of Anger Busting™
To: James A. Baker
From: Satisfied Client of Anger Busting™
NOTE: This document has not been edited
or changed in any way. It is reprinted here exactly as it was received by me from an actual Anger Busting™ client. I hope
you enjoy reading it as much as I did! - Jim Baker
My Adventures With Anger Management
“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
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,
profanity, 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 it!
* * *
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 it.
* * *
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
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 dialogue
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 bad temper.
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
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 applied.
In a way, this stuff made sense.
* * *
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 body.
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
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 online 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 inheritance.
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,
“You have to be there to get it.”