Ralph Waldo Emerson
For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.
Is Anger Getting the Better of You?
There will undoubtedly be times when things won’t go your way. There will in fact be times when other people will do certain things that go against your values or simply don’t live up to your personal standards or expectations. And there will certainly be moments when the unexpected will happen — catching you off-guard and stirring your emotions. There will also be times when certain events and circumstances will trigger something deep within you that will suddenly bring the feelings of overwhelm and frustration into the open. Yes, these are the times when you might feel a little upset, agitated, angry or furious. And yet, it’s how you label and describe these feelings to yourself that determines how you respond.
At one point or another we’ve all experienced some form of anger where we lose control of our emotions and end up saying and doing things regretfully. Anger is therefore a part of just about everyone’s life. It’s actually a natural response that can help you to better understand yourself, your rules, your expectations and your personal standards. In fact, when you’re feeling angry this is telling you that something must be corrected and/or resolved.
You can either make these corrections and resolve the issues you are confronting, or you can instead choose to let things go. Either approach works. It all depends on what you would like to gain from the situation and whether or not it is worth pursuing or simply deciding to let things be.
The Causes of Anger
Before looking into the causes of why you might be feeling angry, it’s important to note that anger, just like any other emotion, is a state-of-mind. Whether you consciously realize it or not, it’s something you choose to experience in the moment. Yes, it might seem on the surface that someone else made you angry. However, this isn’t entirely true. You actually made yourself angry because of the way you perceived the situation or because of how you chose to respond to the circumstances. It was your choice, and your choice alone. And because it was your choice, you can always choose otherwise. You can choose a different emotional response. In fact, you can choose to ignore the situation, you can choose to stay calm and composed, or you can choose to love. The choice is yours to make.
So what are some of the reasons why you might be feeling angry?
You might feel angry because of the way you have been treated. For instance you might have been treated unjustly or unfairly. You are angry about this treatment because your beliefs about the situation and your expectations of what should have happened are in conflict with the events that transpired. It’s important to recognize the influence that your beliefs have on your state-of-mind, because another person might very well have a alternate set of beliefs and expectations and they will therefore feel and respond differently to this situation.
Anger can also arise from physical pain as well as from a high consumption of alcohol and/or drugs. It can result from fatigue, which can come from a lack of patience, or from the fact that you’re dealing with a very difficult situation which is overwhelming your emotions and making you feel rather frustrated and burnt out. Anger can also result from bouts of low self-esteem. For instance, feeling inadequate or incapable about doing something can often lead to disappointment. Over time, this disappointment can turn to anger and eventually despondency when you realize you are unable to make any adequate progress.
There are also probably plenty more ways that anger can arise in your life. When looking at the bigger picture, it doesn’t really matter how your anger arises. The most important thing to remember is that you always choose how you feel. You can either feel angry about things or you can choose a different and more productive response.
The Consequences of Anger
If you choose to be angry and to respond irrationally to events, people and circumstances, it’s important you keep in mind that your anger always has consequences. Some of these consequences may initially be minor. Your anger for instance might hurt someone else’s feelings or ruin your day. However, these are things you can probably mend with a little empathy, forgiveness and understanding. What you should be worried about is how your anger influences your state-of-mind in the long-run.
When you’re angry you literally lose control of your rational mind. All of a sudden you stop thinking rationally. Instead, you are reacting emotionally to events and circumstances as you lose all sense of reality and perspective. These emotional reactions have very little thought behind them and as a result you might end up saying and doing things that you may very well regret and despise later on. Over time, continued anger can wear you down physically and emotionally. You begin to feel as though everything and everyone is purposefully out to get you — as though the world is conspiring against you. This can lead to feeling somewhat despondent, which can eventually lead to bouts of depression. This depression is triggered as you begin internalizing your feelings of anger. You are now feeling more anger towards yourself then the world around you, and this is what leads you to an even deeper emotional disconnect from the world.
Anger can however also be a very positive emotion. At times, the right kind of (controlled) anger can help increase your physical strength and courage. This can help you overcome danger and maybe even help motivate you to overcome periods of stagnation and procrastination. Anger can and will certainly spur you into action. However, this anger must be controlled and directed in a productive way to help provide the impetus you need for positive and assertive action.
