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“Anger is a sign that something needs to change.” ~ Mark Epstein
We all have certain emotions that we struggle with.
Some are uncomfortable with the display and expression of sadness, while others are uncomfortable with fear. Some of us are even uncomfortable with happiness.
For me, it’s always been anger. I don’t like it when people around me get angry, and I absolutely hate it when I find myself angry. I have spent years judging myself for my own anger and coming up with various ways of handling other people’s anger.
Just like so many of us, even I have seen the worst of this emotion. I encounter the various ways in which anger destroys an individual’s peace of mind, personality, relationships, and balance every day and have personally experienced a lot of devastation owing to this extremely powerful emotion.
Overtime, I have found myself moving away from this sense of fear, judgement, and hatred for the emotion of anger in general, toward acceptance, understanding, and embracing the other side of anger, which we don’t even bother to consider.
All emotions serve two kinds of purposes: constructive and destructive. If we aren’t self-aware, then any emotion can turn problematic.
Long-standing sadness has the ability to turn into depression. Intense and prolonged fear can turn into anxiety. Staying in your “happiness bubble” can disconnect you from your reality, make you ignorant of concerns, and lead you to other issues.
Similarly, unchecked, intense, and prolonged anger can turn into bitterness, resentment, and aggression. It can destroy an individual’s sense of self and relationships. It has the capacity to bring out shades of us that we never even knew existed, and the impact of unresolved anger can be devastating and irreparable.
Anger can either serve as a channel or a blockage within our own selves. It’s up to us to decide which purpose we want this emotion to serve for us—the one that has the ability to create something or the one that can destroy everything.
“The smarter you get, the more you realise that anger is not worth it.” ~ Maxime Lagace
When anger is constructive, it’s expressed in a manner that is healthy, grounded, takes into account your own as well as others’ perspective (instead of focusing on either), and leads to the resolution of the presenting concern.
A healthy expression of anger comes from:
1. Awareness of what makes you angry, how you respond when you’re angry, and what you need to do instead of letting your anger get the best of you.
2. Acknowledgement of the fact that you are feeling angry in a situation.
3. Pausing when you find yourself getting angry. You need to hit the pause button before you unleash the beast within. This can only happen when you’re aware of what triggers your anger and what are the changes that begin to take place when you’re getting gripped by it. For instance, does your volume go up? Does your heart race? Do your muscles tighten? These are actual physiological changes that take place and serve as points of caution.
4. Understanding when to allow yourself to blow up completely versus when you need to exercise restraint.
5. Be assertive and express your hurt, displeasure, or discomfort. You don’t have to “lose it” every time. There’s a time and place for everything and you can’t behave like a ticking time bomb wherever you go. Being assertive means that you are able to approach a situation from a space of balance and can consider the overall good of everyone involved.
However, most of us engage in destructive anger. We let our anger control and consume us because we haven’t considered the possibility of channelizing our anger. Hence, we are always trying to avoid being controlled by it or are too busy being controlled.
Majority of us lie on the opposite ends of this dimension of anger. On one hand, we continue to swallow our anger, suppress it, push it down till one fine day we can’t hold it in anymore. On the other hand, some of us simply explode. We scream, shout, hit, break things and people’s hearts, and say things that we end up regretting later. Basically, we become aggressive.
Both these ways of responding when we’re angry are destructive because they are causing damages internally and externally.
The middle ground is called assertion where we are not being ruled by our anger. Rather, we can exercise a pause when angry and consciously choose whether we want to not say certain things or say whatever we want the way we want to.
Making our anger work for us is about understanding that there are various ways in which we can channel our anger. It’s about giving it a direction so that it can create something meaningful for us even in a tough situation.
“At the core of all anger lies a need that is not being fulfilled.” ~ Marshall Rosenberg
But how do we do that?
We do that by understanding the following things about anger:
1. Anger is a normal, natural response when we’re feeling hurt or violated. It comes up as a force that enables us to power through the obstacles in our way so that we can reach a particular goal or outcome that is important for us.
2. The energy of anger is high. This emotion propels us toward action. Hence, anger in itself isn’t the problem; our expression of it is.
3. To express your anger, you don’t have to go on personally attacking people verbally or physically. You only need to become aware of what is making you angry and address the issue. It’s not about starting a war unless you think there is a need.
4. Anger highlights that something you consider important is being blocked or tampered with. Maybe your sense of self is being disrespected, something important is being taken away from you, or a need is not being met. It serves as driving force.
5. Anger is usually a combination of a lot of other emotions that lie underneath it. Therefore, it demands more reflection and analysis. For instance, if your partner is not giving you time and you find yourself getting angry every now and then, chances are that you are also feeling sad, lonely, invisible, unheard, and uncared for, and these emotions and unmet needs are coming out through your anger.
6. Anger can lead to tunnel vision. When you’re gripped by it, your vision goes for a toss. You are consumed by your own perspective about what happened, and that may not be the entire truth. Therefore, you need to learn to step back and zoom in to get the full picture before you take any action.
7. In any given situation, your anger is a creation of your own interpretation. Therefore, work with your interpretation, and the action gets taken care of automatically.
And then it’s about learning to channel this energy so that when you find yourself in critical situations, you’re not eaten alive by it.
“When you let anger get the best of you, it brings out the worst in you.” ~ Anonymous
Here are some ways in which you can do that:
>> Identify your triggers—what are some situations, incidents that often rile you up?
>> Notice how anger shows up in your body so that you recognize them as cues when your anger starts to show up.
>> Pause the minute you notice yourself getting edgy, agitated, or irritated. Pause whatever you’re doing or are about to say so that you don’t cause any damage. Excuse yourself from the situation for a few minutes so that you can cool down.
>> Practice the above three points repeatedly till your brain does this automatically.
>> Learn to manage your stress effectively—sleep well, exercise, engage in activities that help you to relax.
>> Identify some issues that keep pissing you off repeatedly and resolve them.
>> Take time out for self-care.
>> Let go of events, incidents, words, or actions instead of holding onto grudges. Life’s too short to hold onto the bad stuff.
>> Forgive yourself and others who have wronged you. You don’t need to keep this fire of anger burning within you for your entire life. It’s only you who’s going to get burnt.
Remember, your anger can be your ally only if you learn to befriend it. It can be the kind of driver who randomly hijacks your car, drives it aimlessly, and destroys everything that comes in its way or you can be at the driving seat and use this anger as the fuel.
The choice is yours.
“Anybody can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” ~ Aristotle