- Asserting and setting boundaries is a constructive way to channel anger.
- It is possible to dis-identify with anger by slowing down a sequence of events to notice the anger's origins.
- Anger can be released using the imagination.
In Part 1 of this article, I reviewed what are core emotions, what is core anger, and what is the difference between experiencing anger and acting on an angry impulse. This article shares four ways to channel angry impulses that are NOT destructive to ourselves or others.
Because almost everyone saw Will Smith's slap of Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars, and it clearly illustrates what a moment of unchecked impulsivity looks like, I will use this as an example. However, Smith is not alone. Acting impulsively is something we all do at times. This was a human moment if nothing else. Still, it benefits the entire human race to learn about anger and manage it skillfully.
Imagine you are Will Smith at the Oscars and you hear Chris Rock publically insult your wife. Your body tightens as anger triggers out of conscious control. You look at Jada and because emotions are contagious, you feel her emotions too. To make matters more complex, imagine that this anger is familiar. Chris Rock's provocative comment also evokes emotions from painful and traumatic childhood events.
What are constructive actions you can take at this moment and after?
1. Set firm boundaries and assert with words
Imagine putting all of your anger into your backbone and being direct about what you want. You let the person who angered you know that they have crossed a line. You ask them to stop and apologize if necessary.
For example, Smith could have noticed his anger, breathed deeply to slow himself down, felt his impulse to physically lash out, and instead strive to speak from his anger saying, “Chris, you have crossed a line. Never speak publicly of my family again!! You owe Jada an apology!”
When you set a boundary, you may get pushback. When you don't feel heard, stay calm, firm, and repeat your boundary again and again until you are heard. In general, the calmer the tone, the more another person will be able to hear what you are saying without getting reactive.
2. Shift from anger at the perpetrator to compassion for those hurt
When nothing can be done to change a situation, no action may be the best action—at least in the short term. Use emotional strength to shift from anger at the perpetrator to compassion for yourself and others hurt by the perpetrator's actions.
Instead of attacking Rock, Will might have focused his compassionate attention on Jada and asked, "Are you ok?" Or said, "I am so sorry Chris said that. I love and adore you."
3. Release angry energy using fantasy portrayals
In AEDP, the kind of trauma therapy I practice, we help people release old and new anger with the help of fantasy. Because the brain doesn't know the difference between fantasy and reality when it comes to emotions, we can use fantasy to release anger with much success.
The technique is to dis-identify with our anger, slowing down the whole sequence of events to notice the impulses of the anger as you feel them move through your body. Then imagine what it would look like if the anger could come out of you and do exactly what it wants to the perpetrator. The purpose of this is twofold: 1) initially, to get to know your anger and your impulses on the deepest level; and 2) to release the anger from the body so It doesn't lead to anxiety, depression, PTSD, or aggression.
For example, had Will learned to use fantasy to release anger, he might have been able to imagine getting up, walking to the stage, and slapping Rock, instead of actually doing it.
4. Tending to old wounds
Sometimes we have blocked anger from our childhood that leaks out in the present. If you suspect you have anger from past traumatic events or relationships that is negatively affecting your life today, you may want to consider a trained emotion-centered experiential trauma psychotherapist, pent-up anger can be released in safe ways as described above.
To tame anger, every one of us needs education on emotions plus tools to work with them in the mind and most especially the body. There is much we can do to help ourselves in life's challenging emotional moments. Until our society provides basic education in emotions and anger for all, we must take it upon ourselves to learn. The ultimate goal is to learn to feel our emotions, deal effectively with our emotions, and relate constructively all at the same time.
Fosha, D. (edited) (2021). Undoing Aloneness and the Transformation of Suffering Into Flourishing: AEDP 2.0. Washington DC: American Psychological Association
Fosha, D. (2000). The Transforming Power of Affect. New York: Basic Books.
Hendel, H. (2018). It’s Not Always Depression. Random House: New York