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Positive Approaches to Anger Management

February 1, 2016/by Shari Bornstein


Anger is a powerful emotion, known to evoke a red-faced reaction or two. It can blind rational thinking and cause us to respond in ways that, upon reflection, would benefit from a mythical reset button. Parents in conflict may exhibit anger as they address issues impacting themselves and their children related to their separation or divorce. And sure there’s a lot to be angry about because a lot is at stake: demise of the relationship, dashed financial security, and sharing children with that other person when the relationship may be rocky.

Recently, I picked up a book at a book fair fundraiser. It served a dual purpose: supporting the organization holding the fundraiser and offering insight because anger is everywhere: in relationships, jobs, and even parking lots. The book is called The Cow in the Parking Lot, A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger and was written by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston.

The example that the authors craftily use is from the title of the book. Succinctly, imagine that you are attempting to pull into a parking space in a busy lot. Another car pulls in ahead of you and the driver gets out of the car and walks away. Of course, you are likely to be EXTREMELY ANGRY!!! and fantasize about exerting some sort of revenge on this space-stealer.

Alternatively, imagine instead, that as you are attempting to pull into the same space, there is a cow sitting in that parking spot. Your reaction is likely to be very different. The result, however, is the same: you still need to find another spot for your vehicle. Sure, we may not like what happened, but we often can’t change what happened. The difference between the two scenarios is how you reacted to the same outcome. We own the choice on how we react. A more productive reaction involves creating helpful strategies that will solve a problem to avoid ANGER getting the best of us.

Creating those strategies takes practice and time. Most important for separating and divorcing parents is learning not to react with a need for vengeance, which perpetuates conflict. Taking small steps is the key to accomplishing any goal, whether it’s weight loss, running a marathon or working on not responding angrily to an irksome co-parent.

The authors quote an American Folk Saying: “Never wrestle with a hog. The hog gets dirty. You get dirty. But the hog enjoys it.”

Instead, imagine that you are the landlord over your emotions: evict your anger and allow positivity to live inside. You’ll provide a conflict free home for yourself and your children.

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator. Learn more.

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