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Change Your Thinking: How to Curb Anger

Anger management is difficult for many people, and in many cases, success is found by unusual means.

By Lindsey Hammond, Portland, Oregon

My friend Sue said the idea came to her in a moment of genius. "I don't have very many of those," she told me," so take advantage of it." Genius? More like insanity. I couldn't believe she was suggesting I do something so off-the-wall.

"Are you nuts?" I said, feeling the anger rise inside me. I should have been more gracious. After all, I was the one who had come to Sue. I'd been in a holding pattern in my life, and I couldn't stand it. Sue was a therapist, used to helping people sort out their problems.

I was open with her, more than I was with most people. I talked about my childhood, a bewildering mix of the magical and the tragic. I was the only child from a broken home, and people close to me had hurt me, badly. In my teens, I'd used drugs and alcohol to blot out the pain.

I got counseling, got sober and rediscovered my creative spirit. Now I was a successful commercial designer in Portland, Oregon. I was healthy, fit, went on hikes. It looked like I had it together. On the inside, I felt all tangled up. I wanted a family, but I didn't date. I wanted to be a serious artist, but I hadn't done anything creative outside of work for ages.

Sometimes the internal turmoil leaked out. Like the time I flew into a rage because a friend and I couldn't agree on where to eat dinner. "I'm angry about my place in life," I told Sue. "I feel like I've been given an assigned seat, and I hate it."

Sue explained that kids develop emotional defenses to help them cope with an out-of-control home life. Anger was my defense. "Your anger isn't helping you anymore," she said. "It's suffocating you. You need to let it go."

"But my anger is justified!" I mentally went over a list of people and the pain they caused me. How could I forget that?

That's when Sue said she had an idea. "I want you find a chair, a big folding chair, to carry around with you. It will help you see what a burden your seat of anger has become."

"Are you crazy?" I said. "I'm a professional, Sue. I'm not going to do something that bizarre!"

Sue smiled. "Go home and think about it, Lindsey. How badly do you want to change?"

I drove off, muttering, "That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard!" But I couldn't get it out of my head. My exit was coming up. I could turn right and go home. Or I could turn left and look for a chair at Goodwill. Something made me turn left.