“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, "What else could this mean?”
―Shannon L. Alder
As most of you probably already know, when we are angry, we may do things that don't exactly reflect well on who we are. We may believe we make sense while in an angry mindset, but we're entirely irrational in reality. Like a drunk person who doesn't know when it's time to stop, anger hinders your judgment and makes you unaware of what's going on.
When you're angry, you're under the influence of strong chemicals. The amygdala, a part of your brain involved in the experience of anger, is one of the brain's most primitive components. After your amygdala alerts your body that you're angry, your adrenal gland kicks into action. Adrenaline is a chemical that increases your heart rate, forcing body contractions and blood flow to your brain and muscles. Your body starts producing more testosterone, a chemical that kicks your aggression into a higher gear.
Anger triggers you to say and possibly do things you regret. Things that don't reflect the full truth of who you are. Contrary to what some people think, anger doesn't make you speak the truth. It pushes you to talk from the most primitive part of yourself.
Lessons in Anger Management
Early in my career, I ran an anger management group for convicted felons. It wasn't my favorite job—most people in my group were aggressive—but I learned a lot in the process. The number one thing I learned is that it isn't necessarily the situation that makes us angry but what we tell ourselves about it.
During my time as a facilitator for the anger management group, I heard it all: "He cut me off on purpose! He was out to get me! That's why I had to pull out my gun." "She deserved to get punched! She was in my face, waving her finger and yelling at me." "He cut me in line. I was waiting, and the asshole just walked right in front of me. I had to push him out of the way." That's how the angry thoughts seduce you into acting out and getting you even more enraged—thinking the other person purposely and maliciously did something to you, and that you had no choice but to retaliate. It makes sense: If you feel attacked, you attack back.
However, no one in my group was actually in any danger. The danger was in their thought process. Anger is often a result of misunderstanding other people's actions and assigning our own meaning to them.
When people respond to situations with anger, there's usually more to the story. Behind their rage is a fear of being hurt, a fear of not being able to stand up for themselves, or a fear of unjust or unfair things happening. These are all understandable feelings. And anger is also appropriate in many situations. The experience of anger isn't wrong; it is when we express that anger in negative ways that it can be harmful to our lives.
Since anger can lead to aggressiveness and lashing out, it's essential to tap into your rational mind when you start to feel yourself getting angry. The goal is to learn how to self-soothe and self-regulate, working with the distress and negative feelings fueling the anger. To work on talking yourself down versus working yourself up. For example, when someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of assuming, "He saw me and must have done that on purpose!" you can think to yourself, "They must not have seen me, or maybe they had a long day. It has nothing to do with me personally."
It's important to remember that anger is a normal human emotion, and when it is managed and appropriately expressed, it isn't a problem. It only becomes a problem when you lose yourself in it. You may be feeling hurt, frightened, disappointed, worried, embarrassed, or frustrated, but express those emotions in the form of anger. That is what I found with my anger management group members: Their feelings were being expressed as anger. When we look within ourselves, we can see what is really behind our anger. And we can learn to express ourselves differently when we accept that it's okay to be vulnerable.
Quick Tips for Managing Your Anger in Everyday Life
1. Recognize the triggers for your anger, like specific comments, family members, friends, or places that tend to upset you.
2. Try to place yourself in the other person's shoes, seeking to understand where that person is coming from.
3. Pay attention to your body's warning signs of anger: tightness in shoulders, increased heart rate, hot face.
4. Continue an approach that works for you. This could include concentrating on your breathing, meditation, evaluating your thoughts, listening to music, going for a walk, or changing your environment.
5. Practice. Imagine being in a situation that makes you angry and draws upon one of your skills.
6. Remember, it's okay to get angry. It's a normal part of being human. The problem lies in how we manage and express it.
7. Don't judge yourself for getting angry. You are going to lose it every once in a while. Please don't beat yourself up about it.