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Controlling Your Anger

This fifth in a series of blogs about anger looks at more powerful ways of controlling your anger. Most people want to control their anger. Most, but not all, feel guilty after the outburst and want to stop. Indeed they may promise to stop, but “lose it” again and again. Modern brain science shows that when “triggered”, the brain produces anger in 1/50 of a second. The person has no control over the anger in that timescale. That is why it is so hard to break the habit. New skills must be learned and practiced over and over:

  1. Reduce or cut out over-stimulation

From TV, Internet and electronic games – and any other unbalancing elements of the modern lifestyle

  1. Untangle your emotional knots

Anger is often called a “secondary emotion” because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. A primary feeling is what is what is felt immediately before we feel anger. We might first feel afraid, attacked, offended, disrespected, forced, trapped, or pressured. So take a few moments and work out which other emotions are mixed up with or fuelling your anger?  Irritated, annoyed, bitter, resentful, disgusted, envious, frustrated, insecure, embarrassed, relieved, defeated, disappointed, hopeless, lonely, sad, anxious, defensive, afraid, guilty, uncomfortable, uneasy, regretful, ashamed etc etc.. All feelings, both positive and negative, are valid and a normal part of life and don’t even judge them. They change, they are expressed, and then we return to normal. The idea is to first recognise feelings so that we can control what we do with them:

  • Name your emotions: When you feel overwhelmed by emotions, stop, and take time out to name them. This gives us a sense of control over them and helps us to express emotions verbally rather than needing to act them out. Also recognise gradations – “I’m feeling really angry, but I can also notice some fear in there.”
  • Don’t judge them: Simply observe them, don’t beat yourself up over feeling as you do. Feelings do rise and fall.
  • Be curious: Ask yourself: “What percent of your feeling fits with what just happened in the here-and-now? How much of it is probably related in some way to the trauma? 50%? 80% ? Feelings always make sense. Like a scientist who observes with detachment, see if you can identify the cause or trigger of the feelings. Distinguish between feelings and actions. You don’t have to do anything with feelings if you choose not to. Or you might constructively express your feelings in writing or talk things over with someone you trust.
  1. De-clutter your space

Physical or mental clutter adds to a general sense of disarray. If you’re having difficulty focusing and emotions are clouding your view, simply spending half an hour tidying your workspace, sitting room or bedroom can help clear your mind. If the clutter is mental, see if you can do the same thing – work out what’s important and what isn’t, what you can do something about and what you can’t. If it helps, write it down in the form of lists – and then choose to ignore at least for the time being anything that isn’t a priority and anything that that you are not in a position to do anything about.

  1. Look at your emotional needs

Are your emotional needs being met in a balanced way? For instance, a lack of a sense of achievement or status or control or connection with others may cause feelings of inferiority and hostility. I would spend time during sessions having a close look at your emotional needs and having a look to see if there are ways that you might be able to better meet them. (See also my blog on Emotional Needs)

  1. Use humour

Laughter can be a great release. Using humour does not mean that life is a joke. But sometimes we all take things too seriously. Humour is about standing back from life’s more serious side, to look at the funny things. Think about the last time you had a good laugh. You may have felt good – really alive and at ease– and not angry at all.

  1. Access your personal resources

Although you might not feel it right now, you have a whole stash of personal strengths and resources that will help you to get through the tough times.

These can include internal resources such as being strongly motivated and determined or external resources such as having a supportive partner or family.  Other examples include:

  • Hope – the ability to believe that things can be different, that life is worth living
  • Knowing your own needs and your limitations
  • Inner resources such as courage, strength, sense of humour, self motivation, ability to see something through, trust, hope, love, curiosity
  • Good physical health and energy
  • Money, a safe place to live, a car, a job
  • A strong sense of meaning and purpose in your life, perhaps a sense of a power greater than ourselves
  • A caring partner / family / friends

External Resources might include having a safe place to live, having a regular source of income, a supportive partner.

Which of your resources can be used in order to help you to manage anger?

  1. Learn how to express anger in a healthy way
  • Healthy anger means observing and experiencing anger without being overwhelmed by it and reacting to it.
  • Healthy anger means recognising our anger as a signal to explore the feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations that precede it.
  • Healthy anger means viewing anger as a signal to direct our attention inward to identify our core desires, needs, and values.
  • Healthy anger calls for developing self-compassion, which includes skills to enhance our sense of safety and connection.
  • Healthy anger includes developing strategies to let go of anger, which may include forgiving others and yourself.
  • Healthy anger encompasses compassionate practices that don’t cause suffering for others or for ourselves.
  • Healthy anger means learning how to communicate assertively with others.
  • Healthy anger enhances our resilience and overall well-being.
Need some advice and support?

If you would like more information about controlling your anger, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

See also: Learning about Anger, Healthy and Unhealthy Anger

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