Early Warning Triggers of Anger
In order to manage your anger more effectively, you must first come to understand what specifically triggers your anger.
Your anger might be triggered by specific things, by people’s words or behavior, by environmental factors, or even by relatively unimportant, insignificant and silly things that make absolutely no sense at all. It doesn’t really matter what triggers your anger. The fact that you feel angry is enough of a red flag to alert you to the fact that this is something that you must work through. Ask yourself:
When do I get angry? (time)
Where do I get angry? (place)
What specifically triggers my anger? (things)
How do I respond to these things?
How do I act when I’m angry?
How do I feel when I’m angry?
How do I think about things when I’m angry?
You might very well find that your triggers are somewhat isolated. You might only feel angry at specific times during the day or week, within certain environments, or when something particular happens. It’s important to become aware of these triggers, because only through awareness will you be able to work through them successfully in more positive ways.
Early Warning Signs of Anger
Let’s now take a look at some of the early warning signs of anger. These are the physical symptoms you experience in the moments of anger.
- Your muscles become tense.
- You start gritting your teeth.
- Your face flushes up.
- You begin clenching your hands.
- You progressively raise your voice.
All these signs are quite self-explanatory, however when we’re angry we don’t normally think about how we are actually making ourselves feel angry. What if you became aware of these early warning signals of anger and instead chose not to tense up your muscles, or grit your teeth, or clench your hands, or raise your voice? What if you chose another response instead? Would that change how you feel? Would it change how you respond to circumstances?
It’s interesting to think about your physical responses to anger in this way. Because without these physical responses, just maybe you wouldn’t feel angry. You might feel a little agitated or upset, but maybe not angry. And that by itself could be the key that will help you get started on your journey towards managing your anger far more effectively.
The Different Types of Anger
All anger isn’t equal. There are some forms of anger that can be very debilitating and hurtful, and there are other kinds of anger that are productive and have a positive purpose that can be used to improve your life and circumstances. It’s important that we come to understand the differences between these forms of anger, because there will be times during your life when a little anger will be required to help you make the most of your circumstances. Let’s take a look at the different types of anger you might experience at one time or another.
There are two categories of anger. The first is People Oriented Anger and the second is Self-Directed Anger. Let’s explore each of them below:
People Oriented Anger
People Oriented Anger is anger that is directed at other people. This form of anger is often very unhealthy and can cause a lot of emotional harm, problems and heartache. Let’s quickly have a look at each of these types of anger:
- Verbal Anger: Here you use words to harm other people on an emotional level. This form of anger is expressed via insults and hurtful criticism.
- Passive Anger: Here you covertly anger other people through avoidance and mockery. This form of anger is designed to inflict pain indirectly.
- Deliberate Anger: Here you use anger to purposefully gain control over people and events. This form of anger is deliberately used to manipulate people into getting what you want from them.
- Judgmental Anger: Here you make an effort to belittle and shame people at every opportunity. This form of anger isn’t violent or loud, but can be incredibly hurtful and humiliating.
- Volatile Anger: Here you fuse verbal and physical abuse together to frighten and manipulate another person into doing what you want them to do. This form of anger is often very sudden and comes and goes in emotional bursts.
These five types of anger are all very different, however they are all incredibly painful for the person receiving the brunt of the anger. Have a think about each of them, and honestly evaluate which forms of anger you have used in the past. Ask yourself:
Which of these types of anger have I used in the past?
What specifically triggered each type of anger?
How did I express each type of anger?
How did this make other people feel?
How did this make me feel?
How did it make me feel knowing that I hurt other people with my anger?
What can I learn from my angry outbursts?
How else could I have responded in these situations?
How could I manage these angry outbursts more effectively in the future?
When you openly and willingly accept the fact that you were in the wrong in these situations, and also admit that you could have chosen alternate and more productive and helpful ways to respond, then that is when you put yourself in the driver’s seat of your own life. That is when you admit to yourself that you are willing and ready to change and take responsibility for your life moving forward.
