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A Little Hot Under the Collar?

By Amy Austin RN, PsyD, LMFT

The heat is on in our desert paradise and many have sought an escape from the rising temperatures. If tempers flare and you or a family member get hot under the collar, is there also an escape for that?

Let’s explore how angry outbursts and rage serve as an immediate distancing mechanism in our relationships.

Tantrums are a normal part of the emotional age and stage of development of a young child. Although annoying to those witnessing firsthand, they serve as a way for a child to assert their independence and autonomy. According to Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development, (trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame/doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and integrity vs. despair) if an individual gets stuck in one stage of development, that part of the individual’s personality can remain emotionally stunted which can then impact a person later in life, causing a myriad of negative consequences. These impulsive behaviors are not only confusing, but harmful and self-destructive. In the end, interpersonal relationships can be scarred beyond repair.

Can a rageaholic be cured? There’s no cure per se, but there are ways to decrease impulsive and reactive behaviors. Here are a few:

Triggers. It’s important to notice what sets you off and what you’re feeling in your body before you rage. Take some time to write them down to increase your conscious awareness.

Breathe. When you’re about to blow, allow yourself a few moments to take five deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, like you’re blowing on hot soup. This method helps to oxygenate your brain and gives you time to calm, re-calibrate, and attempt to make a healthier choice.

Time. It’s okay to give yourself some time to think about something that has been presented to you. You can say, “You know, I’m not sure, but I’ll think about that and get back to you.”

Walk Away. Remove yourself from a heated situation. Take a walk. Give yourself permission to have a cooling off period.

Be Curious. Ask yourself why; what’s setting you off or bringing you to a boiling point? Is your wounded inner child (or adult child) feeling hurt? Abandoned? Criticized? Fearful? You can always share your thoughts and feelings at another time. Talking about the things that make you feel vulnerable can help to create close, long-lasting bonds with others. Rage only distances. Remember, it’s important to share, but make sure you share where you feel emotionally safe.

A teacher once told his student on a windy day, “Open your bag and let out all the feathers.” The feathers fly out. The teacher then says, “Now, go pick them up.” The student runs and tries desperately to catch some feathers and can’t possibly retrieve all of them. The teacher then gently says, “That’s what happens when you let your anger out on someone. You can never take back all the feathers.”

Remember, when the temps rise, you can remain cool.

Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.

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