Anger Management
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Anger in the Workplace

In 1986, Patrick Sherrill killed 14 of his fellow postal workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, before turning the gun on himself. The phrase ‘going postal’ was born, used to describe someone’s violent outburst stemming from anger in the workplace. In the decades following this bloody event, workplace anger has killed dozens of workers and endangered thousands of others. This relatively new human relations phenomenon reduces workplace productivity and takes its toll on everyone within the organization.

There are a lot of good reasons to get angry at work. You have a lot at stake there. You may have attended an expensive school to earn a degree. Your family depends on the money you earn for housing, food and other necessities. You have made significant investments in your profession and feel a sense of pride associated with your accomplishments. Losing your job, or your credibility within that position, would cause you a great deal of personal harm. Anger is a normal expression of pain or fear of pain – it would be perfectly normal for you to be hostile if you thought someone prevented you from feeding your family or from pursuing your dream career.

Unfortunately, many cases of anger in the workplace are not a result of an actual threat or real pain directly attributed to a singular and specific cause. Employees and managers bring their own personal experiences and emotional shortcomings into the workplace. Anger expressed in the workplace may result from difficulties at home or from interpersonal relationships with co-workers. A supervisor might be completely unaware that one of her workers has an issue at home that is causing a violent rage to percolate just under the surface.

Violence is the most obvious and most feared way to express anger in the workplace but it is not the only way anger manifests itself in a professional setting. Anger is also the root of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and intimidation. A man who is upset that women were allowed to work in his section of the factory, for example, might express his anger by hanging lewd pornographic images on the bulletin board. A woman who resents being passed over for a promotion might sabotage her new supervisor by filing baseless complaints against him. A manager might express his frustration over a cut in his pay by bullying his weakest employee by assigning her work he knows she cannot accomplish alone.

Anger in the workplace can take down a successful business more quickly than a bank failure or product recall because it disintegrates the very foundation of any organization- the relationships between people. A company or university can spend a great deal of money and time addressing anger within its ranks, trying to diffuse hostilities that may someday spark into violence, instead of focusing on fulfilling its mission statement of producing a quality product or service. In the worst case scenario, anger in the workplace erupts into violence, earning a spot on the evening news.


Sense of Entitlement

The world owes you. You’ve worked hard your whole life and have never done anything wrong. You never ask for anything in life, except for everyone to treat you much better than they do. You feel a sense of entitlement and are growing irritated because nobody cares. A sense of entitlement in relationships can lead to a misuse of anger.
By law, Americans are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Beyond that, you may want to experience other creature comforts, like a nice home and an expensive car. Anyone can achieve these things in the modern capitalist world, but it takes a lot of hard work and money. Unless you inherit a fortune, you are not automatically entitled to many of the things you need and desire. You’re going to have to work long, hard hours to get what you want out of life.

Hard work is difficult and you may be disappointed if you if you don’t get what you had worked for. Chronic disappointment leads to frustration and anger. You can still feel this same sense frustration and anger of disappointment even if you did not work hard to achieve the goals. When you truly believe you are entitled to something, you feel angry when you don’t get it, even if you didn’t life a finger to attain your goals. Your anger may even drive you to punish those people who failed to give you the thing you so richly deserved.

You can impose an emotional sense of entitlement in your personal relationships. You feel you are entitled to certain comforts or rights without the responsibility of working for them. For example, a woman might feel she is entitled to her husband’s undying love because they have been married for three years, despite the fact that she has had four affairs and spends the entire family budget on shoes. She feels entitled to his love without the responsibility of acting like a loving spouse. She may even react angrily when her husband expresses a heart-felt wish for fidelity because she feels she deserves a sex life.

A sense of entitlement causes unfounded inequities within a relationship. Entitlement puts you at the top of the heap with everyone else beneath you. You may not even deserve this prestigious position of dominance over others. Most certainly, the people who must fulfill your entitlements probably don’t feel they deserve their lowly position on your personal totem pole. These lopsided relationships foster anger and hostility in both directions, as you feel disappointment when you don’t get all that you deserve while those who are bound to serve you feel you don’t deserve all that you get.

Entitlement is nonproductive in that it implies you do not have to put forth any additional effort to gain the reward. You feel others owe this nicety to you, regardless of your behavior, because of your superiority. Entitlement gives you possession of something without having to earn it, and the sense of entitlement gives you the right to become angry if you don’t get what you deserve.


