I’ll never forget one particular day in the sixth grade. My class was playing kickball for PE, and I was already a little frustrated because I thought that the PE teacher had stacked the teams by putting nearly all of the good players on the other team.
After the other team scored several runs, we finally got three outs and had a chance to get on the scoreboard. Being one of the better athletes, I kicked first and got a triple. I can remember the sinking feeling in my stomach as the next person popped up to an infielder and thought that I might get stranded on third. So, when the next batter also popped up, I took my chance and tagged up. I can remember sprinting home and seeing that I wasn’t going to beat the throw, but I got lucky — or so I thought.
While the throw had beaten me home, the catcher had only stood on home base, but they hadn’t tagged me out, and I was able to touch home. I felt elated that I had snuck a run in for our team — until the gym teacher called me out.
I hate to admit it, but I absolutely lost it. I couldn’t believe that our gym teacher didn’t know the basic rules of kickball and the difference between a force out and a tag out. I remember being so angry at the injustice of it all: my team being full of the worst players in my class, me doing everything in my power to try to win, and then having the teacher not even know the rules. I can remember being so angry that I just started crying and refused to listen to whatever my gym teacher was telling me. Eventually, she told me to leave gym and go back to my homeroom due to my obstinacy.
Anger is perhaps one of the most powerful emotions to the human experience, and we can often vividly remember instances where we felt intense anger. Probably all of us can remember times in which our parents “let loose” on us, and most of us can probably remember times where we’ve done the letting loose ourselves.
We know that anger in itself isn’t a bad thing. There are times that our anger is justified and a situation demands a stern approach. However, probably all of us would acknowledge that we have allowed our anger to get the best of us and affect what we say or do. The problem isn’t getting angry; it’s how you handle your anger. If you struggle with controlling your anger, here are some helpful tips.
The first thing I work on with clients who want to better control their anger is awareness. Simply put, we have to be aware of our emotions if we want to work on controlling them. While it may sound simple, it’s much harder in practice. How many times have you been angry and either said or done something in the heat of the moment that you would say is outside of your character?
When we lash out, it’s usually a result of our anger getting the best of us and our “fight or flight” instincts kicking in. People who are able to rein in their anger start with an awareness of it, as it allows them to not just react to a situation.
After you gain awareness of your anger, start practicing self-soothing techniques. Essentially this means figure out ways to help you calm yourself down. Maybe take a minute to focus on your heart rate and work on slowing it down, or go take a 10 minute break where you go on a walk or listen to some music. Whatever it is, you have to incorporate self-soothing into your repertoire, as awareness only does so much.
After working on self-soothing, target things that you can do that are in your sphere of control. Most of the time we get angry as a result of the things that someone has done to us. Our anger often festers when we don’t see any way to “fix” the problem, but if we can figure out what we can do (and not allow our focus to stay on the actions of the other person), it allows us to feel a sense of control.
Finally, remember that children learn how to handle their own emotions mostly by seeing how their parents handle situations. So, while anger might not seem like that big of a deal, remember that how you deal with your anger is the example that your children will take to handling their own. And maybe you can help them not have a meltdown when they get unjustly called out in a game of kickball during the sixth grade.
• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to email@example.com.