Angry All the Time , Anger Management for Expats
By Jean Wu Maffe
Anger is normal. But what happens when you find your anger habitually spiraling into explosive episodes? Anger that rages uncontrolled will not only damage your relationships, but may eventually impact your physical and mental health too.
For expats living in Shanghai, life may present new challenges that can aggravate or even spark anger management issues that were previously dormant or non-existent. Understanding anger and learning to identify your anger triggers are steps to managing out-of-control anger.
You can choose how to respond
There are certain things in life that should make you angry. For example, if you’ve been mistreated or wronged or if you’ve witnessed injustice or violence, it’s natural and healthy to feel angry. “There is no reason to panic or feel ashamed because you have anger,” notes Carrie Jones, Director of Counseling at the Community Center Shanghai (CCS).“What matters is what you do with that anger. “
Melinda Weber, a counselor at the CCS, explains that anger becomes destructive when you begin to harm yourself or others. “It’s ok to be angry. But it’s not ok to hurt others, hurt yourself or hurt property.”You cannot always control every situation you are in or how it makes you feel, but you can control how you express yourself when you are angry. Even if someone is antagonizing you, you always have an option about how to respond.
As CSS counselor Peace Farideh Azad points out, “sometimes, the way someone responds to anger comes from what he or she has learned as a child.” For example, someone who has seen their parents yell, hit or throw things might think that this is how anger is normally expressed. Another person might have grown up in a family where communication and expressing feelings was discouraged, and the only emotion acknowledged was anger. Understanding how your childhood experiences influence how you respond to anger can help you deal with current anger issues.
But sometimes anger problems stem from new stresses in our lives. Jones observes that there is “Shanghai-specific anger.” The culture shock related to living in Shanghai can be the catalyst for anger issues. Because adjusting to life in a city where language, culture and day-to-day life are so different from home, it is not unusual for new residents to experience high levels of stress, making them more susceptible to anger.
In addition, expats are usually without the support systems that they are used to at home: family, friends, community, hobbies, etc. Without an outlet for processing feelings of frustration or discomfort, feelings of anger may grow beyond levels previously experienced.
A mask to cover fear
Children can become very angry after moving to Shanghai. Jones says, “I see children all the time and they’re furious. They had no choice in leaving their friends. Their anger reaches a crisis point, perhaps they are acting out at school or skipping school completely.” Weber attributes anger in children in part to the fact that they may not have the developmental maturity to manage their emotions. Anger might be an automatic reaction to cover up feelings of insecurity, hurt, vulnerability, embarrassment or fear — all emotions that might arise when a child has to start at a new school in a new country.
For some adults, anger might be a useful mask to help them achieve their goals. One person might use threats or shouting as a means of getting what she wants, perhaps fearing that she might otherwise fail to be in control. In the workplace, an“angry”person might pride himself on being tough and in charge, perhaps trying to avoid the embarrassment of having co-workers or subordinates disagree with him.
Know what makes you angry
Whatever the root causes of anger, there are ways to keep it from getting out of control. The first step is identifying your triggers. “In counseling, we use cognitive behavioral therapy to look at the connection between thoughts and actions,” explains Jones. “By teaching people to examine what makes them angry, they can change their negative thought patterns. We use the acronym ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) as reminder to think about what thoughts might trigger your anger.” Although you might think that other people are to blame for your anger because of their actions, anger problems actually have more to do with how you interpret things that happen.
Another tool is to identify the physical signs of anger. When we get angry, our bodies react, going into “fight or flight” mode: our hearts start pounding, jaws clench, and shoulders tense. By becoming aware of your own physical reaction to situations that make you angry, you can take steps to cool down before your anger gets out of control.
If there are certain people or situations that consistently make you angry, make an effort to avoid them if possible. For instance, you might find yourself getting angry every time you go to the market because shoppers behave differently in Shanghai than in your home country. Or perhaps every time you go out with certain friends, you find yourself getting into arguments. By identifying who or what makes you upset, you can attempt to change your interactions, or avoid those people or situations completely.
“Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid situations that you know make you mad,” points out Azad. She cites the example of a client who came to her for anger management therapy. One situation that always sparked her client’s outrage was using the crosswalk, where drivers in Shanghai regularly cut her off, endangering her life and the life of other pedestrians. Azad asked her client to examine her thoughts surrounding this situation, so that she could shift her perspective in a way that helped neutralize the anger that used to arise every time she encountered the crosswalk.
Once you know the thought patterns and physical signs that accompany anger, as well as the people and situations that might trigger angry episodes in your life, you can apply strategies for keeping your temper in check.
When you feel yourself getting angry, take some deep breaths, suggests Weber.Long, deep breaths help to calm the mind.Try to fill your lungs completely, letting go of your rising tension.If you can, try to count to ten for each inhalation and each exhalation, repeating for several breaths. Counting will encourage you to breath more deeply, as well as give you something to focus on instead of the situation making you angry.
If you still feel your anger rising, physically remove yourself from the situation making you angry. Weber suggests designating an “angry place” where you can allow yourself to punch pillows or wad up paper, allowing yourself to express your anger without hurting anyone or anything. Alternatively, you can do something physical, such as taking a walk or going to the gym. You can also engage your senses by listening to music or visualizing a safe, calm place like the mountains or the beach. The key, says Jones, is delaying your response to the situation making you angry, allowing yourself enough time to calm down.
Finally, take a moment to reflect on the situation making you angry. Sometimes, asking yourself how important the situation really is, or whether the situation is really worth getting angry over, will allow your rational mind to catch up with your emotions.
Knowing the Physical Signs of Anger
- Clenched hands or jaws
- Increased heart pounding
- Tensed face and shoulders
- Change in breathing pattern
- Stomach pain or discomfort
- Feeling flushed, the sensation of blood boiling
- Agitation, needing to pace or strike something
- Chest tightness
Recognizing ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts).
- Blaming or finding fault whenever anything bad happens
- Assuming or jumping to conclusions about what other people think
- Having a rigid view about how things should be
- Letting minor irritations become disproportionately important
- Over-generalizing situations
Once you are able to identify the ANTs that trigger your anger, you can work towards changing those thought patterns.
Managing Someone Else’s Anger
When someone you know has an anger problem, you might feel like you are constantly watching what you say or do in fear of setting him or her off. Remember that you are not to blame for how another person expresses his or her anger. There is no excuse for resorting to physical or verbal abuse. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect. While you cannot control how another person expresses his or her anger, you can control how you respond to it.
- Empathize – Let them know that you understand the reasons for their anger. Do not criticize.
- Do not engage – Disengage by leaving the room, do not argue back, emotionally distance yourself
- Set boundaries – Let them know what behavior you will and will not accept. Be clear about the consequences for behavior that exceed your boundaries.
- Provide resources on anger management – Choose a time when you are both calm enough to talk without being or getting angry.
- Consider counseling – If you are having a hard time standing up for yourself, consider seeking counseling yourself.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.Therapy is an effective way to identify the roots of your anger in a safe environment, as well a good opportunity to learn new skills to help you keep your cool.
Seek professional help if:
- Your anger has resulted in physical violence, harming yourself, other people or property.
- Your anger has caused you legal problems.
- Your temper causes trouble at work or at home.
- Your personal relationships have become strained because of your temper.
- You avoid new events and people because you are worried that you might lose your temper.
- Your anger is still out of control, despite applying anger management techniques mentioned in this article.
Community Center Shanghai (CCS) is a non-profit organization, with Centers strategically situated within Shanghai’s international communities in Hongqiao, Minhang and Pudong.CCS responds to the ever-changing needs of the community by providing relevant programming that equips individuals and families to maximize their potential while in China. CCS bridges the cultural gap by offering opportunities to give and serve through our charitable programs, providing useful and enriching classes, practical and educational tours, essential orientations, professional counseling, and volunteer opportunities.