Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Evolve Healthy Personal and Family Anger "Policies"

Do you know what your policies are?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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 The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/relate/anger_pol.htm

Updated 01-29-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles on Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1 - 3, and prepare you for Lesson 5 (evolve a high-nurturance family) and Lesson 6 (effective parenting).

      This YouTube video clip introduces this article. The video mentions eight  self-improvement lessons in this Web site. I've reduced that to seven.

      Anger and frustration feel similar, but have different triggers. Anger is an instinctive reaction to being hurt or threatened. Frustration is a natural reflex when you're unable to fill current needs. These emotions are normal, not good or bad. How adults and kids express their frustration and anger (or don't) can cause major stress in themselves and other people.

      Premise - all adults, kids, and families evolve semi-conscious "anger policies" - sets of attitudes and rules about feeling and expressing anger and frustration. These policies range from wholistically healthy to toxic. Toxic policies can promote significant health and relationship problems, and may inhibit healthy grief. Do you agree?

      This article offers...

  • a definition of a "healthy anger policy"

  • symptoms of a healthy anger policy

  • examples of expressing anger and frustration constructively, and...

  • a sample family anger policy,

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this site and the premises underlying it 

  • self-improvement lessons 1 thru 4

  • how to benefit from anger and frustration; and...

  • this research summary on the effects of
    anger and depression on your heart.

      Have you ever identified (a) your policies on feeling, expressing, and receiving anger and frustration, and (b) how they affect the quality of your life? Try describing your current "anger policy" out loud. Can you name the key people who helped you form it? Would you say your recent personal anger policy is constructive or destructive? How do you judge that? If you have kids, can you describe the anger policy they're learning to live by? .

What is a "Healthy Anger Policy"?

      Recall why you're reading this article. Then take a moment to review your definitions of (a) personal wholistic health and (b) a healthy relationship. Then say your definition of a "policy" out loud. Then compare your definitions to these ideas...

  • A "policy" is a set of values and beliefs that shape people's behaviors and relationships. Policies include "rules" and consequences - shoulds, musts, have to's, ought to's, and cant's. These rules may be inherited from ancestors, teachers, mentors, mates, and hero/ines, and/or they may evolve from personal life experience ("Never swear at a policeman.")

  • Most adults (like you?) and all kids are unaware of their anger and frustration policies, yet they (you) act on them all the time - perhaps in spite of painful results.

  • A healthy anger policy is a set of values, attitudes, and beliefs about feeling, expressing, and reacting to anger. It consistently promotes self-respect + effective communications + filling current primary needs with other people.

  • Any aware adult or older child can identify an unhealthy anger policy and improve it. Do you agree?

      Committing to evolve and live by a healthy anger policy requires taking full responsibility for how you behave. It's also a sign of responsible parenting. Did your childhood caregivers do this for you?

Symptoms of a Healthy Anger Policy

      How can you tell if your personal anger policy is effective ("healthy") enough? See if your true Self (capital "S") is guiding you now, and then see if these statements apply to you. A = "I agree;" D = "I disagree," and ? = "I'm not sure" or "It depends (on what?)."

  • I (a) see anger and frustration as normal, useful emotions, and (b) I fully accept my responsibility to express them respectfully and constructively;  (A  D  ?)

  • I seldom feel significant anxiety, guilt, shame, or regret after expressing hurt, anger, needs, or frustration; (A  D  ?)

  • I'm usually not hesitant or ambivalent about expressing hurt, anger, needs, or frustration with other people in most situations; (Caution - this may also be a false self at work);  (A  D  ?)

  • I rarely express anger or frustration impulsively and/or swear, raise my voice, label (insult) other people, threaten or scorn them, cut them off, and/or act violently;  (A  D  ?)

  • I (a) know how to identify why I feel hurt and anger, and (b) how to describe that clearly (e.g. with a respectful I-message) without blame, when I need to. (A  D  ?)

  • I'm fully able to feel and express my current feelings as they happen, rather than intellectually describe or explain (justify) them now or later;  (A  D  ?)

  • Other people seldom or never complain directly or indirectly about the way I express anger, needs, and frustration - in general, or at them;  (A  D  ?)

