Transforming Nurses' Stress and Anger: Steps toward Healing

By Sandra P. Thomas | Go to book overview

3

Differentiating
Between Rational
and Irrational Anger

Much of nurses’ anger is quite rational. Their emotional response to disrespectful treatment, blaming, and scapegoating is understandable. As you were reading the stories in chapter 1, I’m sure you could feel your own anger rising in empathic resonance with your colleagues. Not all of nurses’ anger is rational, however. As we interviewed RNs, we heard a lot of “oughts” and “shoulds” indicating unrealistic expectations of patients, management, and themselves. Before you can manage anger effectively, you must learn to differentiate between that which is rational and that which is irrational. To borrow a portion of the Serenity Prayer, you need “the wisdom to know the difference.” Imagine taking a triage approach to anger (Thomas, 2000). Nurses are good at sorting out the patients who need priority attention. Likewise, they must become more skilled at sorting out anger issues, taking effective action where possible, and discharging the rest of their negative emotion harmlessly. Let’s begin this discussion by examining the definition of anger:

Anger is a strong uncomfortable emotional response to a provocation that is unwanted
and incongruent with one’s values, rights, or beliefs
.

Notice that the first major element of the definition is that the angry person is responding to something that he or she did not want to happen. For example, my ire can be aroused when I receive unwanted advice or an unwanted work assignment. I can stew about the unwanted advice or conclude that it’s not worth stewing about. I can view the work assignment as tolerable, even if it is not what I would prefer. Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to escalate their wants and

-70-

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