To: James A. Baker
From: Satisfied Client of Anger Busting™
*This document has not been
edited or changed in any way. It is as received by me. I hope you enjoy
reading it as much as I did. Jim Baker
My Adventures With Anger
“You know, I haven’t taken
the medicine or used the eye drops you prescribed. I’m too busy!
Listen, what I want to know is, why can’t I see better? Look, I’m
starting to get pissed off—you aren’t doing anything to help me!”
I smile and calmly explain
for the twenty-third time what the problem is, why the medicine is
necessary, and why she isn’t seeing better. “It’s medicine, Mrs.
Smith—it’s supposed to help you. Why do you think they charge so much
money for it? If you don’t take it, you won’t get better!”
After another thirty minutes
back and forth, my 10:00 grudgingly agrees to “think about” whether
she’ll take the medicine and drops. “I never heard of a doctor who
doesn’t make you better!”
I smile and she leaves. My
technician hears me sigh and roll my eyes. It’s 12:00 and the rest of
my morning’s going to be angry. Well, tough. I look forward to
the day ending, fifteen angry people, ten phone calls, and
twenty dictated letters from now.
Seven hours later I’m on the
road. Someone cuts me off--@%#&! Idiot! But, aside from screaming
inside my car, I just keep motoring on. Someday, he’ll get in an
accident, hopefully fatal. Improve the gene pool a bit! A grimace and a
laugh and I continue on my way.
I get home. I’ve got a long
day of smiling at people when I just want to scream at them, morons on
the road, stuff piled up at home and at work. I’m tense,
seething, and every nerve in my body seems to be firing at once.
And then, someone at home
says something. Anything would be the wrong thing.
And I explode: screaming,
cutting remarks, sarcasm, and maybe something kicked or punched
to punctuate my scintillating monologue. And I notice my family looking
at me like I’m a raving maniac. Why?
And later, my wife tells me
I overreacted. And I don’t agree. I mean—yeah, I guess asking me to
find my travel receipts wasn’t necessarily a felony. But overreacting?
To the day I had?
You had to be there to get
* * *
One evening I took out a
3/8” ballistic glass panel at my wife’s business. The panel was part of
her office door, which some moron locked (the moron was me, in fact)—my
car keys were inside, I was late to pick up my daughter, and I’d had a
less-than-perfect day at the office. When I found out that the key was
not instantly available (my wife was driving in with it), the correct
thing seemed to be to break in the door. Since I wasn’t thinking
logically, I let my ANGER made the decisions for me: my 230 pounds hit
the door like a hammer. The rest is history.
Oddly enough, my wife didn’t
see the logic behind my taking out her door; nor did the many people
who come and go at the Tennis Center. I think that “Neanderthal” was
probably the most complimentary term applied to me for a few weeks. I
don’t need to review the scene at home—any reader who’s ever been
outside in minus 40 degree weather can imagine the situation.
Clearly I was in trouble:
very big trouble. And I couldn’t really explain, even to myself, why it
made sense for me to smash in the door. I certainly wasn’t in fear for
my life or rescuing someone else. I actually felt ashamed and
bewildered about why things had happened the way they did. In my
business, “bewildered” is not a thing I usually let myself feel.
Usually, my mind has something to do with my behavior; in this case as
in many cases in the past, my mind was somewhere else as events
unfolded around me.
You had to be there to get
* * *
Desperate situations call
for extreme remedies. I found myself typing “anger management training”
on my browser screen and up popped a long list of links. The first on
the list was “angermanagementseminar.com.” I read the short
blurb—it sounded good, to the point, no touchy-feely BS. I clicked on
it and started reading the home page, taking things in as rapidly as
anyone terrified of losing his family can do.
Literally, my life was on
the line here. I clicked on the “contact us” link after putting in my
e-mail address, and e-mailed my query. “I have a problem. What do I do
now?” I figured I’d look at some other sites, but decided to check my
in-box. There was an e-mail from James Baker, and a life-changing
First, the questions: no
drugs, no alcohol, no physical abuse of persons (objects were
broken at times), no associated psychiatric diagnoses. I seemed to be a
perpetually angry man with a major problem with self-control (well, at
home with the people who matter the most, not in the office) and a very
Second, the beginnings of a
solution emerged. No profanity was allowed. That one surprised me—why
profanity was one of my real talents! The answer was staring at me from
the computer screen. My hearers don’t necessarily have a problem with
profanity—I have a problem with self-control. Profanity is a fuel which
gets my anger going, like an accelerant poured on a flame. Then, other
directives came thick and fast: no sarcasm, no criticism,
no arguing, no “free” advice, no yelling at motorists, no hostile
touching, no rapid-fire corrections of other members of my family. What
about my mission as a role model and educator of my children? Didn’t
they need to hear from me on a second by second basis how to improve
(or at least yell at motorists more effectively) and become like me?
For a moment, it all seemed
overwhelming. And then I began to get it: confrontations get my anger
started. My problem was rooted in a lack of any braking mechanism—I
accelerated and kindled my rage until I crashed and did something so
rotten that it stopped me short, or everyone around me just ran away.
Either way, the outcome was inevitably going to be bad for me and
everyone around me.
What would I do with a brand
new sports car with no brakes? Leave it in the garage, of course. I
could see that my anger had a similar dynamic, and a similar remedy
In a way, this stuff made
* * *
The next item of business
was to take the on-line course, which I did. I won’t go over that in
detail. Take it, if you haven’t done so already. It is $45.00 well
spent. I found it practical and oriented toward a solution to the
problem of dealing with anger. I freely admit that I have deeper
problems which will need a great deal of work in the years to come;
getting the anger out of the way is critical to buying me the time to
solve those problems.
