Coping mechanisms – anger management and how one simple word (‘why’) can help defuse most situations

Something I find almost as difficult to admit to as when I first spoke of anxiety, low self-esteem, and a lack of self-confidence is that I have a bit of a temper and get angry quite easily. By and large I manage to suppress this quite well but it does begin to emerge more within certain situations. For example, when I encounter inconsiderate drivers, encountering rude people with no manners (‘you’ve held the door open for me? Well here’s a huge dose of complete ignorance in return…’), encountering ridiculously self-centred / egotistical people, encountering people who talk down to others and treat them like crap (an example which particularly grates being berating a waiter or waitress, you know, just because you can…), and many other examples of a similar ilk. I guess, taking it to core basics, pretty much every time I encounter someone whose values and beliefs really jar with mine.

Please don’t get me wrong here – I’m certainly not saying that everyone must have the same core beliefs and values as me. That’s absolutely not the case and we’re all different (thank God). I’m talking about what I deem to be extreme examples. I prefer to see the good in people and still believe, despite this chaotic world we live in, that the vast majority of people are profoundly good and decent. But some aren’t and that’s what I’m referring to with the examples above – the more extreme end of the scale.

At such times, I have what I believe is an easy coping mechanism I like to use to get rid of the anger in an instant. It doesn’t always work, and I’m not always mentally ready to think of this, but when it does work, it works really well. If someone does something which really gets my back up, I stop for a second and simply say to myself ‘Why?’ It’s that simple and it is effective. A huge caveat though – I need to be in the right frame of mind to begin with for this to work. Some examples are:

  • Someone drives past me at high speed and cuts me up to get into my lane. Rather than rant and rave, I say out loud ‘why?’. That then prompts me to think of potential reasons. Perhaps that driver has an ill husband or wife he/she needs to get home to. Perhaps that person genuinely doesn’t believe the speed they’re driving at is considered excessive by most. Perhaps that person has had a really stressful day at work and is thinking about that to such a degree they can’t see how their driving will be perceived by others. Whatever the reason, those few seconds of reflection are enough to cool my initial anger.
  • Someone at work is leaving the floor a second or two in front of me and leaves the door to slam back in my face. Rather than (inwardly) rant and rave, I ask myself ‘Why?’. Perhaps that person genuinely didn’t see me behind them. Again, perhaps they’ve had a stinker of a day and those issues are consuming their every thought. Perhaps their values are different to mine and they don’t see the need to stand there for a second or two holding the door open for others. Whatever the reason, those few seconds of reflection are enough to cool my initial anger.
  • Someone posts a negative comment on one of my social media posts or comments. Rather than get angry, I say out loud ‘Why?’ Perhaps that person genuinely disagrees with something I’ve written and sees no other way of adequately expressing themselves. Maybe that person has issues of their own and can only find solace in directing their barbed comments at others. Perhaps that person would like a forum of their own but doesn’t know how to go about it, therefore reacting in this way seems an appropriate course of action. Whatever the reason, those few seconds of reflection are enough to cool my initial anger.

In each of the above examples, it could also be the case that the person in question is quite simply a particularly unlikeable character. However, let’s try to stick to the positives here. I don’t like the fact that I have a short fuse in certain situations and really wish that it didn’t exist. However, I must accept that it does and likely always will. I’ve learned to accept that it’s part of who I am though in using the ‘why’ question as frequently as I can, I am taking steps to manage that anger and become more empathetic and understanding. In doing so, I will almost certainly also be helping my mental health and state of mind.  

Thanks for reading, please do take care and, if you’re anything like me, try to stay calm! In the words of the multi-million selling self-help book, don’t sweat the small stuff…

Best wishes,

Mick

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