It might ruin your life otherwise: Managing Anger

Some things cant be undone.

Remember the last time you lost control of your temper? The last time you said or did something you shouldn’t have?

What did you lose? Trust, a business deal, a friend, a lover?

Anger is an emotion we must all learn to deal with. I wish school taught us how to, but it didn’t.

What is Anger?

Anger is a protective mechanism. It is not wrong or bad in itself. It serves you by letting you and others know that your personal boundaries were crossed – that something is wrong. There is nothing wrong if expressed in a mature and assertive manner. It is unhealthy only when it goes out of control and turns into rage.

For our purposes, anger can be split into two broad categories: Anger from the past, and fresh anger.

Past anger is the protection device has gone wrong. It remains from events we have not forgiven. It means well – it is trying to protect us from similar events in the future – but its actually hurting us by keeping the anger alive in us.

It lies just beneath us ready to explode on anyone who triggers it. Such bottled emotion also hurts us – it can lead to cancer, hypertension, and high blood pressure, among others. It also warps our very personality over time – you can become constantly hostile or cynical. This post deals with it.

What about fresh anger? I’ve already written a post on that here.

But what if it flashes on you and takes over before you know what you are doing? And how do we deal with the actual situation? This is what we deal with here.

Recognising Anger

The first step to deal with it is recognising it. It’s easy for intense anger. If you find yourself behaving in ways that are strange or frightening, take steps. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.

But even mild irritation and frustration counts – those feelings are just lower on the scale. The moment you feel changes in yourself – no matter how mild – realise there is a potential for worse.

Physical symptoms to look out for include increased heartbeat, sweaty palms, tenseness of the muscles (especially the chest), weakness, heat and sweating. Mental symptoms include a blank mind, trouble concentrating, and changed speech (lower voice and shorter sentences).

Recognising Your Triggers

Make a list of your common triggers. Everybody has a unique set of what pisses them off. Knowing yours gives you a great advantage in stopping yourself before you are overcome by your emotions.

For example, someone swearing at you would likely piss you off. Most people will. But it doesn’t affect me. Swear words and raging doesn’t get to me at all. But what makes me lose my cool are snide remarks and cockiness. Knowing this makes it easier for me to catch myself before I lose control in a similar situation.

What are your triggers? They could be external or internal. A specific person could make you angry. An event, like a traffic jam or a computer virus, could trigger you. Internal events are often overlooked – even though your outside world is calm, you could brood or worry about your personal problems. Memories of previous events can also trigger you.

What you have to really watch out for, is not the slowly rising anger but the flashes of angry thought – “HOW DARE HE!” – and so on. These thoughts can come in out of nowhere.

The Childish Way to handle Anger

The instinctive way to express anger is to respond aggressively. It stems from evolution – in our past, it allows us to fight and defend ourselves if attacked. But nowadays there are a lot more limits and repercussions. Some people don’t care; they get verbally or physically abusive anyway.

Others realise this and they end up repressing their anger. Sometimes they bottle it up and die from the inside. Sometimes they keep it long enough to take it out on someone “safe”. We can’t show the boss we’re angry at her, so we take it out on our lover, our kids, or someone else who has no power over us. And so the misery spreads.

The Way of the Adult

So what is the mature, healthy way to express anger? Assertively and firmly, but with tact and respect for all parties and involved. You don’t have to be pushy or demanding but you don’t have to be a doormat and get walked all over.

Step One: Turn off your thoughts

In the “how to be a rock” post, I suggested turning off your thoughts.
By doing so, you stop the cycle. The remaining emotions will take a while to cool off, in the same way the coals of a fire remain hot even after the fire is out.

Keeping a cool head alone will mean the difference between childish and mature reactions.

Step Two: Take time off if you need to

If the emotions are so strong that you need more time to cool off, excuse yourself politely and leave the room for a while. Changing the environment you are in helps.

Here’s a tip from NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming): Smile and look up at the sky or the ceiling. I heard it’s impossible to be angry when your body is arranged like that.

While unlikely, the anger might remain inside you or pop up in the future. Hold it and express it when you can be alone.

Step Three: Recognising Self Talk

Anger often distorts your thoughts and turns them negative. Learn to keep everything in perspective. A situation often is not as bad as you think it is.

When your car has broken down and you’re late for something important, your distorted self talk could be “Oh my God! I’m dead! She’ll dump me!”

But once you have cooled down by turning off the thoughts, your thoughts and self talk will change. Try to direct them towards figuring out a way to fix things and manage the situation instead of whining about it.

It is during the big rages that this step is important. Knowing your list of triggers, prepare now a list of positive self talk for each of those. A good way to remind yourself to stop your thoughts is to have a phrase “Stay calm, relax, breathe!”

Some people recommend “rehearsing”. Imagine that one of your triggers is happening. Rehearse yourself keeping cool in your mind. It does help but be careful that you don’t start reliving old hurts again – there is a part of you that enjoys misery and will encourage you to.

Step Four: The past is dead – deal with it

In this post, I recommended dying to the past at every moment. The moment something happens, it is in the past and doesn’t exist any more – except in your memory.

This eases your burden. Let’s use a small and recent example. A few days ago I posted some of my articles on a social bookmarking service (reddit, please support bookmarking me there too!). The first comment I got a few seconds later was someone deriding all personal development material as …well… homosexual.

It affected me for 10 seconds until I realised it doesn’t exist any more (unless I go back and read it again). Second of all, it doesn’t mean anything. My ego is hurt, but me – I am unaffected. The emotions churned for a few more seconds, and then disappeared.

I realise not everything can be fixed by ignoring it. In this case, if the man was in front of me and continues to hassle me, I will have to do something about it.

Emotional Intelligence

The best way is to express your feelings. Do this firmly and assertively and yet with respect and tact. Tell them that this is making you angry. This is what the protection system is for – let them know that they are crossing the line.

Most disagreements or situations can be worked out. Everyone has wants and needs, and will be reasonable if you can meet them with a cool head. But you do meet people who enjoy hurting you for the sake of it. They get pleasure out of your pain, even if they get no other benefit.

Deal with them individually – but keep your cool. Also remember that violence will have many repercussions in the future – either revenge, or the police will get involved, or a simple punch up could develop into something involving knives. Sometimes it is better to just walk away.