Dear Abby: I'm a good person, but when I get frustrated over something, I fly off the handle. I date, have several close friends and a good job in a field I enjoy.
Stresses in life are normal. But sometimes I blow up over things. When it happens, I can see my co-workers and friends are taken aback by my behavior. I need to improve this. I'm worried my explosive temper will affect my relationships, my job and the people I see socially. I heard you have a booklet about this issue. Where can I get one, and do you have any advice for me? -- HOT AND BOTHERED IN ATLANTA
Dear Hot and Bothered: Yes, I do. While anger is a normal emotion, the problem with a hair-trigger temper is that people who fly off the handle often shoot themselves in the foot. That's why it's important to develop tools to recognize, control and channel anger effectively without exploding.
A first step in doing that is to analyze what may be setting you off. Does being overtired, hungry or not feeling up to par cause you to lash out? Feeling vulnerable has been known to make people feel angry and has negatively affected relationships. When a person's beliefs or values are questioned, they can become angry and, believe it or not, low self-esteem causes people to fly off the handle. People who suffer from feelings of inadequacy constantly try to prove themselves -- which drives them to win every "battle" whether it's a discussion about sports or any other subject that arises.
Most adults learn from early childhood to manage anger. But it's equally important to learn to EXPRESS anger in ways that are constructive. In my booklet "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It," I offer tools for channeling anger. (First among them is to recognize you are becoming angry before losing control.) It also contains suggestions for managing and expressing anger appropriately. It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus a check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price. I hope it will be helpful for you. It takes maturity to identify and verbalize negative emotions rather than lash out at others. Being able to calmly say, "When you do that (or say that) it makes me angry" will earn you the respect of others. And it's the key to defusing anger before losing control.