An early indication that
this anger management stuff was working came 48 hours after my initial
query. I’ll quote my e-mail written at the time:
“ Now, part 2--incident 3
days ago. I was at the computer working on a lesson, when I heard a
tremendous crash which I knew meant that something or someone went down
the stairs. From the wailing, I knew it was my 23 month old.
Ordinarily, I'd have let out a loud "F---!" and blasted out a blue
streak of profanity as I tore upstairs. I decided to try something
different--pretend to be a doctor at home. So I went up quietly, did a
quick assessment of the little guy (who went down in a tent, the result
of a game gone wrong)--scared, but not seriously hurt.
“Upstairs my 12 year old son
is pounding his eight year old brother who he blames for the accident.
The boy is sobbing uncontrollably. I raise my voice in a tone I've
heard police and firemen use on scene, and said, "The baby is NOT hurt.
The baby is all right."
“At that point, I discovered something interesting--everyone is looking
at me for guidance. My wife goes down to the baby, and I separate the
boys. I calm the eight year old down by holding him, speaking in a
level tone of voice, reiterating that his brother is fine. I had him
squeeze my two fingers for thirty seconds as hard as he could with each
hand and then relax, and repeat several times, an old relaxation
technique I use with patients. After about a minute, he was coherent
and I set the game up again in a safer location. Obviously, my 12 year
old son has learned to use me as a role model.
”But, I discovered that rage
doesn't address my scared and powerless feelings--actually, being the
calmest guy in the room also made me the most powerful guy in the room.
Interesting discovery (as a doctor in the office, I always pretend to
be calm) at age 48.”
The take-home message for me
was to behave differently than I would have in the past, to act like
the person I hope to be immediately. Phrased differently, if I act the
way I once did, I will get the same results I did in the past. That is
not the same as becoming a different person—modifying my self will take
a great deal of time and effort. Modifying my behavior allows me to get
the help and support of the most important allies I have: my family.
* * *
I relearned some interesting
things. I was reminded that Walter Cannon, the eminent American
physiologist, did important work on the activity of the autonomic
nervous system (the “fight or flight” model of behavior) and
its control by the Amygdala. The amygdala is a structure at the
base of the brain which takes over in emergencies and drives you
forward into a crisis or backwards out of one; the conscious mind is
cut out of the loop for a few seconds. That’s just long enough to take
out a glass door panel! This made perfect sense to me—I aced physiology
in grad school and med school.
Now some of the other
recommendations from the course began to make sense. Banned behaviors,
no profanity, avoiding angry confrontations, relaxation
techniques—all were oriented toward defeating the tendency of the
amygdala to step in and take over any tense situation. It seemed to
make sense that I had a Schwarzenegger amygdala in a Dustin Hoffman
I was also focused on
practically assessing how other people were communicating with me (as
children, parents, or adults), and I with them. I learned to recognize
signs of anger in myself and others in order to arrest anger in myself
and deflect it in others. I noted the four different styles of
expressing anger (I show all three of the “bad” styles in
different environments) including “assertiveness,” which is appropriate
expression of disagreement. I also learned about the Jo-Hari window as
a way of assessing how I came across to other people. Finally, I
learned about the importance of body language, tone of voice, and
speech content in communicating with other people (the 60-30-10 model);
it still surprises me how little my words matter as compared with my
expression and voice.
If all of this reads like
Sanskrit to you, take the course. There is an intellectual foundation
beyond “Don’t do bad things!”
Ultimately, I learned two
extremely valuable techniques from the on-line course. I call them my
Ninja Anger Avoidance techniques. The first one is, “silence”. Don’t
come back when someone says something provocative a reply in a
microsecond. That’s your amygdala’s response timeline. Instead, sip on
that nice hot cup of “Shut the heck up!” you’ve been brewing. I add a
benign smile and a chuckle for flavor. It tastes better than a fight.
The second effective technique is “agreement”. “Huh, you know I think
you’re right about that!” Again, use the benign tone of voice and the
smile. It takes minutes of training to perfect these trouble avoidance
maneuvers; the results can last a lifetime.
There are other things I’ve
learned about myself which I will struggle with for a long time to
come. I don’t compliment people and don’t believe compliments when they
come my way. I rarely forgive a wrong done to me and never forget it. I
often replay angry moments in my mind to figure out how I could have
been even better at being angry. I still seethe about things that
happened decades ago, which affects me even now. I use sarcasm and
cutting humor to express anger in disguise. I carry resentment around
with me all the time—thus, things that happened last week or last year
influence how I will react to something that happens two seconds from
now. Until it plays out, I don’t see the connection and the people
around me don’t either. Only my amygdala knows for sure!
The model I use day to day
is that of the battery. I can store anger efficiently like a
new battery takes electrical charge easily. I can carry that charge for
unlimited times, and release it full-force in a fraction of the time it
takes me to think, “What’s going on here?” My goal each day is to begin
with a discharged battery and try to remove any anger that I feel
before it accumulates in my battery. Sometimes the discharging
mechanism goes on “overload” and I need to get up and leave for a while.
I never used to walk away
from a dispute or an argument. I was at my best giving it to the other
person right in the face! The interesting realization I’ve made through
the course is that anger is an addiction. My body craves the energy,
the chemicals flowing in my blood and extracellular fluid, the nerves
firing like machine guns. Like most addictions, the anger is not under
my control but it does influence my behavior: thus, I am out of
control when I am angry. So, while I’ve missed out on most of
my genetically-determined addictions, anger remains part of my
I wait for what tomorrow
brings with both worry and anticipation. I hope to do better than I did
today. To those who’ve never smashed in a door and don’t understand the
problem with uncontrolled rage, I’d say,
“You have to be there to get
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