Conflict, Anger, and Managing Your Reactions

I am sitting at my computer after a long day of teaching, studying, and taking care of my many obligations getting angry at a stranger online for not understanding the comment I left on a news story. The worries of my day just grew exponentially because this person is arguing with me about something I feel justified in commenting. Just as I am getting to the point of throwing my computer out the window, another person enters the comment and shares their two cents. Maybe this new person agrees with me or maybe they don’t…either way I am ready to battle over my beliefs in the Thunderdome that is social media! Needless to say, I am thoroughly entrenched in the argument and just want people to agree with me. 

Does this scenario feel familiar to you? Do you find yourself in conflict online or in person when it comes to politics, religion, racism, sexism, ageism, or any of the other topics that confront us daily? We currently live in a culture where if you are not 100% in support of something you must be 100% against it. For those of us who live in the middle or have a logical argument for or against something, we can find our day totally controlled by conflict and anger. Everything today feels tense and a wrong word can send us suddenly into a heated debate. Misunderstanding and judgment rule the day and we are just trying to navigate this world of bias and “fake news.”

As a counselor, I used to lead Anger Management classes for people who were recovering from addictions and other issues that led to conflicts in their lives. There are many things we can glean from the information I used to share with them about anger and what it does to us. 1. Anger and happiness cannot reside in the same space. They are incompatible and anger impedes our happiness. 2. Anger leads to increased stress which can cause everything from health issues to poor relationships with the people closest to us. 3. Anger leads to more mistakes because we struggle to process information correctly. 

Let’s be honest, sometimes anger is completely justified, and it is okay to let anger motivate us towards action and change. Before you immediately justify all of your anger and all of your responses to other people, let’s ask ourselves some questions and talk about tips that can help us control our responses:

  1. Will the object of my anger matter ten years from now? This question gives us some perspective on whether we really need to respond to this issue now or not.
  2. What are the consequences of my anger? If you are in an online debate you may feel like this doesn’t affect your life much but remember that anger puts stress on your body which can take its toll. If you are having conflict with a friend or family member, you must consider if it is worth damaging the relationship.
  3. If you are mad at a person for doing something that you think was “foolish,” stop and consider the fact that you have done foolish things too. Road rage is perhaps one of the best examples of individuals doing something that make you angry that may have been a mistake. Admit that you may have done something similar behind the wheel too. 
  4. Ask yourself if the person you disagree with has done something to hurt you on purpose? Typically, people just do something careless or in a rush not intending to harm anyone.
  5. Take a breath and relax. The old adage of count to ten is a bit ridiculous, in my opinion, because I often catch myself getting angrier. I found that if I step away from what is upsetting me and reconfigure my thinking it is not worth the fight in the long run.
  6. If something is worth your anger, then find a way to calmly express your anger. When you are thinking clearly you can express what is upsetting you in a clear and direct way. This is the concept of thinking before you speak. 
  7. If you are going to bring up problems to people you should have solutions ready too. You may end up compromising on your ideas with the other person but having solutions means you are ready to work through the issues. Bringing problems with no solution is often just complaining or whining.
  8. Do NOT hold a grudge. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools to ridding yourself of negative feelings and creating positive feelings. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. 
  9. Adjust your expectations. 100% of the people cannot please you 100% of the time and vice versa. Realize that people are fallible and liable to be upsetting. You cannot control them, but you can control your responses to them.
  10. Recognize your stress. External and internal stressors can be impacting your ability to deal effectively with the world around you. Once you recognize your stress find healthy ways to cope with your stress…use humor, practice relaxation techniques, go exercise, go take a nap, or any other thing that helps you release your stress. 

How we respond to conflict is important. Many people react to the world around them which means that they are driven by their emotions. Reacting to conflict means that anger and yelling may be the “go to” in every situation. I challenge you to begin responding to conflict. When we respond to conflict we understand the unique and wonderful things that the other person brings to the world—even when we are frustrated with them. We take some time and space to think through what the frustration is and then with compassion and empathy come back to the conversation. Choose a tone that respects the other person. Finally, follow the advice of Elsa in Frozen and “Let it go.” Remember it may not matter in 10 years, so why let it ruin today.

I am a person who can often be guilty of plowing myself into a fight or getting angry with people over things that really are not that big of a deal. I can blame my Irish/German heritage, my red hair, my intense sense of justice, or my tendency to be a know-it-all but in the end, I have made the choice to respond in certain ways. When I am wrong, I try very hard to apologize and make it right with the people that I have reacted rather than responded to. Apologizing when things get heated might be the gift we give ourselves during conflict—it helps the other person too! Humility and empathy keep us grounded in resolving conflict.

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