Image from Stream Radio
What is the most difficult thing about managing anger?
Rather than answer that question for you, I am going to make a list of the things that people (including my clients and I) find difficult about anger management and I will invite you to consider which of these is the most difficult for you. Here is the list and in no particular order:
- Recognizing my anger
- Acknowledging and accepting my anger
- Not blaming someone or something else for my anger
- Not beating myself up for being angry and reacting in anger
- Not reacting in anger
- Letting my anger go
- Getting to my anger (i.e. getting it under control) before it gets me
- Preventing myself from getting angry
Too many people believe that anger is a ‘natural‘ thing which they cannot really do anything about. There is nothing ‘natural’ about anger. It is a learned response. We have learned to be angry just as we have learned to be sad, jealous, impatient, guilty and a host of other negative emotions. Just because the learning has not been ‘formal’ does not mean it did not happen. In fact, there is very little in this human existence that we have not learned in the informal ’school of life’!
Because we have learned so well how to be angry, our experience of anger has been set to auto-pilot! Certain triggers will result in our angry reaction. Therefore, one of the key steps we must take in managing our anger is to recognize the triggers.
In the case of my priest friend in my last post, it was clear that one of the triggers for his anger was his colleague. Please do not confuse a ‘trigger’ with a ’cause’. His colleague did not cause his anger. The cause of his anger or anyone’s anger is, as I explained in my last post, the belief that we are losing control. The cause is ultimately fear.
Next, it is necessary to recognize the various ways in which your anger is expressed. This requires careful and compassionate self-observation. Think back to times when you have been angry. How was your anger expressed? What did you think, say and do?
Having recognized both the triggers and the ways in which your anger was expressed, you will need to go through some self-analysis. It would take too long to go through this in detail in this post but here are some questions to guide you:
- Why was I angry?
- Is the other person/thing truly the cause of my anger?
- Do I believe the other person/thing deserves to be punished with my anger? (Be honest now :-))
- Do I believe that the other person/thing is responsible for my happiness or the absence of it?
- Do I believe that punishing someone/thing with my anger is more important than being happy?
- Does it help me to get and stay angry? How? What do I gain/lose?
- Do I want to be angry? (This one is a lot more tricky than you think :-))
- How would I prefer to respond?
A lady I know frequently shares her irritation with other people and things with me. I dare say that I too am one of the ’causes’ of her irritation (according to her beliefs) :-). On numerous occasions, I have noticed how annoyed she gets because ‘the world is not the way she wants it to be’. Someone’s hairstyle annoys her. Someone’s music annoys her. She ‘cannot understand’ (meaning she refuses to accept) why someone would choose to behave in a certain way or make the choices they make. Being in her company is often a wonderful reminder to me of how so many of us allow other people and things to determine our state of happiness!
Another friend who is generally exuberant morphs into a different species at the most unexpected times. Sitting in my car, he may snarl at a driver who he perceives has done the wrong thing. The change can be startling. One moment he is a belly-full of laughs, the next an angry beast!
I mention these people as examples, and possibly, reflections of our own behaviors! Our anger is triggered by a variety of things and we react without warning and habitually/automatically. So,
recognizing the triggers
recognizing the ways in which we express our anger and
self – analysis
are all necessary things to help us understand and manage our anger.
One of the hardest things in dealing with anger is to catch it before it catches us i.e. to intercept our automatic reactions. Here is where we can once again use the power of our mind to great effect. For one thing, you can plant the seed of a different response ahead of time using affirmations or visualizations.
For instance, if you know you are going to encounter a familiar ‘trigger’ sometime during the day, you could start your day by offering your conscious and subconscious mind the intention that you will maintain your peace and happiness throughout the day and in your encounter with the trigger. By the way, this practice is one that you could do as a standard practice for intending peace and joy in your day. Also, note that this intention (or any intention for that matter) must be stated in the affirmative rather than negative e.g.
“I intend to stay peaceful and joyous when I meet with XX”.
“I won’t lose my temper with XX”.
It is important (as I’ve explained in my posts about affirmations) that you summon the corresponding emotional support for this intention. In other words, allow yourself to feel the peace and happiness that you desire.
Another thing you can do is to practise offering silence in a loving way. Too many of us have learned to offer silence as a substitute for anger. Our silence is therefore not a peaceful one but one inflamed with anger, contempt and vindictive thoughts. But you can offer silence as a gift of love to yourself and, as a natural consequence, to another.
Once again, your mind can be primed for this proactively by making the decision that if anger is triggered, your response will be loving silence. Don’t worry or beat yourself up if you don’t actually feel love in that moment. Focus on your intention of love!
Also, if you can manage it, tell the person that you wish to remain silent as you consider it to be a more useful response than anything else you can say or do. Whenever I have done this, I have been amazed at how the tension in the air immediately dissipates and the free flow of loving energy just seems to permeate our environment! Truly powerful.
As you can see from above, some of the most effective behaviors we can use in anger management are often the simplest and most readily available to us, so simple and so cost-free that we tend to dismiss them and undermine their potential! Deep breathing is another one of them. By breathing deeply, softly and slowly, we allow the anger that we are holding on to and which is thus resisting the free flow of loving energy to dissipate. LITERALLY!
You see, we are by nature free-flowing energy. Our learned behaviors such as anger obstructs the flow of this energy because we are holding on to some part of that energy instead of letting it flow freely (think of a stream and how placing a large object in its way can impede or stop its flow altogether). Conscious and deep breathing releases our hold and restores the natural free-flow of energy. This is the principle behind the traditional, Eastern practices of working with ‘prana‘ or ‘chi‘.
Finally, let me say that the key to anger management lies in attentiveness to oneself. By constantly drawing your attention inward to what is happening within you rather than what someone is saying or doing to you, you will effectively return control to where it truly lies – in you!
In future posts, I shall share with you some visualizations/meditations that I guide people in. In the meantime, if you haven’t already read or heard these, I invite you to:
Once again, I invite you to share your experiences with me and/or any questions you may have!