Anger is unavoidable. Feelings of anger are triggered by factors in our environment and are accompanied by certain physiological reactions. Anger management focuses on the negative expression of these feelings. When one externalizes anger, one can mistreat the world around him.
Teenagers have a unique experience with anger. Adolescence is a major growth stage emotionally, socially and physically. Teenagers go through this stage without the benefit of a fully mature brain. Thus, their understanding and ability to self-regulate their emotions is often difficult. There are, however, several ways in which teenagers can gain better control of anger management. Managing anger involves becoming aware of the physiological "signals", such as blood pressure and heart rate, before the thinking part of the brain is bypassed and the action part of the brain is engaged. Following are some of the concepts I offer teens:
- It takes 10 steps before you "lose" your temper. Here's an example: If I throw a ball to you, you catch it. However, if you were two-years-old, it might hit you in the face. Through trail and error, you have learned to lift your hands up, cup your hands, keep your eyes on the ball, bring your hands together at the right moment, press hard enough to keep the ball in your hands and suddenly you have caught the ball. This "catching the ball" technique took months or maybe years to master. In the same way, learning techniques to control your anger takes time to learn. Let's take a look at how we can break down the way we react in a situation to see how we might handle our anger differently: You ask your mom if you can go out while thinking to yourself: "She won't let me." You feel sick to your stomach, your heart races. You feel hot and angry and you're ready for a fight. A little too rudely, you ask your mom if you can go out. She responds to your tone of voice and says "no." You explode and scream, "I knew you were going to say that!" You go to your room and slam the door. You kick the bed and throw yourself down and think hateful thoughts. In order to begin to control your anger, you need to deconstruct your behavior and see all these "steps" you've gone through.
- Prevention is the best medicine. If you understand step 1 and step 2 of your angry reaction, you can prevent steps 3, 4 and 5 from happening. Awareness is the key. Catching yourself before those other steps occur takes practice (like a child learning to catch a ball). You need to find a way to prevent yourself from going too far. In our example, from the moment you thought about asking your mom for permission to go out, you felt and behaved angrily. You need an alternative plan. One alternative during the early stages of anger is to pause and tell yourself, "I've got to break this pattern. Acting this way solves nothing. I don't feel good when I get distressed. I need to calm down and then cope with what I'm feeling." How do you do that? Take a deep breath. This allows you the opportunity to plan a different conversation with your mother. Use an external "reminder" to "stop, look, and listen" to different behavioral options. For instance, wearing a certain bracelet, ring or band can be a reminder for you that you need to stop long enough to consider the outcome of the path you are on.
- Give yourself a break. Go outside for a bit. Take 10 deep breaths. Go to your room, lie down and listen to music. Write a page in your journal. Any of these techniques will allow you the "space" to talk yourself through the problem at hand. Like that child learning to catch the ball, it takes time to learn to control your behavior. In the event that you reach the point of losing your temper and expressing your anger, you need a plan as well. Some have found the following techniques as helpful at times like these: going for a run, punching a pillow, or throwing a ball. Screaming into your pillow can be more productive than screaming at your mother. These physical releases can produce a calmer state in which you can take a look at what led to the angry response and make a plan for the next time it happens.
- Finally, write yourself a letter. Tell yourself the situations that trigger your anger. Describe the first steps as you move towards an angry outburst. Then, describe alternative plans for calming yourself and dealing reasonably with your anger. Give specific behavioral options that you've learned and calm you down at that stage. Also include plans for safe releases of your anger if it goes too far. This letter should be available at all times. Your own words can be your best coach when you feel circumstances getting out of control.
Laura Doerflinger, a licensed mental health counselor, is the Executive Director of the Parent Education Group at http://www.familyauthority.com and the author of the audio book, Emotionally Balanced Parenting
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