ANGER AND EFFECTIVE SELF-CONTROL
The way I learned to use its energy constructively.
This paper and the material in it were intended for those who occasionally do or say things while angry that is detrimental to establishing and maintaining good relationships.
While writing this paper the following E-mail was forwarded to me by a dear friend and I felt it was a good way to begin…….
There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.
Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence….
Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that his son now pull out one nail for each day he was able to hold his temper.
The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well my son but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger they leave scars just like these nails did. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say, “ I’m sorry”, the wound is still there. A verbal wound can be as bad as a physical one.
The little boy then understood how powerful his words were. He looked up at his father and said “I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.”
“Of course I can,” said the father.
Friends are very rare jewels, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share words of praise and they always want to open their hearts to us.
Please forgive me if I have ever left a hole in your fence!
– Author unknown
Here’s a short video of the Nails in The Fence.
Over the years I’ve come to discover that life is a series of choices; then living with the consequences of those choices. Some of the most difficult choices I’ve had to make over the years dealt with breaking old habits and replacing them with better, more constructive ones once I became aware.
I’ve also come to understand that one of the most important aspects of human existence is the relationship we have with others and ourselves. We are creatures that need to associate closely with others to feel whole and complete with our world. Without those close relationships most people feel a void or sense of not being complete. Unfortunately, many of us behave in ways that make it difficult for others to want to have a close relationship with us. Frequently those we want to be the closest with are the ones we treat the worst and we don’t know what to do about it. The following short account is the reason I decided to do something about the way I was treating the two most important people in my life, my boys, Ryan and Todd.
My Anger Story:
During the summer of 1987 I was working for AT&T in Kansas City and flying to Atlanta on a weekly basis to train the other half of the district in Quality Management. I was divorced at the time and my two children, then ages 10 and 13, spent the summers with me. I needed to find them a sitter for the parts of two days each week when I was in Atlanta.
The first person who had agreed to keep them that one night backed out on me at the last moment, so I asked my retired cleaning lady if she would take care of them. She agreed and said the boys would need to stay at her town home because she had developed bad knees and had trouble leaving her second story condo. The boys knew her and were more than pleased since she was a good cook and had a large TV.
Two days prior to my next trip to Atlanta the boys and I drove twice the one-mile trip to Evelyn’s home. Both boys agreed to show up there at 5 P.M. the evening I would be out of town. Ryan was the older and I thought the more responsible, so I insisted he follow the procedure exactly as I had laid it out. There was to be no variation from the process. He agreed to it.
About 9 P.M. EDT that first evening in Atlanta, I called them at Evelyn’s home. She answered my call and told me that Ryan had not shown up at the agreed upon time. He had been with a friend and his friend’s father and did not get there until 6:00 P.M. CDT. After I unscrewed myself from the ceiling I asked her to put him on the phone. I unleashed my verbal anger on him and said we would finish the discussion when I returned the next evening.
About 3:00 in the morning I awoke and started thinking what I had done to Ryan. I had read somewhere that anger was a result of a fear so I asked myself what I feared. I eventually came up with the fact that when I returned to Evelyn’s later that evening, she might tell me she didn’t want to keep the boys any longer. If that was the case, I was back looking for another sitter and I had already exhausted all the possibilities I could think of the week prior.
Even though I felt justified in my anger I knew I had treated Ryan poorly, but the last thing I wanted was for them to not want to return each summer. I needed to forge a strong relationship with both boys and I had just driven a wedge between Ryan and myself. I could not take back what I had said to him, I could only hope once I talked to him, he would understand and forgive me. I knew what I wanted for the boys and myself, so I decided I would call Ryan from the office in the morning and apologize for my harsh behavior. And that is what I did.
When I returned to Kansas City that evening, all three of us sat down and we talked through the situation. I explained what had gone through my mind when Evelyn let me know she was not pleased with Ryan showing up late. I described to them my fear of losing her and the problems it would cause us if she quit. I agreed never to fly off the handle again when angry with them. I would always cool off first then we would work out our differences. The rest of that summer went as planned and when I put them on the plane for Texas we were already making plans for the next year.
In the book Super Brain by Chopra and Tanzi write about anger and how it originates in the “unconsciousness”, which it did that evening in Atlanta, GA. It was not until about 3 AM that I became “aware” of my anger and its possible consequences then I moved on to becoming “self-aware” of it origins and what I needed to do about them. If you would like to learn more about unconsciousness, awareness and self-awareness then read the book pages 77 through 93. I found the material very enlightening and it has caused me to do some soul searching to discover what is behind some of my thoughts and actions.
About three months later, while attending a quality consultant training workshop delivered by Larry Liberty, Ph.D., I literally relived that evening. Dr. Liberty was explaining to us what he called “Effective Self-management.” Actually it was an overview of how most people express their angry feelings and a better and more constructive method to use.
He explained that people are told what they should not do when angry but usually are not shown what to do instead. His words so profoundly touched me that day, when I returned to Kansas City I started reading everything I could find on anger.
During the winter I started putting my thoughts about anger down on paper and eventually developed a graphic that I called “My Anger Tree” to go along with it. I also found and read the book, Making Anger Your Ally, by Dr. N. C. Warren. When the boys arrived the next June we spent one evening going through my anger material until I felt that they had a good understanding of the anger tree. We all promised to try and use it. Since the summer of 1988 we have never exploded or used our anger destructively toward each other. We have been able to work out our differences, and our summers together in Grand Lake, Colorado have been many of the high points in our lives.
MY REASONS TO CHANGE:
What were my reasons for wanting to change? While doing some soul searching about how I expressed my anger I discovered two very good reasons why I needed and wanted to change. First, I wanted to have a good relationship with my boys so we could look forward to spending time together each year. Second, I did not want either one of them to learn to express their anger as I had demonstrated mine. I knew if change was going to happen it had to start with me. I had just discovered two of the best reasons why I wanted and needed to change behavior.
Several summers ago I researched and rewrote my anger paper using the Internet as one of my research tools. What I learned about my anger material after looking through the new references was that what I had written back in 1988 was still very accurate. The next blog post is not my original material but a rewrite of it with the additional material I found during my internet research.
“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
― Deepak Chopra