Anger is the explosive emotion. Unlike the withdrawal of fear, or the gentle flow of joy, anger strikes like lightning. But that sudden surge of power is deceptive. We cannot use anger to annihilate our enemies and obstacles. We usually end up repressing it, or releasing it ineffectively.
Both of these alternatives end up harming us. Anger causes a surge of stress hormones that makes out hearts beat faster, raise our blood pressure, and make our blood clot faster. That combination can easily cause a heart attack or stroke.
Being chronically angry is the emotional equivalent of sky-high cholesterol. If we let our anger out, we also run the risk of social consequences. Other people avoid us. Or don’t want to work with us. We can lose our jobs.
And letting it out is just as unhealthy as holding it in.
Anger also has its purpose. It sets limits to how others treat us or the people we care about. It helps us know when lines are being crossed or rights violated. Anger tells us when we are not getting what we want, but does not give us the tools to get it.
How can we use anger wisely, to stand up for ourselves appropriately, without causing harm?
It is important to remember that while the stress responses of anger are natural, how we get angry is learned, mostly by watching our parents. The facial expressions, voice level, hand motions are all separate from the emotion itself.
It is vital that we learn a new way to be angry. Here are some steps to follow:
First, it’s important to recognize that we are angry. Denial won’t help. If anger is starting to surge, we have to admit it so we can manage it. Alarm bells are sounding, let’s follow the drill to….
Step 2: Relax physically. Yes, your hormones are surging, your heart and breath are racing, your blood pressure is soaring, and muscles are tightening all over your body. You must stop this process before your brilliant, reasoning brain will work properly.
Breathing deeply and counting to ten will certainly help. Maybe counting to one hundred would be better, because you need time. Instead of counting, though, concentrate on progressively relaxing the muscles of your head and face.
Start with your scalp. Continue to your forehead. Relax your eyelids. Relax your jaw, where the muscles are bulging as you clench your teeth. Unclench them. Relax. Relax your neck. If you had the time, you’d want to do this down to your toes. And, with practice, you can learn to do this pretty quickly. So you should practice every day.
But, as a beginner, getting your head relaxed is a great place to start.
Step 3: Talk to yourself. Don’t start talking out loud yet, you’re still angry. You need to get control.
You’ll do this by reminding yourself who you really are. Not the raging demon in your head. The real you, good, strong, and wise.
First say: “I enjoy and prove myself in negative situations.” We will not focus on the how the situation became so bad. It’s negative, sure, but we’re tough and can deal.
Then say: “I am in complete control of myself and my part of this situation.” This is critical. I usually have to remind myself of this more than once. I won’t even say how many times. But, in the end, I get there. My feelings are not in charge. I am.
Wrap up with: “I will remain calm.” This is a promise you make to yourself. It’s a gift to you, not to the source of bad news. You will remain calm because you will feel better, speak better, and be rightfully proud of yourself when you start to speak.
Speak: You may be afraid of the person you have to speak to. Or you may be afraid of losing control. Or you may be vulnerable, embarrassed, or ashamed. But do not be crushed, and do not explode.
Speak assertively. To do this, express your feelings about the situation, and state them as your point of view, for example: “I feel angry when you dismiss the value of my report, because it represents a full week of my time and effort. I want to know the factual basis or your criticisms, and have the chance to show you my evidence.”
Be sure you stick to the facts. If you are angry, say so, but if your feeling is something else (insulted, embarrassed, frustrated), don’t be afraid to say it. It will help the other person understand your reaction better.
Also, state the event or action that upset you as objectively as possible. You will sound stronger if you give a clear, factual description of the problem behavior.
Give the other person information that they may not know that explains (not excuses or dismisses) your reaction. You don’t like my conclusion, but you do not know how I reached it. You think my priority was X, but I thought it was Y. We disagree, but I have legitimate reasons for my point of view.
And conclude by stating what you want. You may not get it. But you need to let the other person know what you hope for. They cannot guess what you want. Tell them.
Remember that anger is a learned response to certain kinds of stressors. It is useful in letting us know that some internal boundary has been crossed. But it can harm us if we do not manage it properly.
Remaining calm is essential to using our anger wisely. It proves our internal strength. It allows our reasoning, problem-solving mind to bear. This enables us to assert our own point of view with power.
About the author: Dave Edelstein blogs about wellness and the mind-body connection at btrthanb4.com