Four constructive things to do with your anger

A recent Tricycle Daily Dharma quotation is timely, and I’m sharing. It’s worth exploring anger for what it actually is.

Because we imagine anger is never a good thing, it is easy to think we should practice simply not being angry. But that approach is too general and abstract. It’s important for each of us to be precise, to be real, to be personal and honest, to find out exactly what my anger is. To do that we need to ask ourselves lots of questions about its actual nature.

It is quite a fabulous skill in life to handle anger well — to feel it and not suppress it, and to use it constructively. I’m definitely not saying I’m the most skilled at handling my anger, but I have come to recognize some of its complexity and discovered a key that helps me manage it constructively.

Watch some angry cartoon characters display anger in this video. You may never see anger in humans in the same way again!

First, anger is a body sensation. You can see it in the cartoons. For me, there’s a stiffening, a rigidity that I experience, often in my neck or back. My spine lengthens as I draw myself up to my full height. When it’s more intense, I feel prickly sensations and sometimes heat.

Only rarely have I experienced what Elmer and Daffy do so well, the red face, the steam coming out of ears, the grimace, the fists, the in-your-face stalk, the growl.

I dream about being Bugs Bunny, but when I wake up, I’m Daffy Duck. ~ Chuck Jones

  • Next time you’re angry, if you can, take a moment and notice what you’re feeling in your body, how your state has changed, what your mind is telling you to do. Just notice.

Anger has degrees of intensity. Anger includes a family of emotions that range from annoyance to rage. There’s a huge difference between asserting oneself when annoyed and abusively vomiting one’s rage on someone.

  • How angry are you on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • Can you describe it explicitly — outraged, irritated, mad, hostile, slow burn, furious, exasperated, chagrined, huffy, miffed, pissed, petulant, sullen, piqued?

Anger needs release. Anger builds toward action. This is where I think most of the problem lies. It’s not the anger itself, it’s what people do to release it that can be so destructive. People can emotionally and physically abuse others because they know no other way of releasing their anger. They finger-point and blame — and most of the time, other people are just doing the best they can, unable to read your mind.

When you’re angry, a different part of your brain is operating than the part that is able to have a dialogue, listen respectfully, and negotiate a solution. Respect that. Allow it. Just remember that.

What you do depends on the degree of your anger. If you feel annoyed, irritated, or dismayed, a few concise words can convey that with minimal damage. If you’re feeling really angry, like at least a 4, it’s more about you, not them.

Also, sometimes people feel their anger and recognize its intensity, but then they swallow it because they don’t want to be destructive but don’t know what else to do. That feels really miserable and isn’t a good solution to “the anger problem”.

  • So…here’s a new skill. When you feel so angry that you might say something you’ll regret, don’t even try to converse. Instead, move your body and make noise. Pace, stalk, make fists, punch a pillow, grimace, wave your arms. Dance with your anger. Growl and howl. You can even let loose a nice juicy string of curse words (or fake or foreign curse words) not aimed at anyone.

The other person witnessing your nonverbal anger may find your anger beautiful, or at least entertaining to watch (if they stay out of your way, right?).

Examine your anger later, when you’re calm. What triggered it? I’m guessing it was probably something you didn’t like, an injustice or injury, or a sense of invasion.

  • Ask yourself and the other party (if they’re willing) some good questions. Did someone violate one of your rules? Did they fail to read your mind? Could you have contributed to it? Did you communicate your preferences with clarity? Or could your rule conflict with their rule? Did they assume something about you that wasn’t true? How do you move forward? There’s a lot of room for understanding when you get to this stage of anger.
  • Also, was there another emotion behind the anger, like fear or hurt?

This is the best thing about anger, in my opinion. You learn more about yourself and the other person, and you’ll improve your communication skills. Sounds like a gift, doesn’t it?

~~~

As long as I’m posting about an emotion, I want to recommend a book that I found very helpful for understanding the emotions and the purpose each serves. It’s The Emotional Hostage, by Leslie Cameron-Bandler. It will help you decode your own emotions and those of others, understand the clear messages that each emotion conveys, and resolve your relationship problems more easily.

~~~

1/30/2012. Just encountered this quote from the Dalai Lama about anger:

When we are angry we are blind to reality. Anger may bring us a temporary burst of energy, but that energy is blind and it blocks the part of our brain that distinguishes right from wrong. To deal with our problems, we need to be practical and realistic. If we are to be realistic, we need to use our human intelligence properly, which means we need a calm mind.

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