suitsAnger management is a life task and requires us to perpetually work on it, as we would any other task that is put before us.

Many clients come in to counseling wanting an answer to the question, “Why did I pass up a perfectly nice job to work for somewhere that makes me so unhappy?” The answer often turns out to be that the client is not attracted to opportunities that make them happy. If the client has come to feel inferior and inadequate due to a lifetime of criticism and blame, then they believe they do not deserve to succeed. It feels inconsistent and uncomfortable to achieve when they see themselves as unworthy of accomplishment.

We do not realize that our attraction is merely a cover story used to deceive ourselves. No one would deliberately work for a bully, but someone who is “takes charge” is acceptable in our eyes. Yet when the honeymoon is over, the blinders fall from our eyes and we see that we are stuck in an unsatisfying career.

Donna is thirty three and single. She had a strong work ethic and she enjoyed her job. But Donna had a problem with Audrey, her supervisor. Whenever Audrey pointed out areas for improvement, Donna was defensive, confrontational, and wanted to make it stop. So she yelled, argued, criticized and got in Audrey’s face until she left.

In counseling Donna learned that her overreaction to Audrey’s comments was due to pent up anger that had never gone anywhere. She was encouraged to release the pent up by writing anger letters to all the people in her life who had hurt her. In this way, she drained a lot of anger out of her system.

The act of writing allowed her to take control of where and when her anger came out. She was not a vengeful, vindictive or spiteful person. She was merely angry at the things that happened to her throughout her life and didn’t manage it appropriately. In counseling, Donna learned to:

Set an example of mature self-respect for others to see and follow.

Disengage emotionally from antagonism.

Choose not to take others’ behavior personally.

Replace preventative actions with real effort based on the current situation, rather then the potential outcome.

Trust her judgment as good enough to solve problems as they unfold.

Have the willingness to take appropriate risks by doing what is hard and doing it anyways.

Have the courage to tolerate mistakes as a natural part of the human condition.

Express her anger appropriately with her words, not her behavior, like a mature adult.

Take responsibility for her choices and act in accordance with what makes herself happy.

Validate other’s feelings instead of defending herself against it.

The next day, Donna saw that Audrey had scheduled her to work two Saturdays in a row without asking her. In the past, she would have gone into a flaming rage, screaming in protest at the unfairness of this situation. Instead, she went into Audrey’s office like a grown up. She said, “Audrey, it makes me angry when you change my schedule without telling me.” For the first time in years, Audrey apologized. “I’m sorry, I thought you wouldn’t mind covering for Connie. But if it’s a problem, I’ll call in Connie.”

In that moment, Donna felt like a success. Her feelings had been validated, her anger was justified, and that she was able to manage her emotions like an adult. She had assumed appropriate responsibility for her career, her anger and herself. She felt in control; she was not merely reacting to a provocation. She had secured cooperation, for the first time that she could remember. She began to see that people were not enemies, but imperfect human beings like herself.

Angry co-workers image available from Shutterstock.