Anger is a universal emotion. Every human being gets angry at one time or another. We have experienced hurt, disappointment, deceit, rejection, betrayal, and many other slights and mistreatments in our lives. Though all people experience the feeling of anger, there are great differences in how people react to angry feelings. Some of us can respond assertively with thoughtful expressions.
Problems arise when people respond by yelling, name-calling, using bad language, throwing things, slamming doors, making threats, hitting others, or abruptly ending a relationship. A less obvious problem occurs when people keep feelings to themselves and “stuff” their anger. We are all capable of erupting one day.
The very simple, but difficult first step to manage anger is to acknowledge that you are feeling angry! Most people may admit to feeling frustrated, or annoyed, or irritated, but not angry. It’s as if “anger” is such a horrible word that you can’t acknowledge it. Others may be angry, but not you!
Acknowledging anger is essential to anger management. A bit of brain science is in order: When you acknowledge something, it means you have knowledge of it. This acknowledgement connects the thinking part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex – behind the forehead) with the emotional part of your brain (the limbic system – in the center).
Without that acknowledgment, we do not involving our thinking, conscious brain and we are literally run by our emotions! No wonder so many people lose their temper, go off on others, or are out-of-control. On a daily basis, our world is filled with hurtful words, harmful aggression, and destructive violence.
The two major steps to managing anger are:
1. Slow down and breathe.
Anger is part of the fight or flight reaction to danger and it speeds us up so we can survive threats. We secrete adrenalin in order to fight the danger or take flight from it. The great majority of time, our anger is not based on a life or death situation. We don’t need the urgency that speeds up our system. If we take a few slow, deep breaths, we can counteract the fight or flight reaction and put a limit to the secretion of adrenalin.
2. Ask yourself two questions.
The better able we are to make use of our thinking brain, the better we will keep angry feelings under control. After managing our breathing to calm our bodies, we need to calm our emotions by bringing order to potential chaos.
First, ask yourself: “What am I feeling?” This allows us to define and give form to our feeling. This brings a sense of order or control to our own feelings.
Once you’ve calmed down, ask yourself: “What is the best way to deal with this feeling?” This allows us to ensure that we don’t impulsively resort to action. By using our minds, we naturally consider options and consequences.
Anger is often viewed as a negative emotion. Anger is negative when people cannot manage it and act out with aggression, abuse, or violence. It’s startling to contemplate that (excluding war) every year, throughout the world, about 1.43 million people are murdered.
When anger is managed, it can be a positive emotion. Anger can function as part of the mourning process and as a force to energize us toward achieving goals. Feeling angry isn’t as important as the action we take when we feel anger!