What is anger management? Can we really control something that seems to want to control us?
Anger is a Secondary Emotion
Many years ago a very wise man told me that anger is a secondary emotion. As someone who, at the time, was only really capable of three emotions (happy, sad and angry), I didn’t fully understand and appreciate what he was saying. With time and plenty of work, I have come to understand what he meant: anger is an outward reaction to at least one other emotion that we’re actually feeling.
Why do we choose anger?
Here are some common reasons why we choose to express ourselves through anger:
- Defensiveness – I’m embarrassed or I feel shame, so I’m using anger as a shield; if I am angry, you will be less likely to hurt me; I’m going to hurt you before you can hurt me
- Childhood “training” – my parents reacted with anger and that’s how we learned to express myself; I was taught that crying feeling frustration or showing disappointment are unacceptable; I grew up in a violent environment and anger was only way to survive it
- Emotional Illiteracy – I don’t know how to identify and process my emotions so that I can fully understand them myself; I don’t know the words to express my real emotions in appropriate ways
- Habit – it’s the way I’ve always reacted so I don’t know a better way
How to move away from anger and towards peace
For anyone who has chosen anger, whether consciously or sub-consciously, it can be a difficult habit to break. With time, anger becomes the go-to response for many people, and having healthy interactions with ourselves and others becomes increasingly challenging. Acting from a peaceful and productive place will take as just much practice, but will be well worth the effort. Just keep in mind that progress is more important than perfection, and follow these steps in your daily life.
Step One to Effective Anger Management:
Find a place of compassion
When we are able to adjust the lens through which we see the world and view it from a compassionate place, things improve immediately. When you feel yourself getting angry, stop, take a deep breath and remind yourself to be compassionate with the other person/people, with the situation and with yourself.
For instance, if you experienced poor customer service and are speaking with a representative of the company with which you are dissatisfied, remember that the representative is not at fault. Show kindness and compassion to the representative, acknowledge that the problem is not of their making and ask them for help. The interactions you have with this person, and the outcome of the conversation, will likely be far more positive than those where you weren’t able to apply compassion.
Ask yourself, what am I really feeling?
This next step is both vitally important and not at all easy for many people. That is, ask yourself, what am I really feeling? If it’s hard to get started, use an Emotions Vocabulary Chart as your guide. If you can tap into the primary feeling – the one that is lying beneath the anger – you have taken a huge step towards identifying a healthy response to it. For instance, if your find that the primary emotion is sadness, you know your options are not the same as if you had been really feeling frustration. Tap into the primary emotion and you have just honed in on appropriate ways of dealing with it.
Also ask yourself, am I hungry, angry, lonely and/or tired? If so, HALT – stop what you’re doing and take a moment to address the needs of your body before choosing to react emotionally towards yourself or others.
Own your feelings
The only person responsible for your emotional wellness is you. If someone hurts your feelings it doesn’t automatically mean that they were wrong and you were right, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that an apology is the necessary next step. There are people who will hurt, disappoint, frustrate and scare you – but it is not their job to fix that for you. So drop that expectation right now to save yourself a lot of time and trouble, and to start owning your own feelings.
One way to own your feelings is to consciously choose how you emote – meaning, what you put out to the world in the form of attitude, facial expressions, body language, words and actions. For instance, it’s completely understandable that you might be hurt by the actions of another person. If you choose to yell at them, that’s anger at work and it’s an example of not owning your emotions. However, if you choose to process your feelings (steps 1 & 2) and own them, you’re more likely to calmly express to the other person that they hurt your feelings without an expectation of their response. See the difference?
T.K.N. – True, Kind & Necessary
When expressing your feelings to others, be sure to apply the T.K.N. Rule: don’t say anything that isn’t true, kind and necessary.
For instance, if a friend continues to disappoint you by promising to do things for you and not fulfilling the promise, you have several options:
- Continue to allow yourself to be disappointed
- Lovingly disengage from that person or stop relying on them for help in situations where they’ve proven themselves to be unreliable
- Have a conversation with the friend about your feelings, needs and expectations, banking on the chance that the friend wasn’t disappointing you on purpose, but without any attachment to a specific response from the other person
If you choose the latter option, don’t launch into a list of reasons why your friend is a bad person and why you’re right. Instead, speak honestly (stating what is true), be kind and only state that which is necessary to attain the outcome you desire. Something like this:
“When I hear you say that you will be here at six o’clock and you show up at eight o’clock without calling, it creates anxiety for me. I’ve noticed this is a pattern and I don’t want to take it personally, but I also don’t want it to create bad feelings between us. Are you aware of this pattern?”
Catherine Mason is a writer, former educator, and someone who has multiple food allergies. As Tribe Leader & Chief Wellness Coach at www.mydietribe.com, she helps people identify, assimilate and maintain sustainable health and wellness practices in their everyday lives, with a focus on physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and financial wellness. Catherine may be contacted at email@example.com, and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@mydietribe).
Don’t suppress your feelings; own them, process them and then consciously choose to express or act on them in healthy and appropriate ways. With consistency (not perfection) you’ll find that this shift in your life will create healthier, happier and more fulfilling relationships with yourself and others, and it will remove anger as your go-to reaction.
What are some of the situations in which anger has been your go-to emotion? How can you handle similar situations differently in the future?