Anger is a powerful emotion. Anger is the one emotion that seems to flare up quickly and come out of nowhere! Other times we know exactly who and what circumstances causes us to be and get mad. If the world or those other people would just stop… Sound familiar? The problem with anger is not the emotion itself but understanding the why, how, and what to do with it.
Anger is the one emotion people have difficulty with because it is not a feel good emotion. It doesn’t feel good in the body and is intense so we try to get rid of it quickly. The only problem is the method; we yell, scream, hit something, punch the wall, punch someone else or kick the dog to do it. This is instant gratification except minus the illicit drugs and alcohol use! We are in the moment not getting a desired outcome, perceive it’s due to outside forces and then need to do something about it but can’t with this yucky feeling, hence the immediate need to dispel it and get it out of the body. Surely we aren’t responsible for this intense feeling in the chest or gut, or are we?
Most of us are just a bunch of wonderful people running around our world doing the best we can. Most of us do not wake up in the morning with the thought of, “how can I act like an idiot today and behave really badly!” So what creates anger?
There are two views that are helpful for understanding anger and how to reduce the feeling so you can attend to what it is you’re wanting and go about it more peacefully.
First of all, throw out the need and demand that other people must get, understand or agree with your point of view or change what they’re doing so you can feel ok in your world. It can be a big plus when this happens. But most of us have preconceived views (which stems from learning, influences and genetics) with a demand about how our world should go. This view that “demandingness of thought” vs. “ preferences and desires” creates emotional disturbance or keeps people stuck is based on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (notably Albert Ellis, PH.D.) That’s why couples have huge arguments over “putting the cap back on the toothpaste”. It’s not really the toothpaste cap!
Second, that anger is caused rather than created. For example, if asked where does happiness come from? The usual answer is “from within”. We like to own happiness because it feels good so we must be responsible. However, no one can make you happy-it is a mental state of being that has a physical component within the body. Without feeling one cannot experience his/her thoughts or what they are creating. Anger too is an emotion just like happiness. It has a physical component that stems from thought and perception; just a different set of thoughts hence a different emotion is experienced.
Another view of anger can be best understood through animal behavior. If monkey is having a nice day eating a banana with his girlfriend and another monkey comes over to mess with his girlfriend, what does monkey boyfriend do? Lunges forward to bite. What he actually is saying is “hey, don’t mess with my girl, don’t eat my bananas, don’t eat my young and get off my land”. Anger therefore is an emotional and physiological response to perceived threat similar to anxiety in the animal kingdom (Rapid Resolution Therapy, J. Connelly, PH.D.). Perceived because rabbit could see a fox, freeze, gear up for flight and flee but not be in any actual danger because fox is full having had 2 squirrels.
In other words, humans can have thoughts about their environment but have the ability to reason and make other decisions. Acting out on anger is for immediate gratification of the intense feelings and never actually resolves the issue. In addition, when someone is yelling or screaming how easy is it to get them to listen or for you to be heard. All one experiences is the intensity or the spewing as it were of the emotion. Moreover, how easy is it to feed someone who is vomiting? This is why people rarely get to resolving an argument while it is happening.
Finally, how does one redirect to be heard and understood in a more effective way?
- Begin by noting sensation in the body by becoming aware of the emotion you are feeling and note the sensation as just a sensation. Like monkey, this now is your opportunity to do something about it.
- Take a deep full breath to calm (“it’s just a sensation”) think of goal (peace and desire) gather your thoughts and recognize “I am wanting to do something about this differently”.
- Next, be aware of what you are saying. Demands vs preferences; “I feel angry when” (accepting responsibility for self first) vs. “you and what you are saying and doing make me angry when” (pointing fingers) … This makes room for flexibility and compromise vs rigid thinking and all or nothing thinking that tends to create conflict.
- Follow the 70/30 rule. What if you are 70% right, that still leaves 30% room for change. After all, 1+1=2 but change one element in the equation and you will get a different answer.
- Allow room to withdraw if getting too heated, you can come back to the table to discuss after time to calm.
- It is good to start off with the motto “agree to disagree”.
In the end, people want to be heard and understood not necessarily agreed with. So ,it is important to have soft eyes and a caring demeanor especially with those who are closest and dearest to our hearts since these are the ones we are more likely to argue with . We can do so while be firm and assertive regarding our desires as well. The message will be you and I are important above all else, there is always a solution or perhaps compromise.