Building Quality Not Quantity Support to Manage Anger

By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

Often, people confuse social support with a social network. Support has to do with the quality of your relationships with those closest to you — family, spouse, friends, children, neighbors — and, at its best, reflects a state of intimacy or emotional connection with others. A network, on the other hand, simply defines how many such relationships you have (the quantity).

Some people have a rich support network, with only a small number of individuals. Others have a zillion friends and acquaintances yet are hard-pressed to name one they can call on in a time of need. Of course, it’s great to have casual acquaintances in your life — people you hang out with once in a while — as long as you have strong support in other relationships. These more enduring and meaningful relationships are the ones that protect and sustain you during hard (more stressful) times.

Here are a few ideas on how to start assembling your support team:

  1. Make a list of people you can call on when life becomes too stressful.

  2. Next to each name, list whether these people are local (within driving distance) or long-distance (only an email, text, or phone call away).

  3. Make a note of how long it’s been since you had contact with each person — two days, six months, or longer than that?

    If it’s been too long since you last touched base, call or drop each person a note, text, or email, and reconnect.

  4. Decide what type(s) of support you can get from each member of your team.

    Examples include

    • Emotional support: A hug, the chance to vent

    • Tangible support: Transportation, fixing something for you

    • Informational support: Advice, counsel

    • Appraisal feedback: Constructive criticism, praise

  5. Think about what type of support you can give to the people on your list (it’s a two-way deal after all). And let them know you’re available for them.

If your list shows that your life is already full of connected, meaningful relationships — outstanding! But if you come up a little short, here are some ideas for other ways you may find new people to populate your support system.

Friendships take time and effort to develop. Be patient. Look far and wide. You may have to meet quite a few people before you find two or three that meet the criteria for being able to provide real support. Even a single, intimate friend can be an invaluable enhancement to your life.

Volunteer

Volunteering has rich potential for connecting you with new, interesting people and experiences. Start by asking yourself what interests and talents you have. Next, do an Internet search on “volunteering” in your local community. You’re likely to find a plethora of organizations and people who both need help and match your personal expertise.

When people feel upset about injustice, suffering, or discrimination experienced by others, they sometimes feel what’s known as empathic anger. Empathic anger can actually be a good thing when it motivates people to help those who suffer from unfair circumstances. People with empathic anger volunteer with passion, enthusiasm, and altruism — not exactly ingredients that go into making a soup of toxic anger.

Volunteers, generally speaking, make up a pool of potentially good friends. That’s because volunteers have committed themselves to the well-being of other people. Furthermore, lots of people volunteer, not only to do good but also to meet other people. In the process, volunteers typically obtain an increase in their sense of purpose and meaning in life.

Participate in self-help groups

Self-help groups abound if you look around a bit. Obviously, you may want to consider such groups for assistance in certain areas of your life, such as anger management. However, self-help groups may also give you a variety of possible friends — after all, you start off the bat with something in common.

Specifically, anger-management self-help groups consist of people interested in dealing with anger management and improving their lives. These groups are typically not run by licensed professionals so you want to be sure that they aren’t simply a bunch of people who gather to gripe and complain.

A few individuals in anger-management self-help groups may be so early in their work on anger that they wouldn’t make a good choice as a friend or confidant. Proceed with some caution and care. Be especially cautious of anyone recently mandated to attend by the court system or who has an admitted history of violence.

Look for friends

You can also find friends by, well, looking directly for friends. You may have a few acquaintances that you haven’t explored as possibilities for becoming close friends. Changing acquaintances into friends will take some effort on your part. But you can dig down deep, reach out, and invite someone from your neighborhood, school, or work to do something with you.

Start with something small: coffee, a walk, or a brief visit. Realize that if someone doesn’t show interest, it likely has nothing to do with you and much more to do with his too-full calendar.

Most people need to make numerous invitations before finding anyone who would make a really good friend. Expect turndowns. Persevere.

Host block parties

Many neighborhoods have block parties from time to time. These get-togethers sometimes include what’s known as a neighborhood watch. Neighborhood watches help decrease crime in your neighborhood by having neighbors look out for each other and report suspicious activities to the local police.

Sometimes representatives from the local police and fire departments will attend a neighborhood watch gathering if asked. They will listen to neighbors’ concerns. Neighborhood watches build a sense of community and increase people’s interest in keeping the neighborhood safe. They also provide yet another source of meeting potential friends.

If your neighborhood doesn’t yet have a formal neighborhood watch, you could consider organizing one. The local police department will likely assist you in that process. But if you’re not ready for such an undertaking, consider simply holding a neighborhood block party.

Conversing wherever you are

You no doubt cross the paths of possible friends every single day — you just don’t know it. You likely walk through your day while barely noticing the strangers around you. Maybe it’s time to try something new.

Practice your conversational skills in situations that have low importance. In other words, try conversing with people you’re not likely to become close friends with — maybe the postal clerk, someone in front of you in the grocery store line, or someone you pass while walking your dog.

You’ll probably engage in a couple hundred brief (or longer) conversations before a true friend emerges from the process. However, you’ll also gain social skills and finesse that will serve you well at parties, meetings, and other gatherings.

Join a gym

Gyms are great places to make and meet friends. Practice social skills with as many people as you can — those at the front desk, other members, and people in classes. If a conversation gets going, consider going for coffee or juice after your workout. Take it from there.