My Photo
Los Angeles, California
I have initially created the Better Than Cured Guide to Healing and Happiness to help patients in my psychiatric private practice who were suffering from anxiety and depression. My goal was not only to help them get well, but beyond that, to also help them find a viable path to a happier life. They were loosing any hope that they can ever be healthy and happy again. They were amazed when they did it. If hundreds of my patients could do it, so can you, my dear reader. I hope their stories of courage and success will empower you to reinvent yourself and rekindle the hope that your life too can be better and that your pain can be healed. Set your life course on a "better than cured" path that leads to your own profound and personal journey to healing and happiness. For more information about my medical career and my private practice, please visit my web site at drforest.com.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Finding the Right Words to Rule and Control Your Anger

Let's say something bad happens. It could be your boss being unfair to you, or your partner feeling hurt for no apparent (to you) reason. Or your teacher, or your colleague, or your son or daughter do something stupid. Or you do something stupid and get caught. In other words, an upsetting event.

Speaking our mind, having a voice—letting people know what we really think—is often suppressed by the fear that we will come across angry and out of control. Sometimes worse is the fear that no one will listen or that everyone will get even more upset. Is it worth saying anything, or is it better to swallow our frustrations?

Emotional conflict can be so very frustrating. If we do not know how to manage it, we will most likely not feel satisfied with the outcome. There can be many unwanted and often unforeseen negative consequences of acting on the first impulse when upset. This will likely include the angry reaction of the person at the receiving end of our verbalized frustrations, which may lead to a never ending string of complications and worries. We have all faced such situations.

How can one find the right words to rule and control anger? Is there a recipe we can use when we are upset about something to express that feeling eloquently and successfully change the course of the negative events? Should we act instinctively and lash out our anger at the person in front of us, making everybody angry and digging a deeper hole for ourselves? Or should we withdraw within ourselves and slowly brew in our own self-destructive anger, saying nothing, resolving nothing, only perpetuating a bad situation and making it a hundred times worse?
Are there better options than to say nothing and implode or to say the first thing that comes to mind and explode outwardly? Continue reading and you will consider a third option.

Option 1: Lash out/Turn the anger outward

What happens if you say the first thing that comes to mind?

If you listen to the first impulse to immediately and loudly lash out your frustrations, the likely result will be that you will make everybody angry and escalate the conflict. This leads to no resolution of the initial problem.

Option 2: Keep quiet/Turn the anger inward

When a negative event happens, you may instinctively sulk and withdraw within yourself, nursing your emotional wound while becoming increasingly angry and resentful inside.

Eventually, under the pressure of this growing resentment, you will be pushed into some kind of self-destructive behavior. That may mean exploding in front of your boss or quitting your job in defiance, or breaking up a relationship on an impulse, or picking yourself up and leaving without having any clear plan of what you might do subsequently.

One of the most common feelings people have when faced with a negative event is feeling hopeless. Saying nothing and turning the anger inward will increase the feeling of hopelessness even more.
The reality is that you always have a voice and you always have a recourse, but only if you know how to manage your emotions and chose your words carefully.

Option 3: Speak your mind/Manage your emotions

If a negative event happens, instead of opening your mouth in anger and saying anything and everything that comes to mind, hold your thought for a moment. Take that angry monologue and consider that your "first draft." Spoken aloud, the "first draft" will likely get you in trouble. Not saying anything, will likely make you withdraw in anger. But when you control your emotions, you start thinking of a better, more civil version of the "first draft," and will arrive at a "second draft."

Even the "second draft" of your angry thoughts is usually only roughly worded and lacks tact and polish. If you speak it aloud, you may not trigger an explosive conflict, but you will likely fail to resolve the negative event satisfactorily. Probably the effects will be only moderately satisfying.

But if you really want to appear cool and in control and want to prompt a better resolution regarding the negative event, take a few more seconds and think of a "third-draft" version of what you want to say.

You can only get at this level by mastering your emotions. In your mind practice going quickly over the first instinctive draft and the second slightly more polished draft of what you have to say. Then come up with the last draft--the most carefully chosen words and the most diplomatic way to voice them. Arriving at and speaking aloud the third and final draft will help you appear thoughtful and will more likely resolve the negative event favorably.

With practice, you will see that your mind will efficiently go through the different revisions and will provide you with a surprisingly fast and good final draft almost automatically.

Of course, there are never guaranteed outcomes. Life is not that simple. But we can greatly increase the chances of a favorable resolution and greatly reduce the probability of serious collateral damage if we have a logical framework in mind. I hope this discussion and the diagrams provided will give you that framework and reference point. The rest is up to you.

Good luck in trying it out! And don’t forget to leave a comment or send an e-mail to let me know how it worked.


  1. that sounds like by the time I get to the “third draft” the whole event would be past and I’d be bringing up something that we were talking about a half an hour ago...meanwhile I’m in my head conjuring up this “third draft”. Part of my problems seems to arise when I am not in the present moment..therefore this doesn’t seem to be a great solution. I agree with the part of not saying the first thing that comes to my mind. I beginning to believe that not saying anything is ofthen the best choice in the matter.

  2. Dr forest, everything you said applies to all the events of my life with my teenage daughter and like you always tell me how impulsive my actions are and how they get me in so much trouble. Your words along with diagrams are extremely helpful, and like you said the rest is up to us, thank you for all your support and continous help. With love, Roya

  3. I've been working on the "Third Draft" plan for a while and although I don't always arrive at the "Draft" in time to actually have the conversation at that moment, I feel much better that I didn't blow up and make the situation even worse. Sometimes my "Third Draft" isn't spoken for quite sometime but when the opportunity arises-- which, for me it often does because I have the same issues over and over again with the same people, eventually my "Third Draft" is discussed and I'm calm and controlled-- which makes it way easier to handle.

    Thanks for the illustrations. They are a helpful reminder and reinforcement.

    Cheers, jj

  4. These are wonderful suggestions and lessons. I have found for myself, initially to say or do nothing until I have weighed the situation and can come to some sort of understanding. Only then will I speak out if need be.

  5. Thank you for your comments. With practice, it will get easier and faster arriving at the "third draft.". For the first few times, you might consider writing down the "third draft.". Then, you will see, your mind will select it almost automatically. Do not discourage. Keep practicing. This is a better way. I promise you it works.

  6. Love equating our emotions and handling our struggles to "shitty first draft" (Annie Lamott) concept from the writing world. We can evolve, repair, refine, get it right.