M.Sc - Psychology
Let us focus on managing our anger such that it can be a constructive emotion that helps us take decisions rather than being an emotion that makes decisions for us. Just as making anger our habit takes years, unlearning anger also takes time and patience. What works for one individual may not work for another, what works one day for you may not work another day. Experiment with these strategies over time and develop some of your own. Seek professional help if you find yourself using unhealthy ways of coping with anger and pain. The following strategies are most effective when used long-term:
Assume responsibility for your emotion. Catch yourself when you make such statements: “She makes me so angry.”, “The things he does! He is the reason why I can never be peaceful.”. People, circumstances and life will not be in our control, but how we respond to them is our choice. When things do not turn out the way we want them to be, we can still choose our emotional well-being. We don’t “get” anger, hatred, irritation, love or enthusiasm from outside, we “become” angry, irritated, etc. The trigger points may be outside, but we create our emotions inside us. Emotional balance comes from an absolute commitment to take personal responsibility for the quality of one’s life.
If you cannot feel it, you cannot heal it. Too often when we share our feelings and pain with a close person, we hear phrases like “think positively”, “learn to forgive”. While these are indeed useful in the long-term, understand that we first need to experience our emotion completely in order to let it go fully. Before changing our perspective or looking at things in another light, we first need to admit the situation (eg: divorce), the feelings (eg: anger, hurt, helplessness, guilt) and the loss (eg: having to raise your child alone, not having someone to love and be loved by).
Grieve. Let yourself experience your pain, hurt and anger completely. It is ok to cry. It is better to face the emotions than trying to escape them. If you do, they will only grow more and consume you. Similarly, do not try to drown yourself in work, alcohol, sex or drugs. Your pain will not go away until you work on healing yourself. Consider reading 15 things to know about grief.
Changing perspective – from anger to compassion – “It is not about me”. If you have gone through the previous steps, you are now ready to make a shift in your perspective. Often in an anger provoking situation, we might feel targeted, like it’s a personal attack, and thus anger can come out as a defense. However, it is rarely about us. When a person acts difficult or inappropriately, it usually comes from a place of insecurity in that person. People act badly when they feel badly. Such people may have been mistreated themselves and their infuriating behavior stems from their longstanding pain and frustration. Once we learn to separate ourselves from the situation, most of our anger will be replaced by compassion for the other person – they inflict pain for they are themselves pained. As one of my clients said, “I always felt like my mother did not accept me and love me. Knowing that most of her anger directed at me was in reality directed at people who hurt her in the past is very liberating. I now realize that it has never been personal, she has never hated me as I thought all along…“.
Changing cognition – attack your negative thoughts. When we are overwhelmed with anger, our thinking gets exaggerated and dramatic. For example: “Oh, everything is ruined.”, “He always does this! He can never change his habits!”, “This $%^&@ TV remote never works!”, “How could she talk to me like that! She shouldn’t have said that!”. Note that we tend to use words like “should”, “should not”, “always” and “never” for us and others. When we use “always” and “never”, it not only makes our statements incorrect but unconsciously makes our anger justified in our minds. It also negates the efforts that others might be trying to make. Using “should” and “should not” is like demanding things from other people. Such expectations will naturally cause disappointment, hurt and anger. Negative thoughts can be replaced by, “It’s frustrating and it’s ok to be upset. But getting angry will not resolve anything. It’s not the end of the world. I need to find other possible solutions.”. You may want to read: How to change your negative thoughts through CBT.
Learning to forgive. Forgiveness is a conscious and deliberate decision that can be very liberating. After months of psychotherapy with a rape victim, in one of the sessions her fiance asked her, “Do you feel like hurting him(the perpetrator)?“. She replied, “For years that is all I could think about. I would see his pictures with his wife on social media and be angry – how could he live a happy life after inflicting so much pain on me? I wished him a terrible life everyday. But today, I just feel my loss. All these years while I was angry, hurt and depressed, he was living his life apparently happily. I suffered. I was stuck in the same place while he moved on. I hurt myself even more by keeping myself from healing. What he did was wrong, but I choose to forgive him. I choose to let go of my anger so I can embrace peace and healing. I choose to be free…“.
Closure – write it out! Spelling out our hurt and frustration allows us to release the anger. When we identify our loss, choose to forgive and move beyond grudges and resentment, there is an automatic release of the anger that has kept us debilitated for years. Write uninhibited, read it out several times over the next week and then tear it.
Be thankful. It may seem very difficult at times to be thankful, but no matter what traumas we may have experienced, we all have the ability to be there. Be grateful for all the little blessings in life. Learn to be appreciative of the good things around us. Look for the hidden blessings behind your challenges: I am thankful for (challenge – eg: pain of divorce) because it (hidden blessing – eg: because it helped me understand what is important to me. It has brought me closer to being the person I want to become).
Relaxation and autosuggestion. Deep breathing and relaxation imagery can help greatly in calming down anger. Breathe deeply from your gut, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Slowly repeat a word or phrase (“relax”, “it is going to be ok”, “I can handle it”) as you breathe deeply. Visualize a calming experience, from your memory or imagination. Practicing these techniques daily will help you in using them in tense situations automatically. Meditation, exercising, listening to music and using humor are some other ways to diffuse your anger.
No matter what strategy you use, remember that it is important to face your anger and negative thoughts. We all want to be loving parents to our children, appreciative of our parents, a doting lover, a loyal friend and a productive professional. Unresolved anger sabotages all our lovely relationships and makes us miserable.
“…you undoubtedly have experienced the fallout of fury, anger and rage. Anger is like a blast of frigid air that withers everything in its path. As you know, an angry person loses his understanding of the simplest things. Rage and hate eat into one’s very bones until one’s life becomes an abomination and one grows to hate him/herself. In a fit of anger one speaks words that he regrets forever…” – Rebbetzin Twerski.