Anger is inevitable. We all feel it. It is a natural emotion that offers us date or information about ourselves–other feelings, our expectations, and our core desires. If we push it away, then we miss all of these signals. If we give it to others without control, they will miss not really be able to hear us.
While anger had its historic reasons for being explosive, unfortunately these days, there is no longer the need to fall into the throes of anger, letting it drive our behavior, as it used to. If we are not able to manage it, it will hijack our behavior, and lead us to act in ways that push others away.
So, there is ideal, healthy anger and unfortunate and unhealthy anger.
Heathy Anger is Managed Anger
Healthy anger includes both being able to effectively manage anger when it arises and understanding the deeper messages behind it.
We cannot understand anger if do not manage it.
Such reflection requires taking time, when we are calm, to reflect on your anger. By doing so, we become more connected with ourselves, explore the historical contributions to our anger, and can better understand our hurts and suffering behind it.
First Step – Strategies for Managing Escalating Anger
However, there are some strategies that can help us to pause even when we may not be fully available to explore our anger more fully.
These strategies are ways to tap the brakes on your physiological reaction to the experience, so that you remain in control of your thoughts and behaviors.
That moment may offer enough space that you need for deeper reflection. While giving yourself time provide little self-understanding of our anger, that moment of time can be quite effective to curb its escalation when it does arise.
But it is also important to remember that how, when and in what way we manage our anger, are habits that we have developed over time.
As such, even remembering to employ new strategies involves time and commitment to rehearse and practice them. The following are several ideas.
Deep breathing is perhaps the most well-known and practiced technique for anger arousal. This is because taking several deep breaths and deeply exhaling can ultimately activate the parasympathetic system, which restores the body to a calm and relaxed state. Pick a number and then inhale through your nose to that count, holding your breath for a quick moment. Then exhale through your mouth to the same count.
For many people, however, this strategy may not work alone, especially when anger is intense. As such, it can be strengthened when accompanied by practicing any or several of the following hacks.
Visualize a positive context
This strategy is primarily effective with a friend, partner, or other family member. When angry, evoke an image of an experience—or several—in which you experienced greater caring or love for that person. This helps diminish the tendency, in the moment of anger arousal, to demonize that person. It helps you to consider the bigger picture, the greater nature of your relationship. In effect, it helps you to experience this bigger picture as dominating your visual field with the current one being placed in the background.
Visualize a clear plastic wall between you
Visualize a clear plastic wall between you, just like the ones we have become accustomed to seeing at the check-out cashiers of supermarkets. You may wish to imagine that you are a third party observing the situation through this wall. This imagined barrier can serve as a reminder that you are safe, even when you perceive that you are not.
Recognize unrealistic expectations
All too often, with and without full awareness, we maintain unrealistic expectations that increase our vulnerability to become angry. We have unrealistic expectations of others, the world in general, and ourselves. These include expectations that “Others should behave as I do.” “Life should be fair” “If my partner really loves me (s)he should do _______.” These are often expectations that may exist below the radar of our awareness and are especially inaccessible when we are angry.
This strategy requires cultivating mindfulness as part of an ongoing commitment in order to practice it during the moment of anger arousal. In part, mindfulness entails being attentive to where we are choosing to focus our attention in the moment. It also calls for observing our thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations as experiences that we need not embrace. Mindfulness offers us the capacity to step back and observe our internal experiences without being overwhelmed by them. As such, caught up in the moment of anger we could observe our body’s tension including shallow or rapid breathing and an increased heart rate. And we could observe ourselves experiencing anger or thoughts about a triggering event — all without being overwhelmed by our experience.