15 July, 2011

In the movie series Back to the Future, Marty McFly struggles with being called chicken.  Initially, when Marty retaliated, things work out in his favour, but as the movie series progresses every time Marty is called chicken his reaction to the name-calling gets him into more and more trouble.  His assertive behaviour towards Biff changes and by the second movie in the series, he is outwardly aggressive to everyone who calls him chicken, including his boss.

Of course, the movie series was done in a manner to entertain viewers, but there is an element of truth behind the way in which we can react to others and outwardly display dissatisfaction.

There are payoffs to reacting with anger as with what Marty initially found. You are likely to secure the material needs and objects you desire.  You can get others to do your bidding.  You can grow to like the feeling of control in shaping your life and things can tend to go your way (for a while). 

However, there is a price for acting out aggressive behaviour.  As Marty found, aggressive behaviour created enemies, inducing fear and paranoia, making life more difficult for him.   Maintaining that feeling of control takes time and mental energy and this makes it difficult to relax.  If relationships are based on negative emotions, they are likely to be unstable.

So what can we do to reduce our anger?  

Do somedeep, slow breathing.  Funnily enough, when we are tense or angry, we tend to stop breathing or take very shallow breaths and this makes us more tense.  So take several deep breath and feel yourself start to relax.

Try to think of happy thoughts or see the funny side/irony to the situation.  You can get your mind to switch to another emotional state by thinking of something that made you laugh or smile (think of your partner, children or pet).

Change a negative into a positive.  You can switch the incident around to a positive by saying things like ‘at least I am OK and I am not like them’, or ‘at least I don’t drive like that’ or ‘I wouldn’t make that decision and annoy other drivers’.

Walk away for the situation.  Not every situation do we need to stand and fight.  If we fought every battle then we are going to tire ourselves.  Even though we may not get to say what we wanted to say, by walking away we also stop ourselves from saying the things we DID NOT want to say.

There are also things that we may do when we are angry which are unhelpful. Stopping some of these behaviours can reduce our anger.  One thing that is unhelpful is replaying the event in your mind which will keep you feeling angry and tense and can impair your judgment. 

Another unhelpful behaviour is storing up the anger.  Anger is not just an emotion; it also has a physical element.  When you get a chance, go for a walk or engage in some other healthy physical exertion (a swim, jog, or kicking a ball) in order to get a physical release of the emotional energy that you are storing when you are angry.  It will help you to feel calm again.

If all else fails, remember the Back to the Future series and how we can have short-term gains, but these can lead to long-term unhealthy behaviours.  Sometimes we may be successful, as Marty was, with improvising the little girl’s scooter and creating a skateboard in the first movie, other times our anger can lead us into trouble, as with Marty losing his job in the second movie. 


Back to the Future movie trilogy (1985 -1990). Universal Studios.

Barlow, R. & Williams E. (1998).  Anger Control Training.  Speechmark Publishing Ltd: United Kingdom.

Powell, T. (2000).  The mental health handbook: Revised edition.  Speechmark Publishing Ltd: United Kingdom.

This article was written and supplied by Relationships Australia Queensland. Any reproduction of this article is prohibited unless agreed upon by Relationships Australia Queensland.