- Anger is a powerful, necessary, and hardwired survival reflex. You cannot tame it with the conscious brain.
- Processing anger is more doable if it is broken down into its components.
- Managing anger is an acquired skill that requires ongoing “adult education” in order to refine it.
- You will be using this expertise daily and indefinitely.
Anxiety is the sensation you feel when you sense real or perceived danger, and anger represents a more intense reaction when you can’t solve the threat. They are hardwired responses that are present in every living creature and sustain life. The only way to lower them is to decrease your levels of stress hormones, inflammatory markers, and metabolism (rate of fuel consumption).
You cannot reason with or control the flight-or-fight response. It is as effective as talking to the hard drive of your computer—it can’t work. Consciousness elicits the same threat physiology, but you can’t escape it. Consider how much of your life’s energy is consumed by battling these unpleasant emotions.
There are two distinct aspects of deep healing:
- Learning tools to neutralize and lower these survival reactions
- Placing your energies and attention on creating the life you want
Healing occurs as you move into wellness and away from the pain circuits. What doesn’t work is using “fun” and other activities to counteract these emotions. The bottom line is that you want to minimize your time in threat physiology and learn to create mental and physical safety. Regardless of the site of intervention, processing anger is focused on lowering the levels of the hormones and inflammation caused by your threat response.
You can directly lower these hormones, increase the resiliency of your nervous system, and learn to change the nature of your input. All three areas are important and require different tools. We are going to use the metaphor of a boarding academy to conceptualize the various strategies.
Welcome to “Anger Academy.”
Visualize walking onto a beautiful campus and seeing the main building bordered by two departmental ones. There is an entry gate with a security guard, and you must be carefully screened before you are allowed to be on the grounds. The three buildings represent:
- Output — the student center/food/spa/lounge — aka the main building
- Your nervous system — engineering and design center — on your right
- Input — educational/ training center — on your left
The curriculum — Enrollment
It is most desirable on a given day or moment to have your “output,” or your body’s neurochemical state, in a range that is neutral or relaxed. The more time you can spend in this state, the better. But anger is inevitable, and it is important to use it only when necessary and be careful not to cause damage—especially to those who are close to you.
The final physiological response is affected by 1) the reactivity of your nervous system and 2) the content of your input. It is a dynamic process that varies from minute to minute.
The state of your nervous system is influenced by your prior programming, current circumstances, and how you are caring for your body. For example, lack of sleep and exercise, along with a highly inflammatory diet, will elevate your levels of inflammation and compromise your coping skills.
Daily stresses are often overwhelming. If you come from a challenging and chaotic childhood, it is hard to feel safe because maybe you really never knew what that was like. Consider the hypervigilance of a feral cat compared to a pampered domestic one. It is difficult to truly tame a cat who has had to fend for itself from birth. It takes less stress to set off the threat response, and this is also hardwired for each individual.
Output is clearly affected by your “input.” There are two categories of input.
- What are you choosing to put into your nervous system?
- What are you holding onto from the past?
The first step is becoming aware of the nature and effects of your ongoing input. Once you have some clarity, there are multiple strategies to alter it. It is a deeply personal process.
The security area represents the current state of your body’s chemistry, and it can vary from a profile of being content and safe to upset and inflamed. Of course, the reason you are coming to this institution is that you are trapped in pain, and the levels of frustration often reach a level of rage. The sensations are intense and powerful. Your whole body, including your brain, is full of inflammatory markers. Your brain’s blood supply is diverted from your neocortex (thinking centers) to the lower centers that are meant more for basic survival.
In this state, it is not possible to think clearly or absorb new information. So, before you can enter the university to master anger processing skills, you must first normalize this inflammatory state. Your “output” is hypervigilant, which is the outcome of being trapped for any reason.
The “security guard” will take your temperature, vital signs, and see if you are calm enough to engage in learning the skills to process anger. This is not a small step in that anger is the greatest block to healing. There are many facets to it; it is powerful, and most people don’t want to give it up because it keeps you safe—whether the sense of safety is real or perceived.