  • I don't need to use chemicals like alcohol or dope to help express (vent) my current anger and/or frustration; (A  D ?)

  • I'm usually comfortable enough around angry and frustrated people, unless I feel (a) disrespected and/or unsafe around them (A D  ?);  and...

  • I feel that...

    • kids have the right to feel and express anger and frustration (and other emotions) just as much as adults do, and...

    • kids need patient, empathic adult guidance on how to (a) understand and (b) express these useful emotions effectively. (A  D  ?)

      Pause and reflect - would you edit or add to these symptoms of a healthy anger policy? Do these symptoms describe your current personal and family anger policies? Would other family members and supporters agree?

A Sample Family Policy about Anger and Frustration

      Policies exist is to provide people with guidelines for personal and social conduct and to promote social order and harmony. Group members always form unconscious individual and collective policies on important relationship dynamics. Do you agree?

      These policies are often semi-conscious and unspoken, and shape personal and family behavioral rules and rituals. The best case occurs when group leaders intentionally define key group policies and discuss them thoroly with group members for understanding. Wounded adults in low-nurturance families often don't do this, and/or have policies that cause confusion, anxiety, resentment, and conflicts in and among other members.

      Every family has unique values, priorities, and goals - and policies. Use the following example as an illustration for negotiating your own personal and family policies on feeling and expressing hurt, anger, needs, and frustration constructively. Imagine having a policy like this on paper, discussed in family meetings, and referred to in resolving major problems. Note - a family mission statement is a valuable related resource. Does your family have one yet?

Sample Family Anger Policy

      We are a unique, valuable, growing family dedicated to helping each other and other people fill key needs well in a changing world. One way we do this is to live by these guidelines on handling anger and frustration.

We believe that all emotions are normal, healthy reactions to changes in our bodies and our environment. Emotions indicate unfilled needs, and are useful, rather than good or bad.

We will help each other distinguish between feeling our emotions and expressing them. Feeling is usually spontaneous and beyond our control. It is healthier than numbing, repressing, denying, and projecting our feelings on someone else.

We will help each other remember that healthy emotions in infants, kids, and adults include neediness, frustration, hurt, and anger, which range from minor to major.

We believe that frustration occurs when a person can't find a way to fill one or more current needs - i.e. they cannot reduce current discomforts. Because physical, emotional, and spiritual discomforts are inevitable, so is frustration - so there is nothing bad or wrong with feeling frustrated.

We believe that various degrees of anger usually follow feeling hurt or scared by someone's perceived attitudes and/or behaviors. Hurt usually comes from feeling ignored, disrespected, used, betrayed, and/or abandoned by someone else.

We want to help each other remember that the keys to expressing and using anger and frustration to get our needs met are (a) keeping our true Selves in charge of our personalities,  and (b) learning to use seven effective-communication skills. These keys include learning to...

  • be clear on - and respect - every child and adult's personal rights, as dignified, worthy people;

  • identify what we need that's causing our anger and frustration;

  • respectfully assert our needs to the appropriate people;

  • learn what they need, without judgment; and value their needs equally with our own  except in emergencies;

     and we're learning to...

  • use win-win problem solving as teammates to get our respective needs met well enough, and to...

  • give each other respectful feedback when any of us strays from these guidelines.

We will encourage each other to react to others' anger and frustration by...

  • keeping our true Self in charge of our response;

  • validating the other person's right to feel what they feel;

  • use empathic listening to invite the other person's E(motion)-level to fall "below their ears";

  • if appropriate, ask the other person whether they're angry or frustrated, or both. If they're angry, ask if something has hurt them. If they're frustrated, ask what need/s they can't fill now;

  • respectfully confront the other person if the way they're expressing their feelings is offensive and/or harmful; and to...

  • identify and assert our current needs, feelings, and boundaries respectfully, as appropriate.

      Pause, breathe, and notice what you're thinking and feeling. How does this sample policy compare with your family's current attitudes and beliefs about feeling and expressing anger and frustration? Have your family members ever discussed your policy and how it affects everyone?

