02/26/2014 11:50 am ET Updated Apr 28, 2014

Anger Management in Families Made Easier

Did you know that anger and aggression are programmed into us? In nature, might makes right, and our early survival depended on our ability to destroy or scare away the enemy. Anger is the emotional drive to defeat someone who opposes us. Aggression is an attempt to intimidate the enemy. Signs of aggression or anger are therefore experienced as a threat, and responded to with the intention of defending one's family and resources.

In modern civilization, this intense response is not helpful in most situations. We are no longer required to defend against marauding invaders or predatory animals. Yet, the need to "win" against a perceived enemy persists. People do not want to "lose" and feel justified in attacking someone they experience as hurting them.

Anger control, on the other hand, is a learned behavior. For example, if you experience the behavior or words of another as upsetting, fighting back may actually empower them to continue; however, if you stop outwardly reacting to them, repeating the words or continuing the behavior stops being fun for them. The solution lies in reflecting on why they are saying what they are saying, and perhaps changing your interpretation of their words. The behavior stops when you cease rewarding it...

Not everyone who is being provoking has evil intentions. Provoking others may originate from a desire to liven up their life experience. There are also those who seek out other's negative attention in an attempt to connect. Your child may be feeling irritated or bored. Your wife or husband may be feeling disconnected from you. Siblings may not yet know how to connect with each other over shared interests. The people who are closest to us sometimes treat us the worst. They know us well and tend to know how to irritate and provoke us. It is important to remember that your husband, wife, child and siblings are not your enemy.

When you express anger, you may feel like a victim, but look like an abuser to the other. Your response to events and people can resolve or perpetuate the problem. If you find yourself repeatedly getting angry, you may want to consider how you are contributing to the situation. If you change your response, you change the dance.

If you attempt to stop them from expressing their upset toward you, you invite them to continue because you have given them power over you. When you retaliate with your own anger, you may even be proving their accusation that "you don't care" or "you don't listen." You can, in fact, choose to remain peaceful and happy despite their upset. Agreeing, accepting, and calmly responding can actually make angry people slow their momentum or stop their attack altogether.

Getting angry takes a lot of effort. There is a difference between defending oneself and explaining oneself. Defending can be also experienced as confrontational whereas apologizing can go a long way toward resolving conflict. "I am sorry I hurt you. That wasn't my intention." If I retaliate against you, you will probably keep attacking. It is best to take a break and continue the discussion when we are calmer

We don't have to give everyone everything they want; however, boundaries can be imposed with kindness and respect. Besides being programmed for aggression, we are also programmed for reciprocity. If you are nice to me, I am more likely to be nice to you. Treating others with respect and kindness is a basic formula for good relationships.