If you are fired up, you can leave and return another day, or you can hang out in the spa just outside of the campus intended for your use to calm down. It has a pool, hot tub, massage, sauna, gym, and soft music. It is a beautiful modern building, and there could not be a more relaxing place to be. You can stay as long as you would like and return anytime.
If you choose to turn around and return to your prior situation without taking some action to calm down, it is unlikely that you will be able to meet the criteria to enter the campus. Regardless, whether you calm down on your own or with some help from your time in the spa, it is the first step in being able to engage in learning the strategies to understand and deal with anger. Your brain must come back “online.”
On the grounds
Once you are through security, you have a choice of which building you want to enter, but continuing to calm yourself is probably the best option. Each one has multiple resources to help you acquire anger processing expertise.
The main building in the center is a deluxe version of the spa area just outside of the campus. It’s large with nice facilities and concierge services. There is no limit as to how well you are treated. You can hang out with your friends, eat great food, and kick back in the jacuzzi. There are resources to teach you to self-soothe and nurture yourself. You may want to spend more time there to re-energize before you start to work on the other aspects of anger.
The engineering and design building on the right is where you will be rebuilding and strengthening your nervous system. Every action you take today is based on all of your life experiences up to this very second. It consists of your prior life programming, the state of your general health, and how skilled you already may be in using tools to calm and improve it. In essence, it is the sum total of your coping skills and resilience. Both can be refined and strengthened with a thoughtful approach.
The training/education building on your left is where you will learn strategies to process the input from your life—all of it. What is being entered into your nervous system affects the composition of the output.
Choices of input
Examples of what you might currently be uploading are conversations that are critical of others—either directly to them or in the form of gossip, discussing your pain and medical care, complaining, sharing a generally negative worldview, watching violent TV, etc. These types of activities keep your nervous system fired up with many direct effects on your body and peace of mind.
What are you holding onto from your past that continues to agitate you? Why would you do that? The past has little if anything to do with your day. You have given your quality of life over to someone or some entity that you despise. Forgiveness is an advanced set of techniques that dramatically alters the input into your nervous system.
A “working relationship with anger” diploma will allow you to efficiently neutralize your flight-or-flight response. It is one of the more practical degrees you can attain. Acquiring these skills is one of the most powerful and definitive moves you can make to take back control of your life. But remember, the first step is getting past security.
Anxiety is the sensation generated by your neurochemical response to a threat and is intended to motivate you to take action to solve it. If the stress persists, your reaction will become stronger; you’ll secrete more stress chemicals and feel anger. Anger is your body’s last-ditch effort to regain control.
It is a powerful and hardwired impersonal reaction. It is also complex and involves every cell and organ system in your body. You cannot survive without it, and it is impossible to thrive if this physiological state is sustained.
Developing a “working relationship” with anger involves understanding the different aspects of it and learning to minimize your time in a threat state through different portals. Do you want your life to continue to be an ongoing replay of your past, or are you ready to create the life you want—from reactive to creative?
Questions and considerations
- When trapped by chronic mental or physical pain, your brain and body are literally on fire. Your inflammatory markers are sky-high, and you cannot think clearly. Have you considered how you feel in this state and compared it to when you are calm? Even without pain, what is the quality of your life when you are enraged?
- Your brain is “offline” while you are angry, and it really is temporary insanity. It is humbling to consider how many “issues” disappear after you have calmed down.
- Every living species, including homo sapiens, has a version of this reaction. It is universal and intended to be unpleasant. So, why do you take it personally? It is protective, and what you possess, but not who you are.
- Forgiveness alone is the historic approach in addressing anger. However, it is a big leap to forgive in light of many circumstances. Anger is a complex, full-body response to an uncontrollable threat, and breaking it down into its components is a basic starting point to master dealing with it.