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                              “Anger:  The Change” (Part 3 of 4)
    
                         
        “I've always had an anger problem. How do I change?”
 

That’s a great question, one that merits our careful consideration. The topic of “change” is the primary issue for this Part 3 in our series on Anger Management. In Part 1 we explored the high cost of anger, and we found that our inner Anger Beast is indeed a high-priced passenger to maintain in our travels along the Anger Highway of life. The price tag is extremely high in terms of the impact of anger upon physical, emotional, and relationship health. In Part 2 we examined the issue of choice and concluded that anger is indeed a personal choice. If we have no choice, then positive change is extremely limited. However, since we do have a choice to make, we are certainly capable of significant change. Choice provides the potential for change, and choice allows us to begin and complete the anger management process. 
 
 

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                                           “Anger:  The Choice” (Part 2 of 4)
 
                 
                                 “But I didn’t choose to get angry—it just happened.”
 

The man’s explanation for his outburst sounded familiar, reminding me of anger stories I’d heard before. Unfortunately, his repetitive anger behavior had done considerable harm to his relationship. Now, in his effort to figure out “how to fix the damage” he had done, the man verbalized his personal belief about anger. He was basically declaring that anger was not something he had chosen to experience; instead, anger was something that had happened to him. No wonder he felt stuck in his anger pattern. If in fact his anger was controlled by outside forces he did lack personal control.  He was a man at the mercy of his environment.
 
 
 Perhaps you can connect with this man’s anger pattern. It could be that you’ve said the same thing about your anger: “it just happened.” Does it seem as if you’re also at the mercy of your environment, and you get angry any time people and circumstances push your buttons? Do you feel frustrated in your anger management?
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What kind of experience have you had with the Anger Beast? For most of us the experience has brought us to an important conclusion:  the Anger Beast does not make a good traveling companion as we travel the highway of life. As discussed in Part 1, the cost of maintaining the Anger Beast is extremely high. His appetite continues to grow, and his messes continue to multiply.
 
 
Simply put, we cannot afford to keep the Anger Beast on board with us. The cost is too high. So we reach a decision:  it’s time for surgery, perhaps a “Beastectomy.”  But is such a procedure even possible? Can we remove the Beast from his self-crowned kingship? Can we evict him from his self-serving throne?
 

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                                           “Anger:  The Cost” (Part 1 of 4)
    
                         
        “I just didn’t control my anger.”
 

The Anger Beast had scored another major victory, verified by the man’s confession that he had failed to control his anger.  The fellow’s sad and worried countenance reflected the loss that prompted his presence in my office. His wife had reached the end of her patience with him. After years of emotional abuse and broken promises she chose an exit strategy and left the relationship. His insight was tragically late but truthfully related:  “Who would want to live with an angry man like me?” Like many other men he had never learned how to manage his inner Anger Beast. The uncontrolled Beast had dismantled and devoured the relationship that the man said was most precious to him.
 
 
The man’s story was not a new one to me. I’ve heard the same theme song before, although there are many variations on the theme. The “anger and loss” song has been sadly sung by countless men and women who are paying the high cost of uncontrolled anger.
 
 
The loss of a spouse.  Who would want to live with a hot-tempered, short-fused, highly-explosive, out-of-control husband or wife?
 
 
The loss of a job. What manager would want to maintain an employee who continued to commit inappropriate outbursts of anger toward colleagues and supervisors?
 
 
The loss of freedom. What judge would not incarcerate the man who through uncontrolled anger continued to physically assault and abuse innocent people?
 
 
The loss of health. What physician would not warn the high-anger man that his lack of self-control was placing him at high-risk for serious health problems?
 
 
Yes, the verses may vary, but the chorus does not change. In the genre of a country song the man loses his wife, his truck, and his dog. Right, even his dog! What dog would want to stay with an angry, abusive owner? For the sake of justice, perhaps the truck and the dog are both awarded to the wife as partial compensation for the abuse she has suffered from the husband and his Anger Beast.

                                          

            “Everybody needs a laughing place . . . .”
    

So claims a famous story-teller from the old movie, “Song of the South.” Is the claim true? Does everyone need a laughing place?
 
