“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ~Mark Twain
I am in serious danger, and I think you might be too.
I am in danger of becoming a grumpy old person. I get angry easily. I operate on a short fuse, ready to snap or explode at the littlest thing.
I could blame it on a combination of genetics and environment. My father seems to have only two moods, and one of them is angry.
He is like a volcano and can explode at any moment. And I don’t mean he’s just cranky or that he yells.
No. When he loses it, he really loses it. Emotionally and physically.
He tenses every muscle in his body, clenches his fists, sticks his jaw out, and says things like, “Eeeoourgh!!!”
He is a fireball of white-hot fury. Irrational, unreasonable, and perverse.
As a child, I never knew whether I would be hugged or hit. I desperately wanted his approval and love, but often I incurred his wrath.
As a teenager, I learned to fight back, yell as loudly, and be as demanding as he was. As an adult, I learned two key components that comprise anger.
There’s the emotion that can envelope you in a moment, instantly causing you to become irrational and almost uncontrollable. And there are the situations or environments that have the potential to lead to anger, if we let them.
I could let anger rule my life, but I refuse to do that, damn it! So I employ some simple anger management techniques instead.
I am still in serious danger, but with these tools, I think I’ve found a way out.
1. Follow a process.
Create a process for managing situations that often trigger anger. When someone does something that upsets you, take a deep breath and trust in the process.
One process I use to express my feelings calmly is to describe the behavior and explain my emotional response.
So, I’d say something like, “When you yell at me, I feel hurt and upset,” or, “When you behave this way, I feel really angry.” It helps identify the problem and my emotions. It also helps me feel in control and prevents me from resorting to useless, blaming behavior.
2. Tap it out.
Try a little tapping, or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is a healing tool that helps reduce deep emotional responses so we can manage our lives more calmly.
The whole EFT process includes a tapping routine and a mantra, but I find a simplified version just as effective.
When you feel an intense emotion, just use your first two fingers and tap your collarbone until you feel calmer. If you start tapping quickly and then gradually slow your rhythm, you’ll find yourself calming down.
Sometimes, when I feel like tensing up and yelling, “Eeeoourgh!” myself, I go to the bathroom and tap until I feel calmer. Then I can handle the situation rationally.
3. Think about your belly button.
Centering is a super-simple technique that even a child can use. All you do is focus your mind on your belly button, or rather, just a smidge below your belly button.
As you focus, tense those muscles and draw your belly button in toward your spine. If you’ve done any Pilates or yoga, you’ll be familiar with these deep abdominal muscles.
Doing this exercise is truly calming and empowering. It puts you in a state of calm control, so you’re less likely to react and lash out. I sometimes close my eyes for a moment and focus on my belly button. When I open my eyes and continue centering, I can operate more calmly and coherently.
4. Lighten up.
Anger appears when we’re frustrated, but if you stand back from the situation a little, you might see it’s quite ludicrous. Not always, but often. Before you blow your stack, stand back and see if you can find something silly about what’s happening.
I remember being frustrated by an organization I worked for when they arranged a breakfast for us to discuss strategies to improve our work-life balance.
They wanted us to get up hours earlier than usual and spend extra time with our colleagues so we could talk about ways we could spend less time with them. How ridiculous!
5. Practice daily calm.
We can experience anger and frustration almost daily, and the more we experience it, the more it becomes our way of operating.
When you commit to practicing daily calm, you counteract the anger. You practice something much more beneficial to your health and well-being.
This doesn’t have to be hard. Just spend a moment or two doing nothing, whenever you can. Sit quietly and realize that you’re doing nothing, and see how calming it is.
6. Get curious.
The next time you find your anger rising, divert your energy into curiosity. Get really curious about the other person’s perspective.
Keep asking questions until you fully understand the other person’s opinion. Once you do, you’ll be in a better position to discover a solution that suits everyone.
Recently, my daughter was extremely trying, and I saw red. I drew in my breath, preparing to yell at her. But somehow, in the split second of inhaling, I thought, I just need to follow the process.
Instead of yelling, I reflected her feelings to get to the bottom of why she was behaving so poorly. I got curious about the cause of her behavior, and together we created a solution to the problem.
Instead of an angry interaction that would rip our relationship apart, we had a truly productive, useful talk that brought us together.
7. Hug a tree.
If you feel yourself spinning out of control with anger, you can become grounded by literally grounding yourself. Hug a tree, lay on the ground, or sit with your back to a large, solid oak.
Connecting yourself to the ground in this way will make you feel both physically and emotionally supported, calm, and stable.
Grounding strategies help you detach from strong emotions. They help you gain control over your feelings so that you can get back in control.
If you need a more portable strategy than an oak tree, try putting a small stone in your pocket. When you start feeling overwhelmed by emotion, reach into your pocket and focus on the stone—notice its texture, size, and temperature. This action focuses you on reality and stabilizes your emotions.
8. Close the argument room.
There’s a Monty Python skit where Michael Palin pays for an argument in the argument room. We often do the equivalent of asking for an argument by starting discussions that go nowhere or pushing our opinions onto people who don’t want them.
We should always ask ourselves if going into the argument room is worth it.
When my father rants, I often let him go. I don’t want to engage with him because I’d be entering the argument room, and for what? I’d end up cranky and frustrated, without achieving anything.
9. Look beneath the anger.
Anger is often a secondary emotion that masks the true feelings beneath it. The next time you feel angry, look inside and see if your anger is masking another deeper emotion.
If you can discover the underlying emotion, you can address the real reason behind your emotional response.
Think about the last time someone cut you off when you were driving. The moment it happens a chill of fear runs through you, and then it’s quickly replaced by frustration and resentment.
Or, consider the last time you were running late and someone seemed to be delaying you. Underneath your anger may be self-loathing regarding how you didn’t prepare better, guilt for making someone wait, or fear of the consequences of your late arrival.
Anger is the secondary emotion.
The Truth About Anger
It’s a powerful, all-encompassing emotion.
Well harnessed, it can drive us to achieve great things. We can use it to fight injustice, increase confidence, and create focus. Think Erin Brockovich, Alanis Morissette, and Steve Jobs.
But it can also ruin our relationships, damage our reputations, and make us hard to love. Think Naomi Campbell, Mel Gibson, and Charlie Sheen.
That grumpy old person we talked about? Their anger is unchecked, and it’s become a front.
A way of interacting with people. A mask to hide behind.
And no one can live a great life if they’re hiding.
It’s far better to have the courage to face the world, and your problems, head on. To discover what’s really under that anger, and address the true problem.
The next time you feel your anger flare up, you can hide behind it, or you can dig deep into self-reflection and deal with what you find.
Which will you choose?
Angry woman image via Shutterstock