TRAIT OR STATE?

“My child is an angry person.”

“When does this anger most show itself?” I ask.

“When he’s denied something or when he’s disciplined.”

“Is he angry at times other than those?”

“No, if we let him do whatever he wants, he’s in a decent mood.”

“So it’s safe to say that this angry child’s anger is limited to specific times and places?

“It seems so.”

“What does his teacher say?”

“I don’t understand it. His teacher doesn’t see any of this….She says he’s a delight.”

“How do you explain the fact that his teacher, who has a fraction of your authority, gets him to behave every day all day without so much as a whiff of defiance?”

“Do you suppose he holds it in all day, and when he gets home, he has to explode?”

“Probably not. I think he knows where the speed limit is twenty and where it’s the interstate.”

The wife of a grouch meets a woman who regales her with “Your husband is such a joy to work with. He’s so pleasant and positive with everyone. Please don’t take offense at this, but a lot of the ladies there envy you.”

At which wife thinks, “Yeah, well, I envy them.” She has to choke back, “What’s this guy’s last name, and does he look like my wallet picture here?” Not only is she stung at hearing where she sits on her husband’s “Be nice to” list, but she can’t reconcile the image of the man she knows with that of the one those women know.

How does one reconcile the inconsistencies between home child and school child or between home child and school child or between marital partner and work partner? Well, they don’t need to be reconciled. We’re talking about human beings here. …Different places promote different conduct. Different places also mean different people.

…Are these distinctions without effect? What does it matter if I’m an angry person or a person who gets angry with certain someones or somethings? Anger is still anger. Yet it does matter for a number of reasons.

One, such distinctions can reassure. Because personality defines who someone is, it is seen as something stable, resisting change or correction. Consequently, being an angry person sounds more serious than being a person who gets angry sometimes. Correcting any life problem begins with describing it correctly. Describing anger as more deep-rooted than it really is makes rectifying it seem more challenging.

Two, distinctions narrow the focus. When counseling a so-called angry child or adult, I must begin with questions—plenty. I need specifics—the who, what, when, and where of the anger’s appearance. Just knowing someone is an angry person does me or him little good. The characterization is too wide to be useful. Unless I narrow it, I don’t know where to head next.

Three, distinctions present solutions. Suppose I know that my abrasive Uncle Buck brings out my own abrasiveness. I can a) keep a room or two between us at any family gathering, b) resolve to let his opinions float past my ears into space or into someone else’s ears, c) keep my wife nearby, to push me away or pinch me if I’m tempted to retort, d) play Legos in the basement with the preschooler until the Buckster falls asleep or goes home.

…What seems a deficit in personal self-control may be my allowing circumstances to push me too hard. I may not have an anger trait so much as a few too many anger states.

Fighting Mad — Practical Solutions for Conquering Anger Pages 21-22
Copyright © 2013, Dr. Ray Guarendi
Servant Books