I can’t help but laugh every time I see Clark Griswold’s epic meltdown in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Calling his boss a “cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit” is not only hilarious, but it’s also something many of us have probably wanted to do at some point in our working lives.
Clark has good reason to be angry: instead of receiving a hard-earned holiday bonus, his boss gives him a membership to the Jelly of the Month Club. Seriously!?!?
Anger is a normal human emotion and expressing it can be constructive. It lets other people know what you need – such as money, not jelly – and standing up for yourself is a good thing. The trouble is, when you show anger by yelling, swearing, pointing fingers or worse, people only see that you’re mad, and your message gets lost.
Avoiding angry confrontations is easier said than done, especially with a pandemic adding stress, uncertainty, and frustration to our lives. Thousands of guys are out of work or toiling at home alongside their significant others and with kids doing their school work on kitchen tables. The words “pressure cooker” and “cabin fever” are front and centre like never before. Road rage we know about, but long-division rage?
So let’s take a moment to think about WHY we get angry and HOW we can make it constructive, not destructive. Knowing how to control our anger in the moment is key. Are we standing up for ourselves, or is something else going on?
Why guys lose it
For thousands of years, fathers have been teaching their sons that anger is acceptable and that other feelings, such as grief and fear, just aren’t manly. For better or for worse, that’s one reason guys often choose anger over expressing sadness or vulnerability. Similarly, there is a long history of anger being the only acceptable negative emotion guys can show at work or in other group settings.
At its core, anger is often a response to feeling hurt, and it may be easier to be angry than it is to admit to being vulnerable. “Suck it up!” “Men don’t cry!” “Don’t be a sissy!” Sound familiar?
Build your skills: get to know yourself better
Understanding your emotions starts by asking yourself a few straightforward questions:
- What is going on inside of me? How do I know I am getting angry?
- Have I ever experienced anything like this before?
- What kind of situations set me off?
- What are the emotions I feel just before I blow my top?
Then name the emotions. If one really is anger, that’s OK. But if it’s something else, such as grief, shame or fear, you need to OWN that emotion. By doing that, you can start to work on what is really fueling your anger. No fuel, no anger!
Putting awareness into action: clarify to avoid a fight
Picture this: your significant other is trying a new recipe for a surprise dinner. Because you’ve recently been doing most of the grocery shopping, you wonder, out loud, “Where did the salmon come from?”
You think it is delicious, but because your partner’s worries about the new recipe have been amped up by COVID, your question is heard as a criticism. “Don’t you like it?” comes the reply, in a tone that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard.
In your mind, your question was about the name of a store. So you don’t pause to process the comeback. “What do you mean, ’don’t you like it?’” you jab back, adding, “Why do you always take all of my questions so negatively?”
Tip: Absolute words such as “always” and “never”
only make things worse during a tense moment.
This can be the beginning of yet another fight as your intent did not have the outcome you wanted or expected, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, the exchange could go like this:
“Where did you get the salmon?”
“Don’t you like it?”
Here, you pause to think about how you’re feeling. Are you angered by the reply or the tone because it wasn’t what you were expecting? If so, then maybe it is not about you. Provide more information to clarify your meaning:
“It’s delicious. I just want to know the name of the store where you bought the salmon.”
“Oh, right, I got it at Griswold’s Seafood. I’ve never made this before, and I was worried you might not like it.”
This approach turns a potential argument into a harmless misunderstanding that’s actually kind of funny. Bonus: laughs, understanding, and appreciation can lead directly to the bedroom.
Putting awareness into action: debrief to have fun
If your salmon dinner conversation ended in a full-blown brouhaha, all is not lost. By talking about it with your partner once you’ve both cooled down, it could increase your understanding and appreciation of each other. Try asking about the negative effect your question had, and then explain your well-meaning intent. That way, when you see a storm brewing in the future, you can bust out “Where did you get the salmon?” to signal that you might not be on the same page. It could lead to some laughs and, if you’re lucky, to another kind of de-briefing…
Should you talk with your significant other now or wait for your next argument?
Consider having them read this article to get started.
Putting awareness into action: slow down to avoid a fight
The guy-versus-guy dynamic can give rise to anger, as this situation shows: a group of buddies have just come off the ice after playing hockey on a Thursday night. One of them, Brad, suggests they go out for a beer as they usually do. Another guy, Tom, says he’s going to take a pass because he has an early start at work the next day.
“Don’t be a wuss,” Brad replies.
“I’ll show you who’s a wuss!” barks hot-headed Tom, ’dropping his gloves’ and calling Brad on.
Suddenly, the mood has changed. Goodbye, good-time beers, hello anger and division.
This would have turned out very differently if Brad had simply said, “No worries, next time, buddy!” But Brad didn’t do that, and really he was just disappointed that Tom opted out. He may also have felt unimportant by Tom’s decision to put work ahead of guy time. Had Brad stopped for a second to consider how he was feeling, the “W” word might not have been uttered.
Brad didn’t intend to make Tom angry. But you know what they say about intentions: the road to hell is paved with good ones. The road to happiness, on the other hand, is paved by getting to know yourself better.
If there’s a big holiday bonus and some Griswold eggnog in there, all the better!
What tips have helped you cool down a potentially heated situation? Share in the comments below!