RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS (RA) AND EMOTIONS: MANAGING ANGER

The first step in dealing with any emotion is to recognize it. Once you recognize that you’re angry, you’ll have an easier time managing it. The coping strategies can help you deal with anger. First, define and assess the source of anger. The people in the following stories have recognized that they are angry, and they have identified the source of their anger.
Janice is angry because arthritis is interfering with her work. She’s always been a competent and respected employee, and she hates the way her arthritis has changed her previously successful work routine.
Margaret is angry because her family doesn’t understand the emotional and physical chaos she is going through. She feels that there is a lack of help and encouragement in her home. She works all day and comes home feeling too tired to perform simple household tasks.
Ken is frustrated and angry about the unfairness of having RA. He has always exercised, eaten right, and kept himself in excellent physical condition. He is angry that despite his good habits, he has arthritis. Friends who were not nearly as health conscious as he remain unscathed. “Why me? What did I do wrong?” he continues to ask himself.
Second, set realistic goals and expectations. Arthritis is interfering with Janice’s work, and she’s angry. Why? Is it possible that she’s expecting too much from herself? Or are other people expecting more from her than she can provide at this time? It seems that Janice expects to be able to continue performing her job exactly as she’s always done it, and she’s frustrated because she can’t. It also seems that she is stubbornly attached to her routine and has not accepted the changes in her capabilities. Janice needs to redefine her expectations. She needs to consider whether her routine is really that important and whether her schedules are really that rigidly defined.
Does Margaret expect her family to know automatically how she is feeling simply because they love her? Do they even have any idea of how they can best help her? Should they be able to sense that she is really angry about having arthritis, or are they receiving signals that she is angry at them? Are Margaret’s expectations of her family reasonable?

People with RA have done nothing to bring this condition upon themselves, and so a person with RA might easily view the situation as being unfair. Two facts are significant here. First, RA, like many other conditions, is neither fair nor just. Second, unfairness as a source of anger is difficult to resolve. It will never be possible for Ken to view his condition as being fair to him, for example. He may try to “make things even” by making his friends feel as badly as he does. But he won’t ever be able to make things fair in his own estimation. Any expectation of fairness is likely to result in frustration and anger. It seems that the only way around this, again, is to change your expectations. Don’t expect things to be fair. Develop more realistic expectations.
Third, resolve your anger through problem solving and negotiation. Janice will have to break free of the ritual of doing it like she’s always done. She must be willing to accept changes in her capabilities, at this time, and adjust accordingly. Can she make changes in her work environment which will help her work more efficiently? Can she improve other skills to compensate for the increased time required to perform what were once easily completed tasks? Becoming more efficient and better organized and setting priorities will help Janice make it through her workday. Honest and open communication with her co-workers and employer will ease bad feelings. Being open to change and learning to adapt to her new physical limitations are the answers to Janice’s dilemma.
How can Margaret get her family to understand the torment she is going through? Just expecting them to understand is unreasonable, particularly with all of the mixed messages she’s sending to her family. She must talk candidly to them. She must learn ways to let them know her feelings before the anger and resentment build up and complicate what is already a difficult situation. Thoughtful communication-letting her family know how to help her – will settle Margaret’s problem.
Ken must work around the obstacles that make him feel cheated. Moving forward through these problems will increase his feelings of strength and competence. Triumph over adversity will help eliminate his feelings of being victimized by RA. He must aim to overcome the inequities of having RA by using his energies to seek improvement. But most importantly, he must understand the indiscriminate nature of RA. Nothing he did or did not do caused his condition, and to view it as some form of punishment merely compounds the problem.
Finally, redirect negative energy by modifying negative thoughts and behaviors. If it is directed positively, anger can sometimes be useful. Janice, for example, can direct her energies toward finding the possibilities instead of clinging to the impossibilities. Margaret can trade misdirected anger for her family’s help and encouragement. And Ken can exchange resentment for the personal challenge of recovery. They all will feel relieved when they redirect their anger into positive actions.
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