Basic Mistrust

If it weren’t for you, your family and co-workers wouldn’t make it through the day. You can’t trust your wife to make the right decisions at the grocery store unless you write a list, and your kid is doomed to fail in school if you don’t yell about homework every night. Your boss is an even bigger idiot, despite all his schooling and years of experience. If everyone did things your way, life would be perfect. You question everyone’s decision-making abilities. You’ve surrounded yourself with idiots and its really starting to get under your skin. Your anger is a result of the basic mistrust you impose on the people with whom you hold close relationships.
Relationships are built on a foundation of trust. A positive relationship is built on the trust that each party is capable of acting in the best interest of themselves and the other party. It feels good when you can accurately predict how people act in a relationship. It’s nice, for example, to think your wife is the best cook on earth and have that belief substantiated when you sit down for dinner each night.
In contrast, you feel uncertain and fearful of potential danger when people act differently than you trusted they would, or if you decide that they are no longer capable of performing up to your expectations. You feel a sense of disappointment, for example, when you think your wife should have cooked a more delicious meal. You may even begin to distrust her motives or capabilities behind her lack of culinary flair, judging her to be mean, lazy or stupid. “She is a bad cook either because is too dumb to follow a recipe or she just wants to see me suffer.”
Anger is often a result of judgment on how other people should act in a relationship – you become angry when people don’t act how you think they should, or when they act in a way that you don’t expect. You cannot trust them to act according to your plan and you mistrust their abilities to think and act independently. You feel an overwhelming need for control because you feel that, without your constant supervision, everyone will make terrible mistakes and the whole thing will come caving in around you. It is difficult for you to relinquish control and accept that other people may be capable when given the opportunity to act independently.
This basic mistrust of others leads you to be hyper-vigilant to how well people perform those rare tasks you allow them control over. Your basic mistrust in their capabilities makes you feel certain they will never accomplish their goals without you. If they fail, you hurl righteous anger towards them instead of finding out how you could have helped change the outcome.
Basic mistrust ruins your relationships in that it puts you in control of things that should be handled by others. The people in your life need to feel like fully-formed human beings, capable of taking care of themselves and making independent decisions.


Impulse beliefs

The root of anger is pain. When you experience pain, your natural reaction is to get angry. Anger gives your body the speedy reflexes and explosive power to move yourself to a safe place. For example, a mosquito bites your arm, causing you pain. In an instant, you become angry and slap the mosquito — an aggressive reaction to pain. The next time a mosquito lands on your arm, you impulsively smack the insect before he has a chance to inflict discomfort. Your reaction is automatic, quick and unquestioned.

You can cultivate emotional impulses, known as impulse beliefs, in a similar fashion. An impulse belief is your emotional interpretation and reaction to another person’s behavior. For example, you might interpret a compliment as an attempt to make you feel proud. On the other hand, you might have an impulse belief that the person is trying to inflict pain when they insult you.

Impulse beliefs can be accurate or inaccurate. When you hold an accurate impulse belief, you correctly interpret the intentions of the other party. For instance, when your spouse serves you a piece of your favorite homemade pie, you can assume he did it out of love and genuine interest in your culinary happiness. An inaccurate impulse belief might be that you think he gave you the pie in some sinister plan to make you fat.

Inaccurate impulse beliefs have a detrimental effect on relationships because they cause one-sided anger issues in which other party never has a reasonable chance of overcoming. When you engage in impulse beliefs, especially inaccurate ones, you project shame and blame onto the other person. This person may have the absolute best intentions, completely unaware that his innocent thoughts and actions have been hijacked by your anger. You disregard his true motives and replace his intentions with your own. In this way, you dehumanize the people you are in a relationship because you deny them their true feelings and impose your own thoughts onto them. You minimize their efforts to express love as a way of punishing them for transgressions they are unaware of committing.

Impulse beliefs project your own negative feelings of personal shame and guilt onto those people you hold the most intimate relationships with, especially those whom you’ve shared very long relationships. As a child, you were wired to respond to the impulse beliefs you imposed on your parents. You started out your life believing your parents did everything as a direct result of their love for you. When you went through your teenage years, your impulse beliefs indicated that your parents did these things because they hated you. Once you reached adulthood, you recognized the fact that your parents indeed acted out of love but that many of their thoughts and actions had nothing to do with you. You learned to reassess the impulse beliefs you forced onto your parents as your relationship with them matured.

You engage in inaccurate impulse beliefs when you assume you know what another person is thinking. You decide ahead of time the meaning of each nuance, and assign secret importance to everything she says and does. When she brings you coffee, you think, “She just does that because she’s trying to act like a victim. She knows I hate that and is trying to make me look bad in front of the family.” In reality, she might have thought you seemed tired and could use a nice cup of coffee.


Resentment and Hate

by Marty Brenner

badAngerAnger is an explosive reaction to a dangerous situation. When you find yourself in peril, anger provides your body the energy you need to overcome your enemy. In its purest form, episodes of anger are sporadic, short-lived and leave as quickly as they appear. The rest of the time, your mind should be in a calm, relaxed state. In contrast, resentment and hate are protracted, lengthy expressions of anger that begin to overwhelm your more peaceful states of mind.

Resentment and hate are built from the accumulation of unreleased anger. When someone hurts you and makes you angry, you repress your anger instead of expressing and releasing it. You store each transgression against you in an emotional jar in which you store your volatile emotions for a long period of time. You take out this jar of injustices and re-examine each incident any time you need to rekindle the fuel of anger. You relive each experience to remind yourself why you hate your enemy so much. Resentment and hate justify your anger. Without them, you would be forced to reconsider your position and face the possibility that you were wrong when you fought with your enemies so long ago.
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