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Some Tips for Working Out Your Anger

November 27, 1985|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

Lee Iacocca as an "anger athlete"?

He's an all-star, in the opinion of anger pro Hank Weisinger, who frequently coaches corporate audiences on aerobics for the psyche.

Among other things, Weisinger teaches executives how to redirect their rage as Iacocca did when he took his fury at being fired by Ford and used it to resurrect Chrysler.

Weisinger is a psychologist whose "Dr. Weisinger's Anger Work-Out Book" (Quill: $10.95, paper) was published this fall. He recently redirected a number of his emotional exercise tips at an audience at UCLA Extension.

Dressed in sneakers, khaki pants and a T-shirt proclaiming, "The Anger Work-Out Works," he outlined a series of routines tailored to individual anger styles and personalities.

Specific Styles

Whether his listeners were "stuffers" (who suppress anger) or "escalators" (full-out screamers and yellers) or both (like himself, an occasional stuffer in business settings and an occasional escalator at home), Weisinger offered specific techniques for toning up their flabby psychological muscles.

But first, a little theory.

"Man is not troubled by events, but by the thoughts he tells himself about those events," according to Weisinger, a Santa Monica resident who holds a doctorate from the University of Kansas and is a licensed marriage and family counselor.

"As long as you say somebody else can make you angry, you're doomed. When you can take responsibility for how you feel, then you can change. . . . You can learn to respond differently to events."

Changing, however, requires taking action, Weisinger warned. Action beyond showing up for lectures on how to deal with anger. Action beyond recognizing and perhaps understanding rage.

If his listeners were to become "anger athletes" a la Iacocca, they would have to calm down so they could redirect the energy once used for anger into more positive changes.

"Most people are unconsciously incompetent," he explained. "So they go to a therapist for 20 years and become 'enlightened': They become consciously incompetent and know why they're screwing up their lives."

"You have to do it (change). Otherwise I'm just giving you insight."

To wit:

--"Anger has been identified as a major factor in cardiovascular disease . . . studies have shown it to be a factor in depression, ulcers, obesity, migraine headaches, spousal abuse, low productivity, self-esteem and more. . . ."

--"You experience anger faster than any other emotion and it takes more time to soothe the physical component of anger than any other emotion."

--"The very next time you get angry, ask yourself, 'What is an alternative appraisal of this situation? What's another way of looking at this?' Immediately it reduces your anger arousal."

--"You always have the right to get angry. It (anger) is always valid. To determine if your anger is needless or adaptive, ask yourself, 'Is my anger helping me or hurting me?' . . . In situations you cannot change, use your anger to prevent them from recurring."

Raising Awareness

To increase awareness of anger, Weisinger suggested a technique he considers valuable in any self-help program. He invited his students to record daily the number of times their undesirable behavior (anger) occurred and how long it lasted. The behaviors were to be recorded ("you'll underestimate if you trust your memory") and plotted on a graph.

"Just doing it will change your behavior," Weisinger insisted, adding that merely graphing activities without judging them is an excellent method for getting children to improve their behavior. "It will increase your awareness of it (the unwanted behavior) . . . Self-monitoring is not a pop psychology gimmick. It is a proven method to decrease undesirable behavior and increase desirable behavior. . . . If you're really serious about change, you'll graph it."

Weisinger also advised expanding the self-monitoring technique--graphing such factors as intensity and duration of angry periods or frequency with which anger disturbs relationships--to help determine if anger is a problem in an individual's life.

Long-Term Anger

"Many people are carrying around anger for years," he said. "To me, if you have anger from a week ago, that starts to border on a serious problem."

And if anger intrudes on a relationship?

"If your anger disturbs even one relationship, you have an anger problem."

Like many clever coaches, though, Weisinger offered alternatives for those unmoved by his initial game plans. One such option consists of taking timeouts to de-escalate anger before it becomes too intense. Weisinger prescribed it for people who argue a lot, who experience spouse or child abuse, who have poor interpersonal relationships or who want to avoid fights and resolve conflicts.

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