways you can use to help manage your own anger and aggression. Now we will turn to dealing with other people’s angry and aggressive behaviour.
Expressing their feelings
The first step is to allow the other person to express how they are feeling without interrupting or trying to make explanations. As we know, someone experiencing a lot of anger is not able to rationalise or look at things calmly, so trying to explain away the situation doesn’t work.
Keeping your calm
Remember your strategies for keeping calm. Take a couple of deep breaths, let go your tension as you breathe out and don’t take it as a personal attack. Remember also that anger is often a mask for helplessness, embarrassment, guilt or fear. Allow yourself to look at what is happening from a different viewpoint, either from their shoes or from outside. Use your imagination if it helps. One bank clerk I knew used to imagine a bucket of water on a rope above her work station and if she had an abusive customer she imagined pulling the string and seeing the angry customer before her all wet and bedraggled!
Break the pattern
The second step is to try and move away from the situation onto ‘neutral’ ground’. Physically walking with them into another room maybe ‘where it’s quieter’, acts as a break state. The angry person moves away from the place where they felt angry and is then more able to act constructively. It breaks the pattern of behaviour. If it is not possible to actually move then try and break state in some other way, maybe ask for their name and address or a contact telephone number. They have to break out of their ‘anger pattern’ in order to respond.
Acknowledge their feelings
The third step is to acknowledge to them that you can see that they are angry, upset or whatever. Do not join them in their anger but get them to realise that you have listened and understood how they are feeling. Sometimes it may be appropriate to acknowledge that you would feel angry in a similar situation or to direct their anger at ‘the system’ or some other third party that made ‘the stupid rule’!
Take a moment or two to put yourself in their shoes and as well as helping you to feel more in control of the situation you may find that you can see some ways to resolve it. If it is appropriate, thank them for bringing the problem to your attention and maybe ask whether they have any possible solutions.
If it is appropriate to do so then why not apologise? Many complaints and conflicts would be avoided if someone had said ‘sorry’ at the outset. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you are taking the blame, it can also mean that you sympathise with their feelings. Once someone has an apology or an acknowledgement of their feelings they are much less likely to continue to fuel their anger further up the temper scale!
If you are dealing with a stranger then you need to try and build rapport. Rapport is a name given to that feeling that you are getting on well with someone. This often happens naturally but it is quite possible to build rapport ‘artificially’. You build rapport by showing the other person that you are interested in what they are saying. A useful tip is to use their name and reflect back to them some of the phrases they have used in their conversation. Nodding to show that you are paying attention and sitting to the side rather than face to face (confrontational) both help to oil the wheels of diplomacy.
I see how you feel
Another tip is to listen to the kind of words the other person is using. You may notice that they talk about things ‘feeling’, ‘weighing them down’, ‘wading through treacle’ or other words that relate to feeling. You may find them relating how things ‘looked to them’, ‘it’s clear to me’ or words relating to a visual point of view. Alternatively you may notice words that relate to auditory processing such as ‘I hear what you are saying’, ‘it sounds to me’. If someone is using visual type language and you respond with feeling type words then it as though you were talking a different language. If you can respond with language that matches how the other person is talking on that occasion then you are much more likely to build good rapport.
This may seem very complicated at first because we are not used to paying close attention to the words people use, but try it and it will soon become quite easy to do.
When you are in a family situation then there are usually regular patterns of family behaviour when tempers start to fray and the fur flies. If you can begin to notice the patterns that occur in your family then you can use your knowledge to interrupt the patterns and stop escalation. Maybe a teenage son is being wound up by his younger sister. All she wants to do is to provoke a reaction, which she then builds on, and so it spirals. If the teenage son suddenly turns to his taunting younger sister and gives her a round of applause the pattern is well and truly interrupted! If, when someone doesn’t do something you think they should, you raise your voice and shout at them, and then they raise their voice etc, etc, then try suddenly dropping your voice tone or smiling at them and saying ‘It would really please me if you did x’ and then leave the room. It may not work but it often does and rows get fewer and fewer.
‘I’ not ‘you’
One exercise I always find amazes people, when they do it in my workshops, is the effect of starting sentences with ‘I’ rather than ‘You’ in a potentially conflictual situation such as an errant teenager coming home. This may seem an unlikely way of de-fusing the situation but I recommend it. Try it and see.
‘You are never home on time’ is felt as an attack by the other person and so they immediately go on the defensive and attack in their turn. (‘Attack is the best form of defence’) If however you say ‘I feel very worried when you don’t come home when you say you will’ then the other person does not instinctively feel attacked and a rational negotiation is more likely to take place. This is further explored in the section on assertiveness.
Anticipation and Preparation
Sometimes we know beforehand that a situation is likely to lead to conflict and angry feelings either on our part or that of the other party. In these cases it can be very useful to do a mental rehearsal of the situation. Settle yourself down comfortably, close your eyes and spend a few minutes doing your self-hypnosis. Then imagine the situation and see yourself dealing with the situation, feeling and acting the way you would like to. Then imagine actually being that you and replay the situation as if you were really there, seeing, and hearing what is happening and feeling calm and in control. This is a way of giving yourself positive suggestion. When we are in a relaxed state suggestions are more readily accepted by our ‘unconscious’ mind. (See page x)
Too often we play out negative ‘what if’ scenarios in our imagination which is in effect giving ourselves negative suggestion. One run through a ‘what if’ will enable us to guard against possible consequences but to continue to cycle through the same replay only gets us on the worry treadmill going nowhere and feeling worse and worse. It is also a good idea if you are doing this to notice that there are innumerable ‘possibilities’ but only a few ‘probabilities’. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about the possibilities, but take note of the probabilities.
In any anger-provoking situation, if you can anticipate it, then work out beforehand how you might be able to deal with it. Learn to recognise when you are beginning to feel angry and use that as a smoke alarm to remind you to use some of the strategies we have talked about. Think of it as a useful occasion where you can practise your new skills. Recognise the effects of adrenalin rather than allowing it to build up your internal tension. When the conflict is over, then reflect on how it went. Could you use a better strategy next time? If it went well then remember to praise yourself for it and give yourself a metaphorical pat on the back!
Chapter 3 : Assertiveness
What do we mean by being assertive?
Being assertive means that we have enough self-confidence and self- esteem to calmly tell other people about our feelings and what we would like them to do. It is not being arrogant – which is a mask for underlying insecurity. It means being aware and respectful of other people’s feelings, but not being a doormat, always allowing other people to determine what we should do.
If we do not feel and behave in an assertive manner then we inevitably end up doing things we really don’t want to do with an underlying feeling of resentment. We all have to do things that we would rather not do but if we have taken part in the negotiation, and our feelings have been acknowledged, then we can usually do them with a good grace for the success of the end result.
Assertiveness recognises the rights and feelings of others. Those who are assertive are more likely to be happy. This is because they have a better chance of getting their needs met. Those who are aggressive don’t get their needs met as often and spend a lot of time in needless conflict.
How to build assertive behaviour:-
Firstly we need to have reasonably good self-esteem. Some people need a lot of external reassurance that they are ok but all the reassurance in the world won’t amount to anything if we don’t feel that we are ok internally.
We all have some form of negative internal dialogue or thought processing that tells us that we are a failure or that we did it wrong. This can be useful in that it can make us aware of where we need to make changes, but we need to remember that it is our behaviour that is being criticised not our person and if it doesn’t seem like that, then we need to challenge that critical thought!
Dealing with inner criticism
Although we all have internal criticism to a greater or lesser extent, some people still manage to have a reasonably good portion of self-esteem! How do they do that?
- Internal argument
One way that people deal with negative thoughts is to challenge them and think about what evidence there is to support the thought or not. They have an argument within themselves and the negative thoughts sometimes admit defeat!
- Positive parrot
Some people have a negative parrot (figuratively speaking) on one shoulder and develop a positive parrot on the other! So that they remember to say ‘Well done’ to themselves when something went well, as well as criticising themselves when it didn’t. We are not very good in this country at praising ourselves. It is considered boastful; although anyone dealing with children knows that they respond to praise much better than to criticism and it is no different when we are grown up! So it seems only fair that if we criticise ourselves, that we also give praise when it is due.
