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Anger Management

What anger is not

Anger is perhaps the most misunderstood emotion.

Anger is not:

  • criticism
  • nastiness
  • abusive
  • meanness
  • hatred
  • rage
  • manipulation
  • power over someone else

Anger can can be your ally when it is skillfully expressed

Anger is an important emotion that seeks to establish clear boundaries with another.  Anger, in essence, is championing for respect, fairness, and equality.  You might become angry when those important values are not being upheld.  For instance, when someone is being verbally abused, a natural response is to get angry.

Feeling out of control with your anger can be scary to yourself and to others.

When anger is expressed skillfully, it can actually preserve the connection between you and someone else.  Contrary to popular belief, anger actually has the capacity to uphold love and promote kindness in your relationships.

Anger can also often serve as protection for the more vulnerable feelings of sadness, shame or fear.  Part of being skillful with your anger is learning to listen for and express those other hidden feelings with a safe person.  This is called being vulnerable in relationship.

Anger has the potential to reveal the underlying truth that may have been hidden.  Anger doesn’t tolerate lies, deceit, or betrayal. Anger is a powerful force that is determined to achieve integrity and justice for yourself, for others, and for the world.  When anger is given a voice, it can embolden your sense of worth and fullness. Anger arises when you are treated poorly. Anger allows you to instinctively know that it is wrong to misuse power over another living being.

Anger also seeks action. It is not complacent just to be felt from the inside. It beckons you to respond to injustice you are witnessing in the world.  Anger can become hobbled if it doesn’t have a voice or an action.  The impulse that comes with anger needs to be given skillful freedom of expression.

If anger is not allowed to express itself through voice or action in a productive way, then problems start to arise. When the expression of anger is thwarted, then it mutates into other emotions such as hatred or rage. When anger looses it’s connection with your integrity and your love, then it can easily be unconsciously expressed through violence.

For anger to be an effective advocate for love and truth in the world, it needs to stay anchored to your heart. Sadly, this is rarely modeled.  There is a shortage of healthy expressions of anger in our world.  And moreover anger has been misconstrued because of its false pairing with rage, hatred, and shame.  It is none of those. Each of those are separate feelings entirely.

While anger is an important and necessary emotion, it still needs to be expressed skillfully using language or mindful action. The skillful expression of anger is not easy to learn how to do.  But it is well worth your time and effort to learn how. It is nearly impossible to have authentic and loving relationships with others without understanding how to listen and respond to your own anger.

Signs you have a problem expressing your anger:

  • immediate escalation from 0 to 60 mph in seconds
  • bypass any anger and go straight to rage
  • anger comes out as meanness or nastiness such being sarcastic or chiding
  • big reactions to small things
  • impulse to throw things or lash out at someone or something
  • not being able to use words when angry
  • apparent lack of any anger at all
  • respond by smiling or even laughing when treated poorly either verbally or physically

4 Common ways anger issues develop

5 Common ways anger issues develop

1.) Lack of modeling

Anger issues develop because healthy expression of anger have not been modeled by others. What has been modeled as anger through our parents and our culture is usual one of the other emotions such as hatred, rage, and/or shame. We have been taught that the action of shaming another is anger for instance. It is not. Anger does not blame the other person; that is called criticism.

2.) Disconnect between language and action

Anger issues develop when you haven’t been properly trained to use your words to express your anger. The thinking part of your brain doesn’t connect with your feelings brain. When we tell toddlers to use their words when they are upset, this is an example of helping them connect their feeling brain with their thinking/language brain.

But before we do that, we help toddlers learn to be safe with their anger. We teach them that it’s not okay to hurt other people with their body. They can stomp on the ground as a safe alternative to getting the angry feeling out. Finally, we guide them to use their words to express the feeling and the underlying need: “I’m mad because I want to play with my doll that he took from me.”

3.) Absence of emotional regulation

Anger issues emerge when you have not been taught to emotionally regulate yourself. You might go from 0-60mph with your anger.  Anger issues happen when you aren’t able to recognize the early, emerging signs of your anger, such as a slight feeling of tightness in your belly or a rising heat in your hands. These signs are akin to the “check engine” light on the dashboard of your car.

When those first signs of anger go undetected, so does the possibility of knowing what is the underlying need that is connected with those earlier sensations.  Instead, the “fight” function of your lizard brain gets activated. All thinking starts to go away at this point. Anger turns into rage: bulging eyes, red face, tightened fists, jetted jaw, etc. These signs are akin to the car now starting to making a loud banging noise along with smoke coming out of the hood.

