It's safe for me to assume, since you are reading this, that you are a human being. Since you are, I know that there are times that anger has gotten the best of you. I know it has for me. I am not proud to say that I had quite a temper when I was younger. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say at least a few tennis rackets experienced my wrath when I was on my high-school team.
I'm much better at self-compassion these days, so I don't beat up on myself for losing my cool, especially for instances from years ago. The truth is that everyone "flips their lid" at times. We do and say things in a state of anger that, after we cool off, we regret.
These days, some of this anger is through our screens. Perhaps we say something on social media or "go off" on someone in a text. Some folks, who carry around much anger and unhappiness, repeatedly troll others online. Arguments often cause anger levels to rise in both parties, which is a losing scenario. Invariably though, when we lose our cool, those around us (including objects such as tennis rackets) suffer the consequences.
Losing Ourselves to Anger
I listened to a presentation by Dalai Lama many years ago that has helped me, and many clients, so I'd like to pass it on to you. I have my YouTube presentation below if you prefer that format.
The Dalai Lama explained how our default state is one of calm. We are most true to who we really are when we are in a calm state. When we become angry, we often do and say things that are not consistent with who we truly are. In fact, after we calm down, we often use phrases to describe these angry states such as "I lost my head" or "I wasn't myself."
Then, after we cool off, we frequently must apologize for those things we said and did in a state of anger. Why? Because they were not consistent with how we truly think and feel.
To be authentic, we must be true to ourselves. You might recall the line from Hamlet : "This above all: To thine ownself be true." Since our default state is one of calm, we should strive to not let our anger get the better of us.
So, What Do We Do About It?
The Dalai Lama suggested that we shouldn't do or say much of anything when we are really angry because it will not be a reflection of our true selves. Thus, we should try to calm down before we do or say anything. Cooling off becomes our first priority. Otherwise, we will likely regret it. This might mean we need to disengage with others while we take cool those hot flames of anger.
Of course, we should disengage tactfully if we are around others. We might say something like, "I'm so upset right now that I need to cool off first. Otherwise, I'm likely to do or say something that will be harmful or that I'll regret." If you have let others know that this is a strategy that you will use before you have to use it, then they will understand and give you the space that you need.
Anger Management Strategies
Many anger management techniques can be effective. Exercise works great for me, but find what works for you, and think about what has worked in the past. Some suggestions include:
- Talking to a friend.
- Playing a video game or watching a show.
- Meditating/doing deep breathing exercises.
- Reading a book.
- Going for a hike.
- Spending time outdoors in nature.
I've always liked neuropsychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel's recommendation regarding how to manage negative emotions: Name it to tame it. If we don't first recognize our negative emotions, we can't do anything about them. It's kind of like how we have to notice our shoelace is untied before we can fix it. To level that up one more, I am quite fond of Tara Brach's RAIN approach to dealing with difficult emotions.
In life, and especially when it comes to dealing with negative emotions, we want to respond vs. react . Sure, if something is flying at our face, we need to react by dodging. But reacting out of anger to those around us is a different story. Reacting in anger will usually just make the situation worse. Remember, "This above all: To thine ownself be true." This "true" you is the person you are right now as you are reading this...unless this article has ticked you off for some reason—in which case, if you want to post a comment, please cool off first.