- Changing the critical voice
Close your eyes and focus for a moment or two on where, in the space around you, do you hear your critical voice? Try changing its position and see if it feels better. If it does, then leave it there. Some people fade their internal criticisms into the background, or in some way alter how it sounds to them. The internal criticism may not always be in your own voice, for instance, it could be in the voice of a parent or teacher. Sometimes changing the voice tone we imagine so that it is high pitched and squeaky, or a seductive burr, can alter the effect the internal dialogue has on us.
Other people sometimes use distraction to negate the effect of negative internal criticism. They direct their attention elsewhere and ignore it.
One exercise I recommend that you do if you feel that you have poor self-esteem is to write down a list of good qualities that you think you have. I asked someone this once and she told me she didn’t think she could manage to think of any. She then brought me in a beautifully worked embroidery picture that she had created. We looked at the characteristics of someone who could have done this work – patient, conscientious, with artistic appreciation, neat, caring etc. She realised that she actually did have these qualities but she hadn’t thought of them as being part of her. We all have some good qualities, so acknowledge them and feel good about it.
Start your own fan club! Write down at least a dozen good characteristics that you think you have. If you are having difficulty enlist the help of your friends!
Self-esteem depends on you being accepting of yourself, warts and all. Allowing that there are parts of you that you would like to see change and grow, but that you have as much right to have joy of life as anyone or anything, else. We all need to give ourselves a hug at times, to tell ourselves that we are ok, it’s only that sometimes we make mistakes.
Sometimes we need help to allow acceptance of ourselves; our feelings from the past get in our way. If this is the case then you may need to ask for some help from a psychotherapist or psychologist. Remember that
You are far more than the events that have happened to you
We exist as so much more than those experiences from our past, we each have potential, to be a loving, loveable human being, as much as any other human being. Our parents may not always have encouraged and praised us as much as we would have liked or deserved, but as your adult self you can understand that they had problems and did the best they could. (Or if they didn’t, maybe they also needed help but didn’t realise it or were unable to get it). So in some way you could perhaps take that younger you on your knee and give him/her a hug and the encouragement he/she needed to grow that feeling of self worth. With your adult experience and insight you can help that younger self to grow a sense of being ok.
Another facet of self-esteem is that we need to acknowledge to ourselves that we are responsible for our actions. We each sail our own boat on the waters of life and we cannot sail anyone else’s. We may sail in flotilla or even rope up and throw each other fish but we cannot sail someone else’s boat and they cannot sail ours’. This can be a frightening thought at first but also brings a sense of freedom. Many problems arise because people try to run other people’s lives or fail to take responsibility for their own feelings and actions. ‘You make me angry’ is the obvious example here!
The gardeners amongst us know is important to prick out seedlings into seed trays or pots so that they have room to grow. If they are left with the parent plants they grow weak and spindly, rather than strong and self sufficient.
Integrity is vital to self-esteem. If we knowingly lie to ourselves or suppress and fail to acknowledge and recognise our true feelings then we run into problems. As Shakespeare said ‘ to thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man’ (Hamlet Act 1).
Acknowledging our feelings to ourselves helps us to express them more easily to others. If we don’t express them then people around us have to use a crystal ball and mind-read. They then often get it wrong!
Go for it
We all need to have purpose in life, to feel that our existence is of some point. Not everyone has mighty goals but everyone needs to have something to aim for, even if it is cooking the next family meal or weeding the garden! Everyone, by virtue of their existence, touches other people that they meet throughout their life and we never know how we have influenced things just by being in some place at some particular time, and not somewhere else. We are all threads in the tapestry of life and it is the links between the threads that hold the tapestry together. Knowing that you cannot see the picture because you are a part of it is another strand that weaves into our feelings of self-esteem.
The way we feel depends on the pictures we make in our mind’s eye or the words we hear internally.
If we see ourselves as angry or lacking in confidence and keep telling ourselves that inside, then this will indeed be the way we will tend to behave.
If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as coping calmly and confidently and tell ourselves that we are feeling like that then that is how we will begin to behave.
We cannot hold two opposing images and feelings in our mind at one time.
Using your skills in self-hypnosis you can regularly practise seeing yourself the way you want to be and because you are in a relaxed state or in ‘right-brain’ mode this will have a greater effect on how you feel and behave.
