If you click on My Anger Tree you can see a larger version.
Anger in itself is not bad, but the expression of it can be very destructive to relationships, others and oneself. When a triggering event seems to attack us we have a choice. We can do the habitual behavior and rocket up the left-hand side of the anger tree, taking the situation personally, placing blame and justifying our anti-social behavior. Or, we can accept responsibility, go up the right-hand side, growth/control, cool off, and then ask that most important question, “Why do I feel angry?”
People are literally rooted in their old, learned behaviors, and must develop new ways of doing things, then practice them until they are the new habits.
Practice the Self-Talk Anger Tree:
As I learned, when I tried to develop the habit of washing my ears before I washed my face while showering, I needed to practice the anger tree. I realize I’d been using the same old anger habits for most of my life so if I didn’t establish my anger tree as the preferred method of handling my negative, angry emotions, it would never replace the old, destructive methods.
When I first developed the Anger Tree I thought back to the times I became angry, and noticed they tended to be with the same people or in similar situations. Learning this, I went through the Anger Tree Process with each one to understand my reasons for going up the “left-hand side” of the tree. By doing this with the times I was angered I was able to work through the “right-hand side” of the My Anger Tree and handle the recurrences differently. I had to practice the new behaviors until I was comfortable with them so when I felt my hot buttons being pushed I didn’t just react but responded in a more appropriate manner.
As an additional tool I started recording any angry feelings in my Day-Timer when they occurred. I noted them on the Advance Planner portion in red and explained them on the 2-Page-Per-Day Indexed Calendar Pages. Each week I reviewed the items in red to see if there was a pattern to the incidents. If a pattern appeared I would begin using the most frequent occurring incidents to practice My Anger Tree.
Several years after developing my Anger Tree I read Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (see page 14) and found that his illustration of the “Circle of Concern versus the Circle of Influence” needed to be added to my anger material. The following story is why I included it as one of my anger tools.
In 1990, I was elected to the city council of the small community in Nebraska where I live. There are a total of five seats on the council and, when I was elected, three others were elected at the same time. That first night in December, when we were all sworn in, I discovered that you needed three votes to get anything passed. The first action taken was to elect a new mayor and I soon found myself on the two side of the vote. As it tuned out that was to be the program for most of the next two years, out-voted on many of the controversial issues. When it came time for me to run for reelection two years later I declined. The three elected at the same time I had been were on four-year terms so if I had been reelected I would have still been in the voting minority.
HOW ANOTHER PERSON USED THE ANGER TREE:
One of my adult learners, I’ll call her Vicki, related the following story to me about how she used the Anger Tree to improve the relationship with her mother.
I’ve been facilitating a book discussion group for many years and, at their insistence, one Friday in the early 1990s I spent the hour going through my anger material. About six weeks after giving the anger presentation Vicki mentioned to the group that she had used the Anger Tree to help her change how she reacted to her mother’s visits.
Each year Vicki’s mother would drive to our small community and spend a week with her. Yet, over the years, Vicki had grown to dread her mother’s annual visits. It seemed that her mother knew how to push almost every hot button she had. This year, for a week prior to her mother’s arrival, Vicki would get up an extra fifteen minutes early each morning, sit on the end of her bed and rehearse the new way she was going to respond to her mother’s button pushing.
You see, Vicki had thought through the right side of the Anger Tree and analyzed her reactions to her mother during their visits. She knew her mother was always going to be her mother and wanted to enjoy their time together. With a little soul searching and lots of mental practice, Vicki spent that fifteen minutes each day rehearing her new behavior.
When her mother arrived, Vicki was ready. The two got along like never before. They ended up both having a wonderful visit and when her mother arrived back at her home she called Vicki and expressed as much, suggesting they not wait a full year before getting together again. Vicki thanked me for the new material and told the book group that the Anger Tree had worked for her and it would probably work for them too.
A QUICK REVIEW OF THE ANGER TREE:
When I begin to experience my personal anger symptoms like tunnel thinking, flushed face or a tightening of my shoulders, I realize I’m starting to shoot up the left-hand side of My Anger Tree. My mental response is to tell myself, “I’m responsible, just think, Steve” and go cool off before I say or do something I will regret.
If I’m in a meeting with others, I usually get quiet and visualize the Anger Tree. I see myself hanging out on the lower right limb of the Tree, relax my shoulders and take a couple of deep breaths. I then ask why I am feeling angry and usually the answer comes to me in short order. If I’m already headed up the “outward” branch on the left side of the Tree, I apologize for my harsh words as I transition to the right side of the Tree.
I’ve found that once I’m on the right side of the Anger Tree the more calm and logical side of me takes over, and working through the six steps is not difficult. It has helped over the years to have lots of opportunity to practice that side. One of the significant side benefits of spending time on the right side of the Tree has been that I have been able to identify those things that are important to me in life and put them in order of priority. It certainly has made answering some of the questions on the right side easier.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER:
I’ve shared with you how I was able to discover a better, more constructive way to use my anger. It was not easy to change my old habits and I’ve had several relapses in the past 25 years, but from, where I sit today, I have become a better father, friend, son and community leader because of it.
I’m sure part of what helped me change was the learning process I went through while conducting my research on anger. I read several books on it and found that Make Anger Your Ally by Warren to be the one I could identify with the most. This is not to say that other books were not accurate, just that this one is more appropriate to my way of thinking. If you decide you need to change how you use your anger, then I suggest you search out your own sources and come to your own conclusions.
I have presented the material many times over the years and that in itself has been a good reminder and re-enforcer for me. I’ve received much positive feedback about the material and how helpful it has been to certain individuals. Probably the single item in the material for which I receive most of the positive comments is the Anger Tree. Because most people tend to be very visual, they find it easy to remember the steps in going up the right-hand side of the tree. I’ve had several people tell me that they reduced the Anger Tree on a copy machine and taped the smaller version of it over the telephone so they could remember to use it when an angry customer called in.
It is now your choice. It is entirely up to you what you do with the information offered in this paper. If you feel you already have your anger under control and use its energy constructively, I congratulate you. But if you are like so many people and occasionally find yourself traveling up the left-hand side of the Anger Tree then I suggest you spend some time analyzing your situation and developing new behaviors modeled after the right-side of the Anger Tree. Remember, you and those you come in contact with will have to live with the consequences of your decisions.
The circle of concern contains things that concern us but over which we may not have much or any control. In contrast, our circle of influence contains things we are concerned about and have influence or control over. By determining which of these two circles is the focus of most of our time and energy, we can discover much about the degree of our effectiveness. It might also tell us about the level of frustration of that person.
Proactive people focus their efforts in the inner circle because they can do something about the activities that happen there. Reactive people focus their efforts outside their circle of influence and frequently become frustrated with themselves and others.
An example of someone living in the outer circle might be a person in central Nebraska whose passion in life is saving the whales. I believe it is safe to say he or she will spend many frustrating hours trying to convince fellow Nebraskans to get excited about saving the whales when mostly they want to talk about is how Huskers are doing.