We all have those days when we get to the end of our tether with life: your partner doesn’t appreciate you, your job sucks, bills keep going up, friends are being awkward, life is unfair and you just can’t get a break. And to top it all off, you’re tired as hell!
And just when you are on the edge of pulling your hair out, someone comes along and rubs you up the wrong way, causing you to erupt like a volcano.
The thing about anger is that we all do it differently. Some people huff and puff under their breath, some people lash out and lose the plot entirely, and others are more passive, choosing to go into silent retreat.
Anger can be very destructive, particularly if it becomes habitual default behaviour, a crutch for dealing with deeper issues we are unable to face up to and fully resolve.
Deep down we all have that primal instinct to attack when we feel backed into a corner; when we feel taken advantage of, humiliated or disrespected. For this reason, we can all benefit from learning to manage our anger in the best interests of ourselves and others.
Anger seldom brings about a positive outcome. It leads us into a delusional state, and the angrier we get the more we lose control of our thoughts and emotions. Anger takes the mind on an intoxicating trip, leading us away from the true nature of the circumstances and often making things seem a whole lot worse than they really are.
Once we have calmed down, we often feel terrible for the things we’ve said and done and the hurt and pain we have caused, which in some cases is extremely difficult to repair. In hindsight, the wasted energy arguing, shouting and working ourselves up into a hurricane of emotional torment can seem quite ridiculous, especially considering the trivial nature of the circumstances that triggered the outburst.
Yes, it is natural to get angry now and again, but caught in a regular cycle of anger episodes can begin to change the nature of the mind, like a drug of sorts.
Whether you are suffering with anger management issues, or someone who occasionally flips your lid and regrets doing so, you will no doubt recognise the six characteristics below that describe the escalation of anger and how it manipulates your mind into a monster:
- As you begin to get angry, you develop an inability to accept other people’s dislikes and preferences because they conflict with your own standpoint.
- When a person disagrees with your standpoint, you become caught in a whirlwind of random verbal projections and poor judgements that lead you to a delusional assessment of the situation.
- You then create a false reality of the situation based on assumptions driven by unfounded judgements of what someone else thinks or has said.
- You then begin fabricating associations with past negative experiences and allowing your mind to convince you that the world is conspiring against you (taking everything personally).
- You develop an arrogant mind-set that convinces you that you would be better off isolating yourself from others because they don’t understand you and lack the mental capacity to empathise with your position.
- The result is an inability to see the true nature of the situation and your faults within it. You are rendered unable to apologise and incapable of talking through and resolving issues peacefully.
This cycle demonstrates how anger takes you on a trip that closes the mind to peaceful resolution; manipulating the way you see the world and interact with others, and isolating you in a lonely, depressed mental state.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. By identifying what happens when we let anger get the better of us, we can develop ways of tempering its escalation.
So next time you feel as though you’re about to boil over and let the monster out of its cage, try using this 5-step anger management strategy to centre your mind and control the situation for a far more peaceful, positive outcome.
Step 1: Identify and label the signs
There is a point, way before the worst symptoms of anger kick in, where we can feel that we are being pushed towards our limit; whether by someone’s annoying or insulting behaviour or life’s tendency to be unfair.
Learn to identify with this feeling of losing control. Take time out when you are in a calm state of mind to write down what it feels like to be nearing the edge. What does the escalation of anger look like, what physical symptoms occur as it closes in? Perhaps at Stage 1 your breathing intensifies as you become anxious, and then at Stage 2 you begin to raise your voice sharply, and by Stage 3 you begin provocatively pointing and gesturing rudely at the person you are engaged with.
Building a a visual collage of your anger’s escalation on paper will help you develop a conscious control mechanism that prompts you to recognise which phase of self-destruction you are entering during a cycle of anger. In the early phases of escalation, when you still have a fair amount of control over your emotions, you’ll be able to spot these signs and implement the following 4 steps.
Step 2: Walk away at your chosen trigger point [using your affirmation]
I know, I know, you’ve heard “just walk away” a hundred times before, and it’s not that easy. But having completed Step 1, you now better understand the way your mind progressively controls your physical actions during the escalation of your anger – and let’s face it, you already know that the final outcome is never a positive one once your anger reaches a certain threshold.
The thing is this: we don’t just want to walk away at the slightest sign of anger in any situation, because sometimes a limited amount of controlled aggression is required, and of course quite natural for human beings to experience during certain situations that require us to be strong, assertive and a tad forceful.
For example, if someone is trying to manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do, a firm “No” accompanied by a strong point of your finger is a positive show of force. In this situation it is beneficial for you to assert yourself and display strength of character.
What I am talking about is boiling over; when you lose control. Your trigger point for walking away should be at a point where you realise that you are close to the cliff’s edge, that is: losing control of your mental ability to reason assertively and your capacity to control your physical actions. So learn where your control comfort zone is, and when you find yourself close to the perimeter and about to step outside, that’s your trigger to walk away.
Now, be aware that you don’t have to turn your back and walk away on the person you are engaged with without saying anything. Instead, take control of the situation by using a walk-away affirmation. For example, if a debate is getting too heated for comfort, you might choose to put your hands up, with palms facing at the other person (a sign of peace), and say, “I’m not comfortable with where we are in this conversation right now, so I’m going to step outside and take a walk.