Close your eyes and settle down in whatever way you have found best for yourself and imagine seeing an image of yourself the way you don’t want to be behind you. Make it a dull, unattractive image.
Then, in front of you imagine the you the way you want to be, feeling confident, calm, smiling perhaps. Step into that you, feel how good it feels, say to yourself that you are pleased to be moving in the right direction and open your eyes.
Repeat this several times until the image behind you fades or becomes less distinct. You could also do this with imagining yourself in some specific situation.
(See page x – anticipation and preparation.)
A confidence trigger
Wouldn’t it be good if we could instantly bring to mind a feeling of confidence whenever we needed it? We can learn to do precisely that! Our minds are very good at linking feelings to things. Whenever we see, hear or smell something it reminds us of something and we get a feeling associated with the memory. The taste of certain food and drink can transport us back to a particular holiday and the good feelings associated with it. The sight of blood can instantly give bad feelings if we have linked it to some time when we were injured.
Try standing up to attention, with your shoulders back, and raise your level of sight so that you are looking up, and feel the effect of a positive link you have already built up over so many years that it is now a part of your physiology. Try to feel harassed and anxious whilst in this position and you will find it much harder to do because this body posture has been linked to feelings of confidence throughout your life.
Alternatively try feeling confident whilst standing with shoulders hunched and eyes on the floor!
A ‘constructed’ trigger
You can build a confidence trigger for yourself by closing your eyes, relaxing, and allowing your unconscious mind to come up with the memory of a time when you felt things went just the way you wished.
A time when you felt confident and in control, when you felt good inside and out. A time when you felt exhilarated or on top of the world.
As you re-experience that event and feel those feelings, make a link. Do this by pressing a finger and thumb together, or by making a fist with your dominant hand. This is usually the right hand in right handers and the left hand in left handers – but don’t worry about it – just go with which hand feels strongest to you. You could also allow a visual symbol or internal sound to come into your mind as you feel the feeling. This will create a link to those feelings and/or that memory and is called an anchor. It anchors the feelings or ties them in place.
It is important that you imagine yourself back in the memory, really re-living it, not merely seeing it as a picture of an event with you in it. Allow the good feeling to build and make your fist etc as the feeling reaches its height. Do not set your link or anchor as the feelings fade away but as they build to a peak.
Never felt confident?
If you feel that you have never felt confident then ask your unconscious to come up with the memory of a time when some positive event happened. Allow your conscious mind to ‘wonder’ just what the unconscious part of your mind might come up with. Stop ‘trying,’ but just relax and allow your mind to drift with the idea of what feeling confident means to you. Maybe the first time you swam a width at the swimming pool or completed the obstacle race at school, maybe the very first time you baked a cake and it rose in the middle instead of sinking! What would it feel like to climb up a very steep hill and finally reach the top, where you can see the view spread out before you and feel the wind in your hair? How would it feel to win a race and have everyone cheering you on? Use your imagination!
Build it up
Remember that it is the feeling of being in control and of feeling confident that you want to tie into a trigger, so that anything you can do internally to increase the feelings will help. Make the colours brighter, bring out the sun, make it even better than you actually remember. Maybe surround the swimming pool with cheering onlookers as you swim your width! Use your imagination and above all, ENJOY IT!
Practice makes perfect
Repeat this with the same or some other appropriate memories and maybe build on your trigger each time you do your self-hypnosis. Whenever you wish, allow yourself to settle into trance and then go back to the same or a different memory of a suitable time and place and link the feelings to your trigger by clenching your fist etc. The more often your mind makes that link between those good feelings and your trigger, the more automatic it will become. Like a muscle it grows stronger with use!
You can now have those feelings of confidence at your fingertips, to use whenever you feel you have the need.
If you have a visual image that links you to good feelings then keep looking up and imagining it. The more often you do this, the easier it will be to do when you are feeling anxious.
Having built up your self-esteem and self-confidence you will find that you are automatically behaving more assertively and calmly but it can still be hard to say ‘no’.
Saying ‘No’ assertively
The first question you want to ask yourself is ‘Do I really want to say ‘no’?’ If you are not sure, then ask to give yourself time to think about it. Not everyone is good at making instant decisions. Taking time to think about it means that you can firm up your resolve to say “no” and maybe come up with a kind way of conveying your refusal.
