Five helpful ways to deal with your own (or someone else’s) anger
Before I talk a bit about anger, I just wanted to acknowledge the devastation being experienced in our world. I have spent a lot of my meditation energy this week sending wishes for safety and security and ease to all those people out there who themselves, or who’s loved ones, are in harm’s way, whether through illness, or trying to evade mother nature’s wrath, or who are dealing with DACA’s cancellation. I have wished for support and kindness and generosity of heart to each person who is undergoing such suffering and anxiety, as they try to get out of harm’s way. May you and yours be safe, strong and have ease as you face any difficulty. My heart goes out to all suffering unimaginable hardship…
And of course, at least one of these devastating experiences can put you in touch with your anger…
Anger is a natural emotion. Everyone knows that. But most of us aren’t comfortable with acknowledging that. Most of us hate to feel angry and we especially don’t like being the recipient to another’s anger – especially someone important to us.
You might be angry that your teenager lied to you; or that your coworker took credit for a project you were working on; or that public transportation is broken down yet again and now you’re late. You might be angry that your toddler has just had a meltdown in the grocery store, or your partner has betrayed you, or about the social injustice that is rampant. You might be angry when your partner has just exploded and is blaming you unfairly for something, or you’ve been touched inappropriately at work.
Anger can come up instantly in a moment’s notice; or smolder over time. It can ruin your day and have lasting negative consequences or be a useful source of energy and agency. Anger can take different forms – and present itself in a range of degrees: being mad; irritation; boredom; agitation; yelling; smoldering; resentment; envy; rage; sarcasm; violence; distancing; withholding one’s love.
Usually underneath experiences of anger like those mentioned above, there are the presence of more vulnerable tender feelings that we are trying to protect. Feelings of inadequacy, or disappointment, or humiliation or embarrassment, or hurt or shame. We might be trying to save face, or protect ourselves, or right some terrible wrong, or punish another for making us feel bad. We may be overwhelmed, fatigued, mistreated or invisibled one time too many. Or heartbroken or devastated or betrayed. We may feel our value or values have been trashed by another, leaving us powerless or having had the wind knocked out of our sails. If we are even a little bit guilty, we might react defensively when we’re angered.
When we feel anger in response to these kinds of feelings, the anger serves us in a few ways – usually these kinds of feelings are just too hard to articulate and talk about in the moment with whoever has offended us, so anger can create an immediate buffer zone – the distancing from that pain inside – and from the person or entity that hurt us. It also works as a protective barrier around those more vulnerable feelings that we don’t want to be exposed or have others know about. It gives us some sense of agency and feeling of empowerment or control, to be angry or express it somehow. It may also keep us from looking inward at our own contribution to this problem.
Anger is a strong emotion that can be quite effective if used correctly; and of course quite volatile and disruptive when we don’t manage it well. Anger can be negatively expressed into the world – causing continued harm to others; or turned inward and causing continued harm to oneself – in body, heart, and mind.
Here are some things to do when dealing with anger (yours or another’s), that keep you present to it and help you address it in a way that doesn’t keep building up the damage:
- Recognize your own anger. Name it. Know it. Feel it in your body. Notice your tension; your increased adrenaline; your clenching, your bracing. See if you can name its intensity or particular version of feeling. Accept that anger is here and this is how I feel it.
- Breathe. Try to take 3 to 5 slow deep breaths. Breathe deeper into the place in you that is offended or hurt. Breathe some more. Making your out breath last longer than your in breath will help to calm the intensity of your anger. Wonder what’s underneath the anger – what pain of mine is being stirred up? See if you can acknowledge and breathe into those feelings too. If someone else is angry with you, notice your feelings in response. How am I feeling right now? Breathe. As I breathe in, I am angry. As I breathe out I am angry. You might wonder about what pain of theirs might be hidden by their anger. Have kindness and breath for these pains.
- Stay with your own feeling. See if you can be with it just a moment longer, observing it, noticing how it dramatically or subtly changes and moves through your body. Attempt to stabilize your own feelings. You might need to breathe more, or breathe more deeply, or give yourself permission to rant your story (in your mind, or even in your journal); or take a break, or take a walk, etc. You don’t have to give up being angry, but do try to move away from the harsh broken edges and peaks of it. Perhaps put your hand on your belly and allow yourself to soften.
- See if you can begin to develop a sense of tolerance or acceptance for things that always seem to make you angry. Recognize the world is full of things/people that will inconvenience us (or worse). As human beings we are fallible… As fallible beings, we are all human. Develop self compassion alongside compassion for others. Remember, just like me, this person wants to be happy and heard. Ask yourself, if I were feeling compassionate right now, what would I be aware of in this circumstance? Wonder about how your anger might be useful to you at this moment. What gift is it offering you?
- Speak wisely
Acknowledge that you’re feeling uncomfortable, distressed.
Acknowledge other person’s upset.
Attempt to use wise speech – something that is well intended, coming from a place of good will, meant to build up rather than tear down. Be true and not exaggerated or taking things out of proportion. Make an effort to be beneficial and make things better, rather than worse – even if not right away. Resist impulsivity and lashing out. Give yourself the best chance of being heard. Be firm, pointed, speak to the injustice, but try not to be inflammatory, nasty, contemptuous, dismissive, rageful. Communicate with care. Continue to speak about what’s in your responsibility (your feelings, your actions), no matter what the other person throws at you…
Let me hear from you about how anger affects you and the people you are regularly in contact with. I’d love to hear how you manage that.
I hope you are able to live better with your (or someone you love’s) anger. If you’d like to get more help with managing your strong emotions, please contact me for an individual or couples or teens therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.