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What's the best way to express your emotions?

As an African proverb says, "If you are never angry, then you are unborn." We all get angry sometimes. It's only human. The challenge is how we choose to handle our anger. People can learn to express their feelings without losing all control, and without being destructive or hurtful to others.

This group activity encourages communication and understanding, which strengthens relationships. It lets other people know what might bother you (and helps them be more considerate of your feelings). We all need to think about and communicate what makes us angry and learn how to deal with different intensities of anger in different situations. All of this can take a lifetime; many adults are still trying to master these ideas.

Anger is a physical and emotional reaction to a perceived threat. In prehistoric times, people faced many dangers (like big, fierce animals) so the body developed the ability to generate extra strength and energy to stay and fight or quickly escape the danger. With this fight-or-flight response, adrenaline increases dramatically, the heart pumps faster, blood pressure rises, and blood flows faster. The body releases chemicals that make muscles tense, stronger, quicker, and prepared for action. These chemicals can also cause people to lose some of their self-control.

A destructive reaction to anger is pushing, kicking, hitting, or damaging property. Destructive anger hurts people, relationships, and ultimately yourself. A constructive reaction to anger separates feeling the anger from acting on the anger. Anger is part of a chain: something happens, you have a belief about the event, which leads to a feeling about the event, which leads to your response. You can't change what happens, but you can do something about your beliefs, feelings, and responses. Which is why identifying your triggers -- things that start the anger chain for you -- is so important.

A trigger is like a red flag in front of a bull. It makes you want to charge! If you recognize the things that make you angry, you can be on alert so that your beliefs, feelings, and responses don't get out of control.

Everyone in a group can share specific examples and memories of what makes them angry. It's okay to bring up examples when you didn't handle the anger particularly well. Admitting that and then discussing other options lets everyone learn from the experience.

What are your red flags? What makes you really angry? You can get angry with people, things, situations, behaviors, gestures, or words. You might want to rate things on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is "annoys me" with 5 "irritates me" to 10 "enrages me"). How do you react when you get angry? How do/did your parents react when they get/got angry? What are destructive ways to handle anger? What are constructive ways?

Some ideas for handling anger constructively: stop and count to ten; punch a pillow; scream into a pillow; go for a walk; run around the block; skip rope; dance; kick a can around outside; throw marshmallows into the sink; bang a drum set; tear up some old newspaper; get a towel and twist and strangle it; draw a picture of how you feel; write a letter; have an imaginary conversation with the person you're angry at.

Write your name in the center of a sheet of paper. Surround your name with words or phrases in red flags. These are the things that make you really angry, your triggers. For example, the word "disrespect" might be a red flag that you get really angry when someone disrespects you or calls you a name. The red color should now also remind you to "stop" and be alert. Then, from each of your red flags, draw a green line outward with green words or phrases with ideas about how you can handle that anger constructively. Green means "go" ahead and do this.

Now you have a handy reference sheet that lists what makes you angry and how you can handle that anger constructively.

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org


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