When was the last time that you found yourself feeling really angry? You felt “justified”, even “righteous” in your anger and it gave you a temporary sense of “control and power”. You lashed out at someone else to “right a wrong”. But in the end, what positive purpose did it serve? You have quite possibly just acted in a way that you will regret in the next few minutes. Words said in anger are difficult to take back.
Without anger, we feel that we would not be taking a stand against a perceived injustice. We feel it is good self-care to make our grievances known. Without anger, we feel too vulnerable, too exposed. Someone has crossed a boundary, and we feel violated.
Anger clouds our ability to think clearly and to properly assess what is happening in the moment. In a state of anger, we never make good decisions. Our actions in a temporary situation can have long-standing consequences.
Most people feel that anger is a completely normal and healthy emotion. But when anger gets out of control, it can lead to trouble in all aspects of our lives. Anger often starts out small, and builds. It gains strength and momentum. Focusing on a negative emotion will just intensify it.
People who routinely use anger to cover up underlying emotions, keeping their vulnerable feelings disguised, are sometimes so good at it that they do not realize that they rapidly react in this way. Lashing out becomes a bad habit, and one that is difficult to break. When you have a long history with anger, you have actually imprinted this negative pattern into your brain. (Transforming Anger” Childre and Rozman, 2003).
Stop for a moment and get in touch with your feelings. Anger is always a secondary emotion….merely “smoke and mirrors” to cover up the primary underlying emotion which is typically hurt, fear or sadness. We may not feel understood. Our self-worth has been impacted. In this way, anger can often tell us what is most important to us. We need to stop and listen.
I would propose that it would be healthier to bypass the anger altogether, and go directly to the underlying emotion, study it, and seek healing.
Anger blocks productive communication, making resolution of differences difficult, and sometimes impossible. When anger becomes a way of being, our interpersonal relationships will suffer. De-escalating a situation in order to communicate clear information that is non-threatening or defensive will provide the necessary input to move forward. Anger keeps us stuck.
It is difficult to remember that others may not perceive a situation in the same way that we do. Their intention may be quite different than what we are experiencing in the moment. Is this truly a matter of injustice, or merely a blow to our ego? Stop and ask calm questions. Clarify an issue in a non-threating way. Nobody wants to communicate with an angry person. Calm your voice, relax your tense posturing. Speak from your heart.
Anger can make us sick. Medical studies have shown that anger has a negative impact on our immune system. One five-minute episode of anger is so stressful that it can impair our immune system for more than six hours. It also makes us more vulnerable to cardio-vascular problems. With today’s focus on health and wellness, we need to be more aware of how anger can trigger sickness.
Dr. Kay Kosak Abrams, Ph. D., tells us that the benefits of living anger-free include:
•An enriched outlook on life
•A sense of calm
•A more focused mindset
Who would not want to experience these benefits?
So how do we begin to change patterns of anger? First, we must remember that anger begins with hurt. In acting on the hurt, our behavior can become aggressive. We are most often seeking understanding, recognition or affirmation. We simply need to be heard. In feeling heard we could more readily reach compromise and cooperation.
We must change this vicious reactive cycle, by slowing down our actions, thinking more clearly, communicating more effectively, asking for what we need, and most of all, allowing ourselves to become vulnerable. Vulnerability is honesty. Without vulnerability we will never reach relationship.
Negative emotions can be very important feedback tools for our learning and growth. Paul Walsh tells us that there are five primary negative emotions: anger, sadness, fear, hurt and guilt. Anger is usually linked to poor communication. Sadness happens when things do not work out as expected. Fear is triggered by the unknown. Hurt happens when our values have been compromised. Guilt stems from having made mistakes. Seeing the genesis of these emotions can be the first step to mastering them.
What can we learn from these powerful emotions? Anger seeks to teach us better ways to communicate. Sadness asks us to learn from experiences so that we can grow. Fear can teach us that we are stronger than we think, leading to greater self-confidence. Hurt needs to be felt in order to move on. Guilt teaches us that mistakes are our greatest source of learning.
Know the circumstances that tend to trigger your anger, and try to avoid them or better prepare yourself in advance.
The Dalai Lama tells us ”what we need to learn is how to cultivate the positive emotions that counter destructive emotions like anger and fear. Compassion, for example, brings self-confidence and the ability to act transparently. It strengthens trust which is the ground for friendship.”
The next time that you start to feel anger welling up inside of you, try to step back, calm your emotions, clear your head, ask questions that will improve your communication skills, listen carefully to the other person’s response, and try to find common ground. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you are in the wrong. Seek calm. Your body will thank you. Your relationships with others and with yourself will improve. Get rid of the “smoke and mirrors”. Be authentic. It is a win/win for everyone!