From time to time I see clients who say they have an anger management problem. When I ask about it, they tell me stories of frustration.
A middle-aged music teacher with a private practice in the evenings becomes enraged when her boyfriend routinely calls her after 10:00 pm.
An office worker exhausted from doing constant overtime watches in silence while his boss authorizes a vacation for another member of the team.
A single mother, struggling to make ends meet, reluctantly and under pressure lends her fiancé her new snowblower, which breaks before the owner can use it.
All of these people feel trapped and exploited.
The result? You bet! It’s anger.
The teacher, the office worker, and the single mother are all angry because they failed to speak up before the trouble occurred.
As these examples suggest, on some occasions when conflict arises between people, anger may signal the need to revisit expectations and boundaries.
Is managing this anger a problem? Not for other people if there’s no destruction or injury involved. But the victims will all feel better if they mend their ways and communicate more openly.
I remember a husband who described his wrath when he came home one day to find that his wife had rearranged the basketball trophies in the family room.
She had been dusting and vacuuming the room, she explained, and had not meant to disturb the order of things. When he confronted her, she was shocked by the intensity of his feelings.
I asked the husband whether he had asked his wife to leave the trophies for him to dust. The answer was no.
Once the wife understood her husband’s preferences, the problem did not recur.
The moral of the story? Let people know what you want and expect from them and what you do not want and will not welcome. They will be grateful for the information. Almost no one wants to offend you.
There are other ways of setting limits with other people as well.
Don’t allow yourself to be browbeaten or cornered into making concessions with which you are not comfortable.
Are you being candid in setting limits with family and friends? Can you tell people at work what you need? You may not always get what you asked for, but if you don’t say what you want, how do you expect to get it?
None of us is a good mind reader. We all depend on each other for news bulletins about our wishes and our feelings.
In many situations we may not know what we want instantly. I know you want to borrow my BMW, but am I comfortable lending it to you?
You will feel disappointed and angry with people less often if you specify what is okay and what is not. A failure to respect boundaries is a big red flag in any relationship!
In addition, all of us need time to reflect now and then—and we need to be comfortable asking for it.
If you tend to give in just to end a conversation and get people off your back, the simple comebacks listed below will help.
Practice them while standing in front of the bathroom mirror. When they roll off your tongue easily, they are ready for use.
- No, thank you.
- This is not for me.
- I don’t want to.
- I don’t like this.
- I’m not comfortable with this.
- We need to talk about this, but right now I need to think some more.
- You know what? Now that I’ve had a chance to think it over, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to take back what I said before.
- That’s as much as I want to say at the moment.
- I’ll have to get back to you about that.
- Let me think about it.
- I’ll keep that in mind.
- I’d rather not have this conversation right now.
The last response comes in particularly handy when you are getting unwanted advice. It both acknowledges the other person’s words and brings the conversation to a graceful close.
Learn to say no. If you never say no, people will be uncertain when you mean yes.