      Would they agree that your policy is healthy and constructive? Have your family leaders evolved this policy themselves, or accepted it from someone else like their parents and ancestors or a Holy book?

Action Options

      Consider these options for using your emotions to improve your life and relationships, and to help others do the same...

      The most impactful choice you can make to evolve a healthy anger and frustration policy is to study and apply (at least) Lessons 1 thru 4; Lesson 1 will show you how to work with your personality subselves to form healthy rule-sets (policies); and...

      Discuss the difference between anger and frustration (and/or this article) with your family members, and help each other learn to identify which is which ("Are you hurt and angry now, or feeling unable to fill some need?")

      Summarize the key verbal and nonverbal rules about feeling and expressing anger and frustration in each adult who raised you, and in any hero/ines or mentors that shaped your early life. Remind yourself that you can affirm, edit, or replace each of their rules to fit your personality and beliefs without guilt, shame, or anxiety. These people probably never read anything like this article.

      Choose to see anger-energy and frustration-energy as potentially useful for identifying and filling current needs. The traditional alternative is to see anger as something to be avoided, criticized, and ashamed of. Wrong!

      More action-options about using anger and frustration constructively...

      Explain and discuss the concept of anger and frustration policies with others in your family. Then ask them - including any kids - to help each other evolve common definitions of how to use anger and frustration constructively in your relationships and homes. Option - enjoy affirming each other when any of you are able to do that! ("I admire the way you expressed your needs and frustration just now. Way to go!")

      Offer each other constructive feedback on...

  • how each of you now expresses hurt, anger, needs, and frustration, and how that affects your family; and...

  • whether someone needs to change something about their way of expressing any of these.

Include feedback about anyone not expressing - i.e. "stuffing," muting, minimizing, or repressing these valuable emotions. These often indicate significant psychological  wounds and a low-nurturance (dysfunctional) environment.

      Explore whether each family member feels safe to honestly express current hurt, anger, needs, and frustration in your homes and relationships. If not, help each other decide what would have to change to make it safer - without blame.

      Common causes of "unsafety" are disrespect, criticism, boredom (disinterest), anxiety, misunderstanding (not listening, and/or reality distortion), lecturing, and/or moralizing. Each of these is usually caused by psychological wounds + unawareness.

      Help each other learn to keep centered in the face of someone else's anger and/or frustration - specially wounded kids. Four ways to do this are...

  • learning to keep your Self (capital "S") in charge (Lesson 1); then...

  • choosing genuine attitudes of respect and compassion, vs. blame, indifference, or scorn;

  • helping each other evolve and live by an authentic Bill of Personal Rights, and...

  • learning to use effective communication skills (Lesson 2).

      Raise your self-awareness by discovering the policy on anger and frustration that's been governing relations among your dedicated personality subselves. Are these policies healthy?

      Consider using options like these to enhance your family policy on feeling and expressing sadness (can you say it out loud now?) Sadness and anger are vital phases in the emotional level of healthy grief. Can you describe your family's current policy about mourning? Is it wholistically healthy or toxic? Would other family members agree? And you may...

      Consider using these ideas about healthy anger and frustration policies to help others avoid major stress!

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - which of these options are you drawn to now, and who is choosing it - your true Self or "someone else."?

Recap

      This article proposes that all people and families evolve a "policy" - values and rules - about when and how to express anger and frustration. It...

  • suggests criteria for judging the health of someone's (e.g. your) anger and frustration policies;

  • summarizes action options you can choose to help evolve a healthy policy about anger and frustration;

  • provides a sample family policy about anger and frustration, and...

  • describes a range of action-options which can help you make these abstract ideas work for you and those you care about.

      Pause and think of any adults or kids in your life who you feel are (or were) significantly angry and/or frustrated - starting with you. Have the ideas in this article affected how you think of them? How likely is it that they have ever been taught ideas you just read? How likely is it that they are wounded survivors of low-nurturance childhoods, thru no fault of their wounded, unaware ancestors?

      Breathe well, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If so - what do you want to do with your knowledge now? If not - what do you need now? Who's answering these questions - your wise, resident true Self or ''someone else''?  

  This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful     

  If you haven't recently, read this companion article about using anger and frustration constructively.

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