Self-Directed Anger is an anger that has more to do with you then it has with other people. It stems from an internal sense of dissatisfaction you have within yourself. This form of anger is often unhealthy and can cause a lot of internal turmoil and instability. It harms you, and can also harm other people when it is directed at them out of frustration. However, some forms of self-directed anger can actually be helpful and productive. Let’s quickly have a look at each of these types of anger:
- Overwhelmed Anger: Here you become overwhelmed with having too much to do, with having too little time, and often resulting in high levels of stress and anxiety. You feel as though you are unable to control events, people and/or circumstances and this makes you feel angry. This form of anger is often expressed through shouting.
- Behavioral Anger: Here you are feeling angry and frustrated within yourself for one or more reasons. You might for instance be held back from something you want to do, be or have. As a result you express your anger aggressively in the form of defiance, through trouble-making, or by causing physical harm to another person.
- Paranoid Anger: Here your anger comes as a result of paranoia. You are paranoid that something might happen. This might for instance arise from intimidation. And as a result you become very defensive and try to protect yourself, which manifests in angry outbursts.
- Chronic Anger: Here you are constantly angry. You are angry because it’s raining outside; you are angry because there’s too much sunshine; you are angry because a chirping bird woke you up in the morning; you are angry because you forgot to buy some bread on your shopping run; you are angry because kids are just annoying; you are angry because people are inconsiderate; etc. You are angry just because…
- Self-Inflicted Anger: Here you are angry in order to punish yourself for something you did or failed to do. You might have for instance made a mistake and as a result you are angry at yourself. You might even go to great lengths to abuse yourself and possibly punish yourself because of this mistake.
- Constructive Anger: This is the only form of anger that actually makes sense. It’s actually the only form of anger that can help you make a positive difference in your life and in the lives of others. This form of anger is often expressed via protests. However, it can also be expressed in other ways. For instance you might purposefully choose to be angry to get a point across to a customer service representative. Or you might purposefully become angry to teach your kids a lesson. This is all a constructive and helpful form of anger that can benefit everyone concerned.
Once again it’s important here to evaluate which types of anger have become a regular part of your life. Ask yourself:
How have I experienced each of these types of anger?
Why have I experienced these types of anger?
What specifically triggered these angry feelings? Why?
Is it reasonable to respond this way? Could I have responded another way?
How have these angry outbursts hurt me?
How have these angry outbursts hurt other people?
What can I learn from my angry outbursts?
How could I have better managed these moments of anger?
How will I do things differently in the future?
Managing your anger will become far easier and simpler once you understand and familiarize yourself with how anger tends to manifest in your life. You might of course not have all the answers right now to control your responses. However, with a little effort and time you can certainly re-condition yourself to begin responding to circumstances in far more positive and productive ways.
How to Better Manage Your Anger
No matter how much work you put in to managing your emotions, there will certainly be times throughout your life when something unexpected will happen and this will immediately raise your internal temperature gauge. You go from feeling somewhat uncomfortable, to being a little agitated, and then inevitably to feeling angry. During moments such as these you could flip-out, lose your cool and vent your frustrations and anger on the unsuspecting world. Or you could learn to control your emotions and instead project them in more constructive and appropriate ways.
Let’s take a look at a seven step process you can use to manage your anger in a more helpful way:
Step 1: Become Self-Aware
Your first step is to recognize that you’re about to lose your temper. Go back to the signs and symptoms of anger and recognize how they are beginning to manifest in your life. The earlier you are able to identify these changes, the more likely you are to ward off these feelings and choose a different and more appropriate response.
It’s also important you tune-in to the conditions that triggered your anger. You’re about to lose your temper for a reason. What specifically within your environment, or within yourself stirred your emotions the wrong way?
Finally, acknowledge that you have a weakness. There are certain limitations within your personality that are causing you to feel and respond in a certain way. Acknowledging these habits and tendencies will allow you to begin the process of change.
Step 2: Recognize Other Options
Once you are clear about how you’re feeling and have successfully acknowledged that there is a better way to respond to this situation, it’s now important to put some space between you and the things that triggered your anger. As such, it’s critical that you remove yourself from the situation that is causing you discomfort, agitation, and/or frustration. Remove yourself physically by walking away and taking some time to clear your head.
Step 3: Keep Yourself Calm and Collected
Your next step is to calm yourself down emotionally. You can successfully calm yourself down by listening to relaxing music, by using affirmations, by counting backward from 10, by breathing deeply, by visualizing a calming scene within your imagination, etc. There are plenty of ways to calm down. Through trial and error you will determine what works best in your situation.
