Dear Dr. Wallace:
I’m 18 and have a very hard time controlling my temper. I get upset when something bugs me. I yell, swear under my breath and truly get ticked off — big time! I’ve been this way since I was 12 years old in Little League Baseball. If I struck out at bat or made an error in the field, I’d cuss myself out under my breath. Then, as I got older, I’d say these things out loud.
Now I’m tired of being an upset, unpredictable volcano. I argue with a lot of people, and I find I can’t wait to interrupt them when they are saying something I don’t want to hear, so I “go off” almost without even thinking about it.
I’m finding that it has become increasingly hard for me to find and keep both guy friends and girlfriends these days. No doubt this is due to my internal volcano going off regularly. So, I need to make changes as soon as possible.
I have a new goal these days. I want to learn to chill out and be a somewhat more mellow type of fellow. Can you help steer me in the direction of calming down a bit? And please don’t tell me to just sit and hum some mantra like a Bohemian monk. I’m not going to shave my head and wear a white robe just to try to calm down a little, capisce?
— Volcano With Hot Lava, via email
Dear Volcano With Hot Lava: Over the years, I’ve read many great studies that have presented some suggestions for those who want to cool down their reactions to life’s challenges. Here are a few that I feel might be worth your time to read and consider adopting to see if they might help you out a bit. None requires a shaved head or a white robe to actually work.
Listen to criticism: Hear a complaint without interrupting. One, you’ll have a better chance to tell your side of the story if you have been a good listener. Two, most criticism usually has some truth in it. And three, giving criticism is therapeutic from the critic’s point of view.
Show that you’ve heard: Say something like, “I’m sorry” or, “I didn’t mean to,” if only to preface further explanation for your behavior. Few things are more infuriating than a casual shrug, a stony silence or a sullen stare in response to an honest request for an explanation.
Using such tactics, you’ve lost a battle before you even told your side of the story. And simply yelling back might be the worst of all, so learn to ease into the discussion carefully.