We were angry last year. A divisive election and tense political scene were partly to blame for that anger. Republicans were mad at Democrats, and Democrats were mad at Republicans. But it’s not just politics.
We raged when that co-worker stunk up the break room by burning popcorn in the microwave, and we became irate when the driver in front of us was driving only the speed limit.
Americans, as a matter of fact, are becoming angrier in general. A 2015 survey conducted by Esquire magazine and NBC News asked 3,257 Americans if they were angrier this year compared to the year before; 49 percent said yes. When asked how often they heard something in the news that made them angry, 31 percent said a few times a day and 37 percent said once a day, meaning more than two out of three Americans are angered by something at least once per day.
Related: How to Keep Your Cool
When anger gets the best of us, it can ruin our work and personal relationships, worsen difficult situations, lead to violence, and even affect our health. The late Albert Ellis, Ph.D., founded rational emotive behavior therapy and spent much of his life researching anger—what causes it and how to control it. In this excerpt from his book How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You, Ellis explains how we can control our anger. An updated version of Anger: How to Live With and Without It releases in March.
The other day your boss acted so nastily and unfairly toward you that you felt like really letting him have it. Fortunately, he had to leave the office before you had a chance to blow up in his presence, but even after he had gone, it took you more than half an hour to cool down. Your heart still pounds when you recall how vicious he was. Now let’s see how you can deal better with your anger under those conditions.
First, you can fully acknowledge that you have enraged feelings against your boss rather than denying them or rationalizing them away; and you can admit that you mainly brought them on and that you are foolishly reliving them.
You made yourself angry—your boss didn’t. You did so wrongly. You rightly felt annoyed and irritated at his presumably nasty and overly critical behavior. Why should you like it when it was so unfair? But you then angered yourself about his nastiness and his unfairness, which you didn’t have to do.
Second, and perhaps even more important, you can work at accepting yourself with your rage. You can acknowledge the wrongness of your feelings but not the badness of you. See that like other people, you may act badly, but you don’t have to condemn yourself for acting that way. As a fallible human person, you give yourself the right to be wrong, to make yourself unhealthily angry. Show yourself that you aren’t foolish for doing so. You are merely a person who has acted stupidly—not a stupid person.
Say to yourself something such as, I really behaved self-defeatingly in incensing myself at my boss, but I can easily do so and have a right, as a human, to act in that silly way. My acts are wrong, but I am not a bad person. In other words, accept yourself while not accepting your behavior. Fully acknowledge its downside: that it most likely brings you more harm than good.
Review your anger and see why it does you harm. Maybe it gives you a pain in the gut. It doesn’t help you solve your problem with your boss. It easily may make your relationship with him much worse. It might lead to physical problems (high blood pressure, etc.). It makes you preoccupied with your boss and his apparent irrationality, keeping you from focusing on how to do your job better and please him more. It sabotages your efficiency in many ways.
If you feel determined to accept you, your humanity, in spite of your anger, you will have little trouble in fully acknowledging it as bad or self-sabotaging. But if you insist on condemning yourself, your totality, for your anger, then you will tend to deny, repress, and excuse your rage. And you will find yourself dealing poorly with it. Look at it as bad but correctable. Review what you mistakenly told yourself to make yourself angry. Resolve to think something different in the future, and practice doing so in your head.
Related: 10 Ways Successful People Stay Calm
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.