Once you are calm and centered, remind yourself about your goals in this particular situation: What were you hoping to gain? Also have a think about your most important values. These are the things that you are working toward. And these are the things that you might purposefully sabotage if you lose your cool.
Also remind yourself about the importance of staying calm under pressure, about the importance of maintaining good social relations with others, and about finding the strength within yourself to respond appropriately and intelligently. Ask yourself:
What am I hoping to gain from the situation?
What goals am I hoping to achieve?
What values do I hold close to my heart?
Why is it important for me to maintain a cool and level head?
These questions will lay down the foundations for the next stage in this process.
Step 4: Evaluate the Situation
Now comes time to knuckle down and evaluate the situation and evaluate your internal environment (your mindset).
Have a think about your personal standards and the expectations you are bringing into this situation. Maybe one or more of your standards have not been met? Maybe your expectations are unrealistic? Or just maybe one of your rules has been broken?
The purpose of this evaluation is to train yourself to proactively respond to events, people and circumstances in an effective and rational manner. You are no longer going to allow your emotions to get the best of you. Instead, you will look at the situation from a variety of angles and perspectives, and then pick the most appropriate and helpful response moving forward.
While you’re moving through this evaluation process, take into consideration that you might have misinterpreted people, events or circumstances. Consider that you might not be seeing the full picture, and accept the fact that you might actually be wrong and could very well have made a mistake. Be open to the possibilities, and above all else, be truthful with your responses. Ask yourself:
What happened? Why?
Why am I feeling angry about this?
Is my anger justified, appropriate and acceptable?
Have I possibly misread this situation?
Are things the way I make them out to be?
Am I making any assumptions about things?
How else could I potentially view this situation?
How could I potentially deal with this without feeling angry?
How could viewing things this way be helpful?
What is actually good about this situation?
Will this incident even matter next week, next month, next year?
Answering these questions honestly will force you to consider alternate perspectives and possibilities. This will help you acknowledge that the situation might not be as clear-cut as you originally made it out to be. And hopefully this acknowledgment will allow you to select the most appropriate response moving forward.
Step 5: Choose Appropriate Response
Your next task is to take everything you have worked through so far into consideration, and then select the most appropriate and helpful response moving forward. The response you choose must have long-term payoffs and should support the greater good of all concerned. And this could very well mean that you still choose to project your anger if you feel that this is the most appropriate response in this situation. However, this will no longer be an uncontrolled form of anger. It will instead be a form of constructive anger that can help you get what you want most effectively.
It’s also important to recognize the options you have in any situation where you are feeling somewhat angry. You can for instance release the anger and move on without getting emotionally wrapped-up in the situation. Or you can instead choose to avoid the situation altogether. Alternately you can choose to control your anger in a productive way to help influence the outcome of the situation. Or finally, you can choose to redirect your anger onto other things. This will help you release your pent-up emotions, but will not affect the situation in a negative way. Each of these four options can potentially help you to work through the situation successfully without creating emotional mayhem.
Step 6: Evaluate Your Response
After things have settled down and the moment has passed, take time to evaluate how you responded to the situation and the impact that this had on you, on others, and on the events and circumstances you were dealing with. Ask yourself:
How did I respond?
What specifically did I do?
Did I manage my anger effectively?
Am I satisfied with how I behaved?
Was anger required in this instance?
How did my response affect other people?
How did my response influence the circumstances?
Again, it’s important you are very honest with yourself and that you use this experience to help you choose better and more appropriate ways to respond to these kinds of situations in the future.
Step 7: Learn from Your Experience
No matter what happened — even if you responded inappropriately — it’s important you forgive yourself. Without forgiveness you will wallow in self-pity and will most likely continue making the same mistakes over and over again.
Once you have forgiven yourself, open yourself up to the possibility of taking the time to learn from this experience — to gain the most value and feedback from the every situation. Ask yourself:
What can I learn from this experience?
In retrospect, could I have managed things differently?
How will I do things better the next time around?
How must I prepare myself physically and mentally to take these important steps?
Now have a think about the worst-case scenario. What if you had lost complete control over your emotions and things ended up in a very sad and depressing place? Have a think about the potential consequences of anger in this particular situation by asking yourself:
What would be the consequences of losing control of my emotions in this situation?
How could this have potentially hurt me?
How could this have potentially hurt others?
How could my anger have potentially affected other areas of my life in the short and long-term?
How would all this make me feel?
Hopefully you won’t ever have to deal with the worst-case scenarios, however it’s always important to take them under consideration. It will certainly help you put the consequences of your actions into perspective. And in the end how you choose to respond to events, people and circumstances is always your choice to make. So be sure to choose wisely.
9 More Suggestions for Overcoming Anger
Overcoming your tendencies to become angry will certain take time. It’s not an overnight process that you will suddenly be able to change. This process will undoubtedly take some effort. You will need to be patient and open the possibilities. And most importantly, you will need to be willing to make some changes and adjustments to your lifestyle — changes to the way you do things on a daily basis. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Make Time for Yourself
Making time for yourself is important because it gives you critical moments to think and reflect about your life and circumstances. When you begin the process of self-reflection you suddenly open yourself up to more possibilities and alternate perspectives. You start taking into consideration what happened and look for ways you can do things differently and/or better the next time around. You are no longer reacting emotionally to events and circumstances, you are instead taking the time to think before responding, and as a result you respond in more productive and helpful ways that doesn’t involve getting angry.
Making time for yourself might mean taking time to exercise to help release anger and frustration. It might mean listening to some calming and relaxing music throughout the day to help you gather your thoughts. It could also mean taking time to meditate, visualize and reflect on things, on your behavior, habits and emotional responses. Likewise a simple stroll in the park can also be quite helpful and will give you time to reflect and acknowledge the beauty all around you. There are so many things to feel grateful for and so many things to appreciate about life. And that’s where you should start. A little gratitude, appreciation and love always soothes an angry heart.
Manage Sources of Anger
There will always be certain things, specific people, and particular environments that will tend to trigger uncomfortable and irritating feelings of anger. It’s important that you come to acknowledge these sources of anger and either separate yourself from them, eliminate them, or figure out how to minimize the impact that they have on your emotional state-of-mind.
This is particularly important during the early stages of working through your emotional tendencies. It’s during these early moments that you will need to focus-in on particular situations and work through them independently. Dealing with multiple situations that trigger your anger throughout the day or week can become very overwhelming very quickly. For this very reason it’s important you prioritize how you will manage your sources of anger.
Avoid Dwelling on Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, your transition from an “easily” angered state-of-mind to a more calm and proactive state-of-mind will not be a smooth process. You will make mistakes. You will fall back to old uncontrollable habits, and patterns of behavior. But that’s okay. It’s all a process of learning. New habits are not built overnight, they are built with some dedication, persistence, patience and effort over time. Therefore if you make a mistake and lose control of your anger, it’s okay. Learn from the experience and move on. Don’t dwell on these mistakes uncontrollably and wallow in self-pity.
Likewise, don’t get angry at yourself for making mistakes. Let go of the past and focus on a brighter future where you are in conscious control over your emotional responses.
Don’t Suppress Your Anger
Suppressed anger only builds up over time and then something eventually triggers it and you explode like an uncontrollable volcano spewing lava all over the place.
Instead of suppressing your anger release it in positive and productive ways. You can release your anger through exercise, by hitting a punching bag, by talking with someone about your feelings, by getting a massage to help release pent-up tension, or by writing your thoughts down in a journal. Journaling will help you to express your anger on paper and will give you the time to clarify more appropriate ways to respond to the situations you find yourself in. Journaling can also help you learn from your emotional mistakes and improve your choices and decisions over time.
Modify Your Language
The language you use, the way you talk to yourself, the way you think about things, and the way you speak with other people significantly influences how you feel and the emotions you experience at any one moment in time.
Say for instance something suddenly happens that stirs your emotions. You immediately begin feeling uncomfortable. And then out of the blue you just can’t control yourself. You label yourself as being “angry” or “furious”, and as a result you respond by losing your temper and by engaging in uncontrolled emotional outbursts. What if there was another way to respond?
Instead of labeling yourself as being “angry”, how about you label yourself as feeling a little agitated, or somewhat peeved? What if you said to yourself that you’re feeling just a little upset? How would this change your state-of-mind? How would this affect how you respond to this situation?
