Dear Abby

'Nice Guy' Wants Some Control Over His Explosions of Anger

DEAR ABBY: I have an issue that has me concerned, and I need some expertise. I have a problem with anger. I don't know what triggers it. It happens out of the blue sometimes.

I have never struck out in anger toward another person, but people have witnessed my outbursts and seemed taken aback by the behavior. The instances occur every month or two.

I'm a nice guy. I would bend over backward to help someone if I could. My verbal explosions contradict who I am inside. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to control my temper in these situations? -- HOTHEAD IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR HOTHEAD: Anger is a normal emotion. Everyone has experienced it at one time or another. When primitive men and women were faced with a potential threat, they reacted instinctively with either fear or anger. It was nature's way of enabling us to run away or fight back. Even infants display anger by screaming or holding their breath until they turn red. And we've all seen older children throw tantrums, holler and throw things.

Whatever is causing your angry outbursts, it is important to analyze what has been triggering them. Being out of work, unable to pay one's bills or feeling unfairly treated can arouse feelings of anger. Being hurt emotionally by someone can cause it, too. People have been known to become angry if their beliefs or values are questioned or threatened.

Low self-esteem can also cause people to feel easily threatened. Many people who suffer from chronic low self-esteem feel they must continually prove themselves. To compensate for their feelings of inadequacy, they are driven to "win every battle," whether at sports or in an argument.

People who are overly tired have been known to lash out without real provocation. Being physically ill can have the same effect. (You can break that cycle by simply explaining that you're not feeling well and ask for patience because your temper is short at such times.)

Depression, drugs and alcohol abuse have long been known to cause people to lose control of their emotions and say -- and do -- things they later regret. I publish a booklet, "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It," that was created to help people learn to control their anger. For people of all ages, it is a kind of survival guide to help them understand their anger and appropriately deal with it. It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus a check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds), to Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price.

Most of us have been trained from early childhood to suppress anger. But it is even more important to learn to express it in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. Anger can be a positive emotion if it is channeled in the right direction. Uncontrolled, it can be a killer.

Now that we have become somewhat -- one hopes -- civilized adults, the challenge we face when something angers us is how to deal with it effectively and constructively, rather than thoughtlessly reacting.

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