Archive for Monday, January 3, 2011

Mind Matters: Better ways to cope with anger

January 3, 2011


Dealing with anger can be very challenging and if not handled in a responsible way, can cause great damage to ourselves and others. Here are some helpful ideas about managing anger.

Anger has strong physical and mental components. When the physical part of anger seems dominant (“I can feel my blood boiling”), it’s a good idea to remove yourself from the situation to de-stress. One way to de-stress is to take several deep breaths while focusing on what you are feeling in your body. By focusing on the physical experience and not the mental “story” (it’s difficult to be rational when your body is highly energized) you can more quickly move into a calmed state. Try using an anger scale to monitor yourself. Using a scale from 0 to 10, you want to avoid engaging with someone when you are at a 7 or higher. At this point you would want to use a self-imposed timeout to calm down and get to about a 3 or 4.

When you feel physically calmed down, you can begin to look at your thoughts about what it is that has engaged your anger. Instead of truly seeking understanding, we often use our interpretation of events to justify our anger. We may falsely assume we know the motivations of the person who has “made” us angry.

Thich Nhat Hanah, author of the book “Anger,” suggests we challenge our perception by asking ourselves, are we sure? He gives an example in which we see a beautiful sunset and we are sure we are looking at the sun as it is in that moment. He states that scientists will say that the sun we see in the moment is really the image from the sun eight minutes ago because that is how long it takes the sun’s light to reach the earth. Our beliefs are dependent on the lens we choose to look through.

It is usually helpful to try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Why might they have been acting that way? Are there concerns unrelated to you that may have led to their actions? Maybe the whole incident is not about you at all.

Good communication can also help move people forward in letting go of anger. Being assertive and stating how an incident affected you, and stating what you need, can help resolve a potentially escalating conflict quickly.

Try to approach the situation with an attitude of equality. Avoid the superior position and try not to have a goal of winning. Putting someone else in the one-down position only creates more upset and will not improve the situation. It only leads to a false sense of superiority intended just to make you feel better. Remember the saying, “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?”

Anger is often misunderstood as starting outside of you when it actually begins and ends internally. We often hear from angry clients, “I wouldn’t yell or treat the person that way if they would just ….” Having clean anger management means being clear that your anger is not about the other person, it is an internal attitude, and it is your choice to react to anger with unconscious potentially hurtful actions, or to respond with calmness and respect.

One essential component to managing anger is the aspect of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not exclude you from being assertive and setting boundaries; however, it will increase a sense of peace and calmness within you. Forgiveness does not condone behavior, but it is more of an acceptance of stuff now past and things we cannot control ... like other people. Forgiveness promotes the spirit of compassion and kindness, which always makes us feel better in life. It is a more humbling stance to recognize that everyone, even you, has shortcomings.

“The Anger Trap” by Dr. Les Carter is a great book for gaining insight and learning tools to manage anger.

— Ed Bloch, LSCSW, and Jena Bloch, LCMFT, are directors of the Life Enrichment Center in Lawrence.


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