4.) Undectected triggers

A trigger is a huge reaction to a small, even harmless, stimuli. Anger issues emerge because of unacknowledged and unprocessed triggers in your life. Triggers get formed when a specific event in your past has caused tremendous amounts of unresolved pain. Everyone has them. Some of us have more triggers than others of us. Until you realize and then processed the trigger, it will continue to happen beneath your awareness. What it looks like to someone else when you are triggered is that you become easily furious over the smallest of things.

5.) Poor self-care

When we don’t take good care of ourselves with the basics, such as enough healthy food, water, and sleep, we are much more susceptible to our primitive brain expressing anger in unskillful ways.  Make a list of 5 ways in which you can improve your self care.

Are you afraid of your own power?

Are you afraid of your own power?

Anger issues can sometimes manifest because you are actually afraid of having power. In our culture, power usually gets modeled as “power over” and not “power with.” The “power over” model perpetuates oppression. Anger from this model becomes misconstrued as dominance over another. The “power with” model is where two people can share power.  Equality and fairness then becomes realities. Healthy expressions of anger happen only in the “power with” model.

If anger is expressed in the “power over” model, then you are probably being silenced and oppressed. If you have been a victim of anger being expressed in the “power over” model, then you might tend to shy away from feeling your own power. This is because your past experiences with power has been associated with hurt, humiliation, and oppression.

You might have made a deal with yourself, either unconsciously or consciously, that says, “I will never be angry like that. I will never treat someone else like that because people don’t deserve to be treated like that.” Or you also know that if you express your anger, then you might get further dominated and silenced. So, it is safer not to get angry.

While this is necessary for your survival, it also severs your connection to your inner sense of worth and dignity.  And you loose out on the main job anger has: being a warning light that you are being violated or treated unfairly in some way.

While you might not believe it, your anger can actually be skillfully expressed so that it preserves the relationship and helps love flourish.

5 Ways to control & express your anger skillfully

5 Ways to control & express your anger skillfully

(anger management techniques)

1.) Commit to nonviolence

Any change you wish to make with your anger begins with a commit to nonviolence.  When you clearly see and take ownership of the suffering that has been caused by your unskillful expressions of anger, then you are ready to make that commitment. Nothing will change with your anger issues until this commitment is made to yourself first and then to the others in your life that have been negatively impacted by your actions.

2.) Become mindful of your anger

Controlling your anger starts with mindfulness. With the help of mindfulness, you bring awareness to the thoughts in your mind and the sensations in your body. This is the first step in controlling your anger because you are connecting with the part of your brain that has language and thinking skills. This is so powerful because it diverts the anger from going down to our more primitive brain centers where anger turns to unconscious and uncontrollable expressions of rage. Mindfulness cuts anger off from turning into rage and doing the damage that rage does.

3.) Take a break

One of the most effective ways of starting to get your anger responses under control is learning when it is time to take a break for some space. When you are able to use mindfulness to track the earlier stages of anger (see above), then you can respond skillfully. You can learn to say, “I’m starting to get angry, I need to go for a walk or have some tea to cool down. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.” Removing yourself immediately teaches your brain to not go down the same neuropathways that lead to rage.

4.) Release the energy behind your anger

Sometimes it may be helpful for you to find a safe outlet for the energy behind your anger. Often when you struggle to learn skillful ways of expressing your anger, you might discover a reservoir of potential energy that comes with your angry. Remember that your anger is naturally accompanied with an impulse. That impulse is what contains so much energy.

The practice of releasing the energy of anger is only a stage in learning how to skillfully express your anger. Your end goal is to be able to use clear and direct language to communicate with the world the core need behind your anger.

Here are several ways to release your anger:

→ screaming or yelling into a pillow (when you are alone in a safe & private place)

→ hitting a punching bag with protective gloves and good form to prevent wrist or shoulder damage

→ hitting a tennis racket onto pillows

→ taking up a martial art

→ weight lifting

→ body-weight resistance exercises

→ intense cardiovascular exercise like running

5.) Identify your core need & feeling behind the anger

There have been many needs mentioned above, such as the need for: respect, justice, fairness, equality, to be understood, expression, etc. There are many needs that are causing your anger to happen. Take a few minutes to reflect on the top 2-3 needs that your anger is trying to get met.

What is the deeper emotion behind your anger?  Sometimes anger becomes a cover for a deeper, more vulnerable emotion, such as sadness/grief, fear, or shame/embarrassment. Check in with yourself if one of those other feelings might be hiding below the intensity of your anger.

6.) Get support

Group support can help you feel not so alone as well as teach you to identify your triggers. Groups should feel safe and caring. There are many different kinds of groups to choose from: 12 step groups (Al-Anon, AA, SLA, SAA, etc), men’s group, women’s group, psychotherapy process groups, and anger management classes & groups.

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