 
Our answer reflects our beliefs about the role of humor in healthy living. Personally, I believe strongly in the benefits of positive humor. Therefore, I need—and I want—“a laughing place.”  My laughing place is not a hole in the side of a tree, as in the movie, but I do have one, safely kept within the boundaries of my mind (perhaps in the “hole in my head”). My laughing place is safe because, as long as it stays inside of me, it’s never at risk; no one can steal it or destroy it. My laughing place is very special and important to me. Frankly, I need it in my daily survival, and I consider it to be necessary to my continuing personal growth. My laughing place is my constant companion as I travel daily on my highway of life. It’s a key ingredient in all of my relationship journeys.
 
 
How about you? What is your belief about humor? What role does it play in your life? If humor does play a key role in your life, what are you doing to cultivate the growth of humor in your daily activities? How does humor affect or influence your relationships with others? These questions are certainly worth pondering.

                                          

            “And when no hope was left in sight
              On that starry, starry night,
              You took your life as lovers often do.”
    

With these sobering words the musician Don McLean described the suicide of Vincent Van Gogh, the well-known Dutch artist of the late 1800’s. In June of 1889, energized by creative genius, Van Gogh completed his acclaimed painting, “Starry Night.” As he painted in the mental asylum where he lived at the time, Van Gogh could see in his mind the stars in the sky overhead and with masterful strokes brushed them onto the top part of the welcoming canvas where they would shine down upon the town below. Yet, tragically, the painter lost his vision of the stars and, in a moment of depressive despair the following year, used a gun to self-inflict a wound that two days later claimed his life.
 
 
Suicide—the Enemy . . .
                      who steals life from individuals and who robs families of loved ones.
 
Suicide—the Enemy . . .
                     who targets anyone, regardless of age or gender, race or status.
 
 
With careful cunning the Enemy lurks about and looks around, hoping to see hurting, hopeless humans who, like Vincent Van Gogh, have lost sight of their stars. Through devilish deception the Enemy somehow deludes them into believing that suicide is the answer to their pains and problems.

 

                                          

            “If we could just get in tune with each other . . .”
    

The musician was considering his stressful relationship with his wife. Somehow the refreshing romance had deteriorated into a routine reality, and a breakup looked inevitable. He did not want his marriage to end, but he could not see the road to recovery. In his emotional pain and grief he found that his guitar was his main source of comfort and satisfaction. It was always there for him, freely responding to his skilled fingers with appealing arpeggios and comforting chords. In the context of his love for music he observed mournfully about his relationship with his spouse, “If we could just get in tune with each other.”   
 
 
It is much harder to “tune a marriage” than it is to tune a guitar. If you’re like many couples, you’ll acknowledge serious issues about your marital music. Perhaps there’s no music at all, and you can even recall the specific day when the music died. Or, perhaps some music remains, but the marital blend is dissonant and discouraging. You miss the “good old days” when music filled your relationship. Your mutual music inspired, uplifted, and filled your days with joy and contentment. Your hearts were in harmony. But those days are gone. Your current marriage feels like musical misery, not the musical masterpiece for which you had dreamed.
 
 
What kind of music do you have within your relationships, particularly within your marriage? Are you and your spouse “in tune” with each other? Are you playing the same musical score? Are you on the same page? Relationship music is important. Clearly, a healthy marriage involves two people who are individually healthy and happy. Each person has already been generating beautiful music that reflects the joy and peace within the heart. The two “musicians” choose to join their hearts in marriage, and the resulting music surpasses what each had produced individually. But how do couples work toward making their relationship a musical masterpiece?
 
 
Learning to make good marriage music is a process that will take time—and lots and lots of practice. No one becomes a virtuoso classical guitarist or an accomplished vocalist without years of diligent and dedicated effort, involving both instruction and practice. Making the commitment and following through are necessary ingredients. I recall one young man who loved music who decided to become a skilled song leader at the church he attended. Ricky stood before the congregation to lead his first song. He announced the hymn number and then made the following announcement:  “As you know, this is my first time to lead singing. I ain’t good now, but I aim to get good.” His first attempt showed more courage than skill, but continued practice enabled him to achieve his personal goal. I admired Ricky’s courage, and I respected his commitment. You might be saying the same thing about the potential that you and your spouse have in regard to making beautiful marital music:  “We ain’t good now, but we aim to get good!” Basically, the process requires two important steps: getting in tune with myself and staying in tune with my spouse.

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