Originally published in The Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch, 2016.
Like the other emotions, anger is part of being human. It moves within us and we discern what to do with it. Like the virtues, experiencing anger in appropriate amounts, leads to being good-tempered. We should get angry when the situation calls for it. Too much or too little indicates a problem.
Do you think you might have a problem with anger? Some people get angry too quickly, with the wrong people or at the wrong times, even though the anger calms quickly, it may be a problem. Some are ready to be angry with everything and at every occasion. There are those who are difficult to appease. Their anger seems to last forever. Or they repress it and sulk. Then there are those who get angry at the wrong things, or overreact and then stay angry until they can get back at the other person.
If you feel angry, you might listen to the argument to a point, but mishear it, feeling insulted where no insult exists.
Anger comes out of sadness. A difficulty occurs. Giving in leads to sadness. Moving to attack leads to anger. One of the first steps to overcoming anger is to focus on the enduring pain/emotion. What hurts to most?
When experiencing anger, you can either express it, suppress it, or calm it. Taking time to think about the core emotion is an act of calming the anger.
Increasing emotional awareness gives you the opportunity to learn to regulate emotion. Reflection leads to discovered meaning. You can learn to transform that emotion. It can’t just disappear. Like energy it can only be converted. Anger can transform to sadness or shame or compassion (the core emotion).
If you’re angry with the person, try empathizing. What might she be feeling? What could his motivation be? Empathy means picturing yourself in the other person’s shoes, with his perspective or background. You may respond differently to a situation, but empathy means seeing how her reaction was understandable for her.
If you find, even after reflection, that there was no misinterpretation on your part, that what happened was wrong, you were wronged, learning to express your feeling or experience in a clear and effective way will help satisfy your anger. It won’t erase the wrongdoing. Only forgiveness will help you to fully let go and move on.
In the mean time, some strategies to help manage anger include relaxation exercises, re-framing how you view the situation (empathy, alternative explanations), problem solving, better communication, using humor (not sarcasm), and changing your environment. There is a lot to be said for taking a twenty-minute break to cool down in the heart of an argument. Emotions are physical. Stepping away from the trigger will help calm the fight-or-flight mechanism that urges you to fight.
The earlier you can break the anger cycle, the better. Challenge the thoughts that trigger anger. You can talk yourself down as a friend might thinking to yourself, “calm down,” “relax,” “there might be another explanation.”
Give due justice by acknowledging when it’s reasonable that you are frustrated. Reflecting after an anger episode can help you build awareness to what words or actions trigger your anger. It can also help you avoid saying or doing things in the heat of anger. Everyone has an anger cycle. Try to draw yours on a piece of paper.
Venting anger won’t necessarily make you feel better (complaining, hitting things), but if you feel yourself losing control, it is always better to exercise your anger-energy in a safe way that does hurt people or property.