Divorce and the Color Red

By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

When anger rises, think of the consequences.

A Non-Giving Emotional Reaction. Anger is a response to primary feelings that describe our self-image or our world view. It arises when we experience unresolved hurt, fear, sadness, guilt or shame. These are feelings that frequently get tapped into during divorce. They make us “see red!” The problem with seeing red is that it causes temporary blindness when you most need to see clearly. The question is “what should you do about it?”

Although anger can lessen the pain of deeper feelings, it can also be destructive when it derails efforts of finding closure for family separations and divorce settlements. The effort should focus on how to manage your anger and get the best use from it. These are some considerations to help:

First, it is of value to know when you are becoming angry. That will allow you to reflect and choose what is in your best interest. Anger provokes physical responses as well as emotional ones (i.e., dry mouth, muscle tightening, upset stomach, etc.). These are early warning signals.

While we generally operate better when we can express our anger, the where, when and how will lead to different consequences. The long term result of pouring out anger on the object of our underlying feelings may not serve our best interest. Many methods to defuse anger safely have been developed. Among these methods are journaling or letter writing (and then burning the letter), shouting (in private), talking it out with friends or professionals, and physical exercise (with all the extra health benefits). For severe cases of anger expression, there are specialists to help with managing your anger.

The flip side of managing your anger is managing the effect of the other person’s anger toward you. Consider the source of their anger. Is it a manipulation or can you identify the underlying hurt, shame, guilt, etc. that provoked the anger? With information you can ease your own response and work to defuse their anger through reflective listening, empathic replies, being assertive versus aggressive, or just staying calm.

Consider that “for every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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