Whether it’s kicking a chair, hitting a computer, or yelling at your friends and colleagues, people deal with anger in very different ways. And it can be a serious problem both in and out of the workplace. But there is help. In a new book titled “Complete Confidence,” author and psychotherapist Dr. Sheenah Hankin offers people a handbook to help find a way to a confident life — free from self-criticism, anxiety and immature anger. She discusses the book on “Today.” Here’s an excerpt:
The Problem With Anger: Bullies and Victims
A tiny green iguana scuttered across a sandy path, startling a young woman in a bikini. She was strolling to the beach on a beautiful Caribbean island, relishing the fact that a winter blizzard was raging in her hometown. In the shade of the palm trees that lined her path it was 75 degrees.
“What a sweet baby he is,” she said as she turned to search for the iguana. Failing to notice a rock in the path, she tripped. She fell forward, cutting her toe and grazing her hands as she tried to save herself. “You stupid, stupid idiot,” she shouted out loud to the empty air. Ruefully rubbing her wounds, she had a flash of insight. “Why am I so quick to anger and blame myself all the time?” She thought about her boyfriend, who had recently dumped her, telling her that he loved her but not her temper. She would angrily blame him, too, when things were not to her liking. This vacation was her attempt to heal her broken heart. She knew that her angry attitude at work was hampering her chances for promotion. “My confidence is at an all-time low,” she wept. “How is it that I am kinder to a small lizard than I am to myself?” she asked.
Let’s be frank: Venting anger is not good for you or your confidence.
Let’s be clear: Confident people don’t vent. They take effective action.
They take the effective action of reducing or eliminating frustration. It is frustration that sparks anger, and the frustration can be actual, physical, or psychological, in the past, the present, or in a prediction of the future.
An actual loss of a relationship, property, or money can stir us to feel anger. Physical attacks of any kind by people, animals, germs, and viruses will always anger us. Fortunately, losses, both actual and physical, rarely occur.
Psychologically, we get angry when someone or something threatens to break our personal rules of living (the way we believe life ought to be). Our rules include our sense of justice, our value system, our moral code, our religious beliefs, and our political viewpoint. But do not be fooled into thinking that anger is a well-reasoned, logical response. Many of our rules are irrational and some are just plain nutty.
Most of the anger you and I experience has a psychological base. People who lack confidence are so self-critical and feel so vulnerable and sensitive that only a thin membrane of self-respect stands between them and the world. When criticized, ignored, excluded, unapplauded, or overlooked, they erupt into anger, either losing their temper or sulking and withdrawing.
An emotional habit is not only based on past experiences. Memories of those events will continue to shape how we view ourselves and the world. To illustrate this point simply, children, familiar with onslaughts of rage and humiliation, will as adults continue to see the world as a critical, hostile place. They unconsciously create a cycle of anger. Timid and fearful, they imagine criticism and believe they hear it in people’s remarks, even when this is not true. They try to fend off conflict by complying, and attempt to please the authority figures they fear. Chronically anxious, they are usually angry with themselves for what they see as their own weakness and inadequacy. Their emotionally overloaded brains easily slip into depression. Many will binge in a bid to find relief from their feelings, and then angrily blame themselves for their defeating habit.
Alternatively, children raised by indulgent parents without sufficient rules or discipline (a parenting policy that seems prevalent in the U.S.A. at this point in history) view the world as a resource to satisfy their desires. Irresponsible and self-indulgent, they angrily resent restrictions and are overly sensitive to criticism, normal setbacks, and disappointments. They react with rage when thwarted, and are quick to be irritable and to feel sorry for themselves. Disliking limits, they too are prone to binges and addictions.
Let’s be frank: To criticize and blame oneself breeds shame and anger.
Let’s be clear: To criticize and blame others and the world spawns self-pity and anger.
Shame and self-pity, the moralizing emotions, are the bedrock from which anger erupts. People who are touchy, thin-skinned, and oh-so-sensitive are both the bullies and the victims. Fearful of victimization or humiliation, they will overreact by raging or sulking whenever they perceive that an insult has occurred. Their immature anger habits undermine their confidence and the confidence of those around them. Criticism, unhappiness, and especially anger are as contagious as the common cold.
The Motivation Behind Blame
I once counseled a man whose wife wanted to divorce him. “It’s my fault,” he lamented. “I’m just stupid. I don’t pay enough attention to my wife. I work too much, and” — he hesitated — “I can never satisfy her sexually. I’m a bit shy in bed. I’ve put on some weight and she hates that. No wonder she wants to leave me. I’m just a loser.”
I met separately with his wife, who said: “He’s a lousy husband, inattentive, a workaholic, and just not attractive any more. He put on over twenty-five pounds in the last few years and he’s out of shape. He is so weak and a lousy lover. He is a good provider, but that’s not enough for me.”
The man was very critical of himself. He deprived himself of confidence with his beliefs that he was stupid, fat, and a loser in bed and in marriage. His wife was very critical of him, and helped him to undermine his confidence with her angry nagging. What do you think they have in common?
The answer is blame. She felt sorry for herself, and blamed him for the deprivation she felt in her marriage. He blamed himself, and felt ashamed and angry about his “inadequacies.” They both, as I later discovered, blamed themselves for staying in a miserable marriage, and blamed each other for being weak and unmanly, or bossy and critical. He avoided open conflict, and although he seemed to accept her disrespectful accusations, he stewed with inner wrath. She blamed herself for being so nasty and treating him so badly. Each day she would strive to be pleasant but, feeling deprived of companionship, sex, and connection, she would allow a wellspring of self-pity to spew forth in a tirade of invective. Everything about him seemed to irritate her.
I insisted they stop blaming, at least while in my presence. I explained that blaming others for our plight is a clear defense against the shame we might feel were we to look at our part in the problem. On the other hand, to blame oneself entirely overlooks the contributions the other person makes to a situation, self-centeredly focusing on those critical shame ideas you now know well on the angers of the Losing Hand: Stupid, Fat, Old, Ugly, and Loser.
I decided to see this couple separately, and work with their individual emotional habits. The husband recognized his self-critical shame habit, and was relieved when I persuaded him to stop seeing himself as the sole cause of his wife’s unhappiness. He enjoyed learning to stand his ground, especially his new policy of insisting that she stop criticizing him. He was intrigued to discover that this not only worked, but that it did not cause a fight if he insisted without criticizing her.
The wife was quite reluctant to stop criticizing him, at first. I had to work hard to get her to stop interrupting me when I tried to stop her complaining. “But you don’t understand,” she repeatedly said, “he does this or he doesn’t do that.” I pointed out that her list of dissatisfactions were of little importance, and that her harsh judgments did not encourage him to cooperate with her.
The turning point came when she told me how much she disliked herself for her angry, bullying ways. They began to communicate honestly and without blame. The commonalities that had brought them together reemerged from beneath a fog of anger. Neither really wanted a divorce, but both used the threat of a divorce to punish the other. Never ask for an exit visa, unless you really mean it, was my request to them. The mention of divorce faded away as their marriage bloomed again.
Let’s be frank: Confident people are not bullies. They do not angrily blame others.
Let’s be clear: Confident people are not victims. They do not act like immature children, crying, complaining, and labeling themselves as “bad” when normal reversals occur.
The foregoing is excerpted from "Complete Confidence" by Sheenah Hankin. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. To learn more about the book, you can visit: