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Effectively Coping with Anger
By: Grant Kono, LCSW
Anger is generally the most self destructive emotion that you feel. This is because it’s an emotion focused on action. If you are not acting on the anger, then you are thinking about acting on the anger or hoping that someone else will act on the anger.
Anger always comes from a feeling of being oppressed, victimized, of boundaries being violated. The feeling can be felt personally or it can be observed to happen to someone else or to a group of people and then the feeling becomes personalized.
Although anger is an emotion that tends to be impulsively acted upon, it is actually a feeling that requires other emotions in order to be experienced. Anger always has the elements of anxiety and frustration at work. These emotions are usually harbored for some time before the emotion of anger arises. There is usually a triggering event or events from which the anger originates. Most often, there are a number of unresolved experiences prior to the triggering event(s) where these emotions are generated that are also involved. The experiences may be centered on a theme or general situation.
How Anger Arises
You may think that anger tends to come out of the blue, that you are generally a calm, rational person. What is more often the case is that you learn to live with a certain amount of suppressed anger, often kept at bay by addictive behaviors. Every once in awhile the amount of anger that you normally feel, and are normally capable of managing, is increased by an event, causing you to need to vent the extra anger that you now cannot manage, much like a pressure cooker venting steam. Once the excess anger is vented, you will probably go back to your normal routine, feeling like that anger was uncharacteristically felt and so most likely not your fault. When looking for who’s at fault, blame is placed outward, like the person who cut you off on the freeway, your boss, your wife, your kids, your car, etc.
The problem with this feeling of victimization is that when you have the belief that this feeling of anger does not originate in you, there is no longer a reason to change the feeling in you. Instead, this feeling of oppression always means that there is someone or something oppressing you. And so the responsibility for your emotion is projected onto someone else. Now that your anger is someone else’s fault, there is no reason to confront your feelings. The action that you will take, or at least want to take, is to change that person or thing that you believe caused you to become angry.
The Angry Crusade
And so, the angry person goes on a never-ending crusade to right one wrong after another, not realizing that the anger is originating in him, and therefore trying to force people and situations to stop him from feeling angry. What you end up finding is that the crusade really is never ending. Once you force someone to stop making you angry you find someone else who makes you angry, and so you are on to another crusade. In the process, you force those people around you to your will or you force them out of your life. The people who are forced to your will must take on your belief that you were victimized by someone’s or something’s action or inaction, or to begin harboring their own feelings of oppression from you.
Making Others Responsible For Your Feelings
What you have really done is to make them become hyper-aware of your moods. This is necessary since the anger is almost always the last straw in a series of emotions and events nearly always spanning years, and so often difficult to pinpoint what the straw is or when it will next fall on the camel’s back. Since the people around you will never really be able to tell what the final straw will be, they become forced to monitor your emotions and to avoid any hot spots where they know you will become angry. In effect, what you have done is to make them responsible for controlling your anger. What you will unknowingly create are submissive and anxious people who will also begin to generate their own feelings of victimization and anger.
Chronically Suppressed Anger
People who chronically suppress their anger carry certain characteristics to their personality. They tend to have at least one addictive behavior, such as gambling, drinking, drugs, etc. They tend to be moody and cope with their moodiness by trying to feel happy, and also try to be around other people who they believe are happy. They try to keep their inner struggle with anger out of their awareness, as well as away from other people’s awareness. This struggle is a constant struggle and so the need to suppress their feelings and redirect their attention is also constant and tends to be impulsive, rising and falling with the tides of their inner struggle. Individuals who chronically suppress anger tend to find others who are going through similar struggles.
A Community of Anger
Individuals harboring anger find each other through their similar needs to engage in addictive activities, to make quick relationships that will help stem the tides of their moods, and who will understand their struggle because the other person is going through the same struggle.
Angry people usually do not have long term intimate relationships with each other, due to the volatility that is inherent in such a relationship. Instead, they tend to have angry friends who can support their feelings and behavior, while at the same time not constantly triggering each other, which they would be doing if they lived together. This supportive community often gets together to support each other’s beliefs of victimization and addictions, thereby unconsciously supporting each other’s underlying emotions that are causing these things in the first place.
Anger is an emotion that is very easy for the mind to understand, but is very draining on the body. It causes you to want to run or fight, forcing the body to constantly release adrenalin, which becomes very taxing over the long term. Anger also doesn’t allow for positive feelings to flow. It is hard to want to retaliate toward someone when you’re feeling happy.
The mind’s response to this is to make you surround yourself with people and things that support your anger. You’ll find yourself listening to angry music. You will want to watch violent movies, and it might be a bonus if the hero in the movie is justified in being angry and acting out of his anger. You will perceive people and situations to be threats to you that someone without anger would not.
An interesting twist to anger is that you will begin to become aware of the destructive potential that you have should you act out of your anger. You will begin to project this potential onto other people who are angry, and begin to be anxious and hyper-aware of them, just as you have forced other people to become hyper-aware of you.
The Value of Anger
Is anger a bad thing? Yes and no. It is like the exhaust from a car. Does the exhaust pollute? Yes. Can I run my petroleum-fueled car without making exhaust? No. Are there other types of fuel that can be used that do not have this exhaust? Yes, and car manufacturers are slowly looking to alternative types of fuel. Ultimately, I do not believe that there is a place for anger in a society. However, the people in the society must reach a certain level in their emotional evolution to stop their own anger. Anything that you can do when angry, you can also do when calm and focused. Only when you are calm and focused you will have more options to you and you will be more in control of your actions. Anger will put blinders on you. It will force you into believing that you have only a few options, if that many.
That being said, anger also gives a person the motivation and courage to establish and maintain emotional boundaries. These boundaries are important for the continuing evolution of that person. But at some point the anger must be dropped in order to continue evolving emotionally. Like the example above, at the point we are in our evolution of fuel sources, we need petroleum in order to power many things. However, the exhaust is polluting our air, and has come to a point to where many people believe that long-term damage to our planet will happen if we do not reduce our use and find alternative fuel sources. In that same way, we must find alternative ways to look at ourselves and others that do not cause anger. In so doing, we will find alternative fuel, or emotions, in ourselves besides anger.
Why Do We Have Anger?
Anger is the normal evolution of our suppressed emotions. If you were to take the need to act on your anger away, it would simply indicate to you that you have anxiety and frustration built up in your body, and that it is now being funneled into anger by your belief that you are being victimized.
What Do I Do When Something Makes Me Angry?
Stop believing that something or someone else has made you angry. Start realizing that this person or thing has only triggered a feeling of victimization that you have set yourself up for by allowing unresolved feelings of anxiety and frustration accumulate. Start confronting your emotions. This does not mean that you have to stay in a certain situation. Rather, it means that you must calmly and rationally evaluate the situation(s) in your life that are causing anger, how they are benefiting you, hurting you, triggering your anger, your own role in the situations, and then decide what course of action, if any, to take.
No. I mean, what do I do right now when something makes me angry?
Unplug yourself from the person or the situation. When you feel angry, you will also feel plugged in. You will feel plugged into feeling victimized, plugged into wanting to retaliate, plugged into needing to start a course of action soon, if not immediately, the course of action often being aggressive.
The simplest, most direct answer to this is to unplug yourself. Walk away, take time out to clear your head. Don’t stay in the immediate situation and try to reason your way out or reason the situation out when your anger has been triggered. Step away from the person, the situation. In doing so, you will symbolically begin to step away from your anger and the beliefs associated with it. But this is only the beginning.
Anger is an emotion that usually takes years, or at least a number of unresolved experiences, to develop. It almost always has a number of attitudes and behaviors accompanying it in order to keep it in place. So the process of untangling your ball of anger will also take time.
The Place of Shame and Guilt
Unchecked anger can be a gruesome thing to observe, and certainly to experience. Adrenalin fuels anger. An angry person can become addicted to this feeling of adrenalin and the extra power flowing through his body, and so the destruction and impulsive actions that he is capable of can become addictive as well. One of the elements that people who constantly commit aggressive acts toward others have is anger. One of the elements that they lack is shame or guilt for their actions, allowing them to act on their angry feelings again and again.