Of course, you can develop different affirmations for different situations, but the ‘peace palms’ approach is an effective one.
Step 3: Take a long, primal walk
At this point you are probably pretty fired up, and it’s going to take you a while to cool off. So I recommend that you walk for as long as you can. Walking is a wonderful, natural way to calm the mind. If you have a park nearby, a trail to walk or any sort of natural setting where you can see trees and grass, that’s perfect.
Walk as hard and fast as you need to, and if you feel compelled to run, do that for a while. There’s no real template here. Just follow your primal instinct to get the release you need.
Once you feel calmer and have slowed to a reasonable pace, begin empting your mind by focussing on the immediate environment. The trick here is to notice everything and judge nothing. To just be here: existing, breathing, seeing and smelling. Notice sounds, smells, objects, people, insects, everything and anything. See everything as it is, without attaching any meaning or critical thinking to the process. The only thing you should focus on is putting one foot in front of the other.
Once you feel calmer (give it at least 30 minutes), you might try some stretching, yoga or seated meditation. Don’t try going straight into these releases after walking away from the tense situation you were in; you will need to walk off the adrenaline pumping around your body first.
Step 4: Let go of the negativity and visualise the positive aspects of your life
You are now at the point where you will have calmed down and your mind is seeing somewhat clearer. The most important thing at this stage is not to re-engage with the negative emotions associated with the anger by revisiting the situation over and over in your mind, which we have a tendency to do, especially after an argument. This will only encourage you to walk back into the situation and repeat the process, often with worse consequences.
For now it is important that you stay out of the angry space. To do this, pick a positive aspect of your life and focus on enjoying visuals surrounding this person or activity. It could be something fairly insignificant like practicing your golf swing over and over in your mind, or something very close to your heart like visuals of spending time with your son or daughter. Shroud your mind in a cloth of visual experiences surrounding that positive subject matter. Every time thoughts of the negative experience try to enter your space, simply take a deep breath and come back to the beginning and start again with focussing on this positive part of your life.
5. Empty the loose ends onto paper and fully let go
You might not reach this last stage until late in the day, or even the following day, but it is the most important part of the release process.
When you are completely free of negative emotions; when the anger has dissipated, the sadness evaporated and the mind is still, begin emptying your thoughts onto paper.
Now, it may be that you don’t feel the need to do this every time you get angry, and it is of course largely dependent on the gravity of the situation, but this is a good habit to get into and a really helpful exercise for putting anger to bed for good. In fact, this is a really effective mindfulness exercise for times when you can’t sleep and your mind is hopping around like a flea.
Make a cup of your favourite hot drink, find a quiet, relaxing space alone and, without forcing anything, write your post-anger thoughts down on paper. If nothing comes to mind, don’t do anything; put the pen down and kick back with your drink. You can come back to writing when thoughts appear and the mood takes you.
Don’t try to carefully construct sentences, and pay no attention to your grammar, spelling or writing style. Organise the page as you wish, perhaps separating your thoughts about different people and situations into different columns.
Where your emotions are concerned, try using a brainstorm bubble to create a picture of whatever you feel. You might feel sad, restless, sorry or hopeful. Whatever you feel simply let the words spill onto the page.
You might be wondering why you need to bother revisiting the situation in this way now that you are already in a happier place. And this is a valid point. After all, the past doesn’t exist anymore and cannot be changed in any way.
Well, while this is true, we need this last step to completely let go and move on. Think of this as a writing meditation. This final step helps mentally download all the loose ends and put them to rest. If you don’t do this and leave these loose ends festering, they will soon burrow themselves into your sub-conscious and niggle away at your newfound positive mind-set. And the moment you are confronted with anger again, these niggles will joyfully reappear and galvanise the party.
Writing everything down in this way will give you the insight and perspective you need to see just how sporadic, unreliable and darn right silly the mind can be. In fact, I’m sure you’ll end up chuckling to yourself a good few times during this practice: “I can’t believe I said/did that!”
Also consider that this isn’t just about you, either. You might be surprised to find that amidst the maze of words on the paper, you discover compassion for those who have upset you. In addition to your own shortcomings, you will appreciate that, like you, others too suffer with uncontrollable feelings that they occasionally let loose in a tirade of hurtful behaviour.
Things are said in anger that we don’t mean. We become irrational amidst a general build up of stress, anxiety, frustration and tiredness, causing us to say and do things that don’t truly reflect our nature. The more we study our minds the more we realise this to be true, and in turn realise that we should be more forgiving of our behaviour and that of others.
And so you see, this whole process is ultimately about forgiveness: forgiveness of yourself, which will allow you to move forward positively with clear seeing, and forgiveness of others, who require the same understanding and compassion that you do.
There are no further steps to guide you from here. Do what your heart is yearning for. If you want to cry, let it out. If you want to pick up the phone and say sorry, do that. If you want to hit the gym and break a hard sweat, do that.
Complete this healing process, move forward and let go. Anger is never helpful. It jades our perception of the true nature of circumstances and is by all accounts a destructive emotion. But remember to forgive yourself for getting angry. You are human, after all.