If you really do want to say ‘no’, then it is worth a few moments of discomfort to avoid a much longer period of regret.
Try saying ‘no’ while gently nodding your head, sometimes this works!
Acknowledge the other person’s feelings but also acknowledge your own and stick to your guns. Don’t play ‘persuade me’ and don’t rationalise your decision to the other party. If you say ‘I can’t do x, I am really busy for the next six months at least’ you run the risk of them making counter-rationalisations such as ‘Then you could do it in six months time?’!!
Dealing with insults
When someone is unkind to us or if we feel insulted then we feel hurt and angry. We do one of three things:-
- We do nothing and just smoulder away inside with resentment and suppressed anger.
- Or we may go to a third party, join forces and become partners in our anger. The situation then escalates and bad feelings proliferate. The atmosphere gets more and more tense and explosive. Of course we run the risk of further insult from the third party such as ‘It doesn’t bother me’ (meaning you must be defective in some way as it bothers you!) or ‘I don’t want to get involved’ which leaves us feeling even more isolated and upset.
- Alternatively we could confront the person insulting us. Then the chances are that we then get further veiled insults such as ‘You always take things so seriously!’ or ‘I was only joking’, which mean ‘You have no sense of humour’! ‘You are being much too sensitive’, or ‘You are twisting things again!’ in other words, ‘I’m ok, it’s you that is the problem’! Sometimes they may begin to explain how it ‘really was’, that we ‘misunderstood the situation’. This does not usually help us to feel better!
Remember back to Chapter 2 where we talked about letting someone who was angry vent their feelings and let them know that you have heard them? The same applies here.
If you are the third party approached by someone feeling hurt then the first thing to do is listen and acknowledge their feelings. Maybe thank them for coming and talking to you about it. Let them know that you would feel the same if someone insulted you.
Try and show them a different perspective ‘Maybe he didn’t mean it quite like that’ and encourage them to raise the subject with the person who offered the insult but find out how they are going to do it. Maybe offer some ideas so that the subject can be aired without the insulter becoming defensive. Using ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ (see page x) will help.
‘Do you mind if I bring up something that I feel upset about?’
Hopefully the insulter will listen, thank them,
… ‘I appreciate you telling me this..’,
acknowledge their feelings … ‘I can see that you are upset..’
They will take some responsibility for the situation, ‘I suppose I was a little sharp with you but I had a terrible headache this morning’ which immediately lessens the feelings of anger and aggression. Maybe then negotiate something to agree on, such as going for a drink or a cup of coffee!
Unfortunately things may not quite go the way you would like, so you may need to coach them and tell them what you would like them to do!
‘It would really help me if you could listen to me for a moment.’
‘I feel ‘x’ and it would be very helpful to me if you could do ‘y’.’
The golden rule is to express our feelings calmly before they run away with us! Express how we feel by “I am starting to feel upset” rather than “you are making me upset”. The use of the first person demonstrates that we are accepting responsibility for our own feelings. It is important simply to state how we are feeling without apportioning blame. Then state what we would like the other person to do and how we would feel when that had happened.
Allowing ourselves to have needs, physical and emotional, and fulfilling those needs, helps us to be more aware of other people’s needs.
The golden rule of assertiveness
Express how we feel calmly,
‘I feel very upset when you don’t let me know that you are going to be late’
then state what we would like the other person to do
‘If you let me know that you may be late’
and how we would feel when that had happened
‘I won’t then need to worry, and then I won’t start feeling cross’.
As we learn to let go of negative feelings such as anger we can react to things more constructively. As we build up our self-esteem and become more assertive, we find that we feel better in ourselves, happier and with greater energy. We no longer need to behave aggressively and we can cope with other people’s aggression more effectively.
I would like to conclude with a few quotes that I like immensely, I don’t know the authors but if anyone does then please let me know!
Don’t judge your neighbour until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes
Worry is interest paid on something that may never happen
When you bury the hatchet, don’t mark the spot
Use the past as a springboard, not as a settee
Happiness is contagious – be a carrier
May your God go with you!
© Ann Williamson