Transforming your language and describing your feelings a different way will immediately make you feel less emotionally involved within the situation. It’s therefore important to look into ways you could potentially expand your emotional vocabulary to build more richness and variety into the conversations you have with yourself. You don’t always need to feel angry. You can choose instead to feel a little agitated, confused, concerned, worried, or maybe just a wee bit uncomfortable. The language you choose will affect how you feel, and how you feel will influence how you respond.
Assert Yourself Proactively and Calmly
It’s important to teach yourself how to stay calm, cool and collected during pressure moments when it’s easy to lose control of your emotions. Learn about progressive muscle relaxation techniques, about visualization, about meditation, about building an internal sanctuary, etc. In fact, the simple act of counting back from 10 to 1 can help calm you down. There are literally dozens of things you can do to calm your emotions down. Get a little creative and think outside the box to figure out what works best for you.
Being calm and collected doesn’t mean that you should now become a “push-over”. You might have previously used anger as a means of getting what you want. And now because you have a more calm and relaxed approach, it’s easy to think that other people might walk all over you. This doesn’t have to be the case. You win other people’s respect not by being angry, but rather by being assertive and direct. You win their respect by being empathetic, by showing compassion and by sticking to your highest values and standards. In fact, you can be assertive without getting angry.
Anger and assertiveness are certainly not the same thing. When you’re angry you lose control of your emotions. When you’re assertive you are direct and firm and you hold your emotions in-check and only raise your voice purposefully when required. Assertiveness will win the admiration and respect of others. Anger will only cause people to despise and fear you.
Reframe Your Circumstances
How you interpret a situation will often influence how you respond to a situation. This is significant because the moment you change or alter your interpretation of a situation, is the moment you begin seeing things in a new light and in a new way. You are no longer constricted by the limitations of your own biased perspectives. Instead, you open yourself up to the possibilities — to alternate interpretations that might also make sense and provide you with a more appropriate means of moving forward.
Here are some questions that will help you reframe your circumstances in another way:
What if I’m completely misreading this situation?
What if there was really nothing to be angry about?
How will I think about this situation in 10 years time?
If I was an ant, how would I think about this situation?
If I was a river, how would I respond to this situation?
If this situation was a circus act, how would I think about it?
How would another person interpret this situation?
How would a child interpret this situation? How would they respond?
How would the President interpret this situation? How would he respond?
How else could I interpret this?
What else could all this mean?
Some of these questions seem a little strange, however they will help you understand that there is more then one way to interpret a situation, and there is also certainly more then one way to respond to a situation.
Communicate Your Needs Appropriately
Sometimes you might feel angry because you feel as though your needs aren’t being met or acknowledged by others. In such instances it’s important you communicate your needs to other people more appropriately.
Communicate how you’re feeling and what you want from the situation clearly and concisely. Once other people understand your needs and get a better idea of your expectations, they will be in a far more advantageous and receptive position to meet those needs and expectations. And if they are not willing to do this, then at least everything will be out in the open and there will be no confusion. Use this as an opportunity to work through these circumstances and points of disagreement in a fair and reasonable way.
Accept that Life is Unreasonable
You must accept that life is not always going to be fair and can at times be quite unreasonable. You will not always get what you want; there is rarely a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and people will tend to let you down. This is the reality of life, and you must accept that life is this way without resistance or anger.
Sometimes you’ll get things your way and other times you won’t. The only thing you can do is to be creative and flexible in your approach and then just maybe things will work out in your favor more times then not.
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 3 Simple Steps to Anger Management @ Pick the Brain
- 6 Steps to Manage Anger @ Psyche Central
- 9 Techniques to Control Your Anger @ Virtual Synapses
- Catch Anger Before it Catches You @ Tiny Buddha
- Controlling Anger Before it Controls You @ American Psychological Association
- How Anger Makes You Think Differently @ Psychology Today
- How Good is Your Anger Management @ Mind Tools
- How to Control Anger: 24 Tips to Calm Down Fast @ Reader’s Digest
- How to Deal with Anger: Your Gentle Gude to Removing Anger for Life @ Personal Excellence
- How to Stop the Cycle of Anger During Hardship @ Lifehack
- The Zen of Anger: Tips to Overcome Negative Reactions @ Tiny Buddha
- Top 12 Anger Do’s and Don’ts @ Psychology Today