I've never met anyone who never gets angry. A lot of people like to claim they don't get angry, that they're somehow living the most serene and calm life, and that they don't let things make them angry. You know what I'd love to say to those people? BULLSHIT! Either they're psychopathic or they're lying, and neither of those is a great thing to be!
I've worked with a lot of people who have committed some shocking crimes due to anger, and were doing life sentences because their anger took over and they didn't control it well. Feeling anger for some people is an unbearable experience that consumes them, clouding their judgement and feeding an inner need for revenge and payback. I've met a lot of people who have lived the majority of their lives consumed with anger about one thing or another.
The thing about anger is that we feel it for a reason. It's not a useless harmful emotion, as no emotions are, we feel all emotions for a purpose, and they provide a physical response in our body that we might need for a particular situation we're in. Which is why you can't stop yourself from feeling, but you can respond to these feelings more effectively. Anger is an energiser, and it's usually in response to a situation where we need energy in order to deal with something that we don't like or poses a threat to our happiness. It's a natural part of our human existence, helping us recognise things we need to deal with to maintain the natural balance of our life, and giving us the energy to do so.
All our emotions are born from our thoughts. Emotions don't just come out of no-where, they are a consequence of what we think. It may not feel like you thought anything prior to your rage filled outburst, but there was definitely a thought there. Our thoughts often form patterns, where we become accustomed to reacting the same way to different situations. These patterns give you an insight to some of your deepest core beliefs.
For example, you may have a deep rooted core belief that 'people should be polite', which will be triggered every time you think someone hasn't been polite, and you'll likely feel a degree of annoyance, or down right fury! Or you may have a core belief of 'animals should be loved', so when that belief is conflicted when you see animal cruelty, you become angry, because it goes against your core belief. (This is a deep subject that will require a separate post all of its own!)
So something has happened, you've had a thought about it, and now you feel angry, so what do you do? If you want to get better at responding when your angry, here are some tips.
Recognise your red flags- we all have little warning signs in our body and thoughts that tell us when our anger is growing. A knot in your stomach, a lump in your throat, feeling hotter, tense muscles are all some common 'red flags' that anger is kicking in. As individuals, we may also have 'red flag' thoughts that tell us it's getting out of control, such as "I can't take this anymore", "you fu*ki*g bitch" or "how dare you talk to me like that". Take some time to recognise what your 'red flags' are and get to know your body signs.
Apply some 'firefighting' thoughts- firefighting thoughts are those that challenge your red flags and aim to cool them down. Imagine your good thoughts are literally putting out the fire in your anger. Some examples of firefighting are "just stay calm, it's not a big deal", "you're fine, you're better than that", "this will pass", "if I react it will just get worse", or whatever works for you. Your firefighting will depend on the thoughts you are having, but challenge them as best you can.
Try some distraction: if you are struggling to challenge your thoughts, take your mind off them completely and try to distract yourself. This is where the classic 'count to 10' comes in. Our brain can only think one thing at a time, so if you start counting to 10, or counting the bricks in the wall, or singing the lyrics to your favourite song in your head, it's a distraction from the heat of your anger and will cool you off.
Breathe- take some nice deep breaths and count them as you do. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and exhale for a count of 4, it's relaxation and distraction in one. You might only need a few of these mindful breaths before you feel calmer.
Think of the consequences- if you explode with anger right now, what's going to happen? Are you going to hurt someone (physically or emotionally)? Are you going to break something? Will you damage a relationship? What would happen if you responded calmly? Thinking through what the outcome will be will often be enough deterrent not to flip out.
Take a time out- it's a strategy often used for children, but this time, you're taking yourself away from a heated situation and taking some time to calm down. The trick here is to communicate what your doing, as just walking away from someone in an argument will make things worse. So tell them you are getting angry and are going to take a few minutes to yourself. While your gone, make effort to cool off. Don't sit there festering away, but try breathing, or distraction, or thinking of the consequences, and only return when you feel more able to handle the situation without doing something you regret.
All of these skills take time and practice. We used to spend up to 6 months developing these skills in group in prison, and I know it's not as easy as it sounds. When prisoner's used to say "it's not that easy", this is what I used to say: "It may not be easy, but is it worth it?". If you think it's worth learning to control your anger, then you should make effort to develop your coping skills.
I will go into more detail in all of these skills specifically in later posts, but this is the basic principle. So keep reading for more detailed ideas and guidance. Leave us a comment and tell us how you manage your anger! We'd love to hear from you.