All societies use shame and guilt in order to control their populace. It is probably one of the reasons why we haven’t killed ourselves off as a species. It would be wonderful if we all could have respect, empathy and compassion for all beings, but that takes a certain level of emotional and social maturity that is not always reached by people.
Instead, we are instilled at an early age of the sense of right and wrong, and of being good or bad people depending on our actions. While some people talk about the problems with guilt and shame, these are necessary emotions to feel until you can rise above these and begin feeling respect, empathy and compassion for others.
What do I do if I really want to get rid of these angry feelings?
The Active Work
First, realize that this process is going to be a long haul. It will most likely take years of concerted effort.
Take complete responsibility for your anger. That doesn’t mean that you need to stay in a situation that makes you angry, or that you shouldn’t address the situation to change it. It means that the emotion of anger that you are feeling is completely yours. You unconsciously set yourself up to feel angry by allowing an accumulation of anxiety and frustration to develop. Then you unconsciously allowed situations to arise that would make you feel victimized. It is like unconsciously putting a chip on your shoulder and then feeling victimized when someone knocks it off.
Begin making a note of every time that you feel angry. As you do this more often you will realize that you become angry far more often than you realized.
Begin making a note of every time that you feel frustrated and your frustration turns to anger.
Begin making a note of how often you feel anxious. You probably feel some level of anxiety most of the day.
Begin observing all the ways that your lifestyle, behaviors, and attitudes support this feeling of anger. What friends, family, associates also feel angry?
Now begin to make changes in your life. You must make a conscious decision that you will not act or think out of anger. Notice that this isn’t to say that you will not feel anger, or that it will not be a part of your life for a long time. Instead you are choosing to think and act in ways that are not influenced by your anger.
You must begin taking away the things and people who support your anger. Sometimes this means simply changing the way you interact with others, but most often it means leaving certain lifestyles and people behind.
Next, begin associating with others who support a life without anger. Have you noticed that these are all actions? None of these things have to do with changing your emotions. That’s the hard part. You can do all the things up to this point and have a lot of tools in order to begin removing anger from your life. If you want to get to the root of the problem, then read on.
The Emotional Work
Here comes the hard part. Begin to forgive yourself for being angry. Even though you might not realize it now, your anger is part of an unconscious coping mechanism that the human psyche has learned to adapt in order to help you survive. However, you must realize that there are better ways to respond to situations than to become angry. You must believe that there is always a better way to respond to a situation than to become angry, to feel that you are a victim.
Work at forgiving others for their part in triggering your anger. Begin to believe that these people struggle with their emotions on a daily basis, just as you do. It can be difficult to come to a realization of this, but you can trust that they struggle also.
Now you must begin feeling the pain and hardship that you brought upon others due to your behaviors. Anger rarely just effects those directly involved. There are often emotions felt by third parties on both sides of any conflict. You don’t necessarily have to seek out every person and ask forgiveness, but you need to contemplate on how many people you may have impacted in a negative way by your actions. This is one of the ways that you will begin to gain awareness of the impact that actions, both positive and negative, have on those around us and on society itself.
Finally, you need to go back into your memory and begin to unearth those experiences where you began the seeds of feeling victimized, feeling frustrated, feeling chronically anxious. They almost always go back to your childhood. If they do, look to see if there is a pattern that goes back generations to your parents, and their parents. One of the things that you may be doing is unraveling a pattern of dealing with your emotions that has gone on for generations.
Is the work hard? Is it tedious? Is it painful? Will you feel bad? Is it ultimately worth it? Yes to all. You will almost always need support on this journey. Avoid seeking help from those who are still plugged into old patterns that you are trying to shed. Seek out those who can show you compassion. Find others who are on the journey. Those people who have made significant progress on this journey are unusual. If you find someone like this, consider yourself lucky, and welcome whatever support this person can give you. If you need professional support, seek out a psychotherapist who understands where you are and who you are comfortable with. If you believe in God, or another source of a higher power, seek Him/Her/It out. Above all, don’t give up. Realize that there will probably be a number of backslides on your journey of shedding anger. Learn to be gentle with yourself as you learn to be gentle with others, and take better and better care of yourself as you learn to truly participate in life and with others better and better.