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Anger Management: Discovering the Hidden Messages Behind Your Fury

Understanding Anger

Although feeling angry is justified in many cases, some of us may have a tendency to resort to anger on the daily- a pattern that can ultimately hijack our lives! Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion because we usually have another emotion that precedes it. The primary emotions that we are most likely to feel before anger are fear/anxiety, hurt, guilt, stress, or embarrassment. These emotions are often perceived as threatening to our well being, so a natural response is to feel like we need to defend ourselves. A common internal struggle some of us may have is feeling like this is just who we are and we will never be able to control our tempers! I can assure you, that we do have more control over our emotions than we think. With gaining better insight as to why we might be reacting in anger (doing some good ol’ reflection to see if we can identify a cause) and using some emotion regulation skills, we can start freeing ourselves from this turmoil. There could be many causes- traumatic experiences, never having learned how to express emotion, not feeling heard as a child, seeing a parent use anger as a way to express themselves, or growing up in a culture that shames sensitivity. Whatever the cause, it will need some attention and lovin’! Do we need to resolve something from the past- write a letter to ourselves or someone else? Do we need to hold space for our resentments or hurt and actively work on letting go?

The goal of anger management isn’t to stuff down our feelings of anger, but most importantly to understand the message behind it and to be able to express ourselves in a healthy manner. Just like anything we are working towards in life- the proof is in the pudding. These skills take practice and then a lot more practice. It takes time to unlearn the patterns we have been resorting to all our lives, so please be patient with yourself. Learning to control our emotions will help us build better relationships and ultimately live more meaningful and happier lives.

What Makes it Hard to Regulate Our Emotions

Lack of skill- we may not know how to regulate our emotions.

Reinforcement of emotional behaviour- we have been positively reinforced by our environment for being highly emotional.

Moodiness/emotional overload- we don’t think our emotions are a problem or do not want to put in the effort to try to manage them. Our mood tends to control what we do rather than using our logical “wisemind”.

Myths- we hold faulty beliefs when it comes to validating our emotions. An example might be letting someone know how I feel is a bad thing and shows weakness. Or, my emotions are who I am and should always be trusted.

Let’s Get Started: Checking the Facts!

If you have read some of our other blogs, you will know we really like checking our facts! So just like when we check the facts for our other thoughts (like anxious thoughts) we also have to check our thoughts and resulting feelings when it comes to regulating our emotions.

How to Check the Facts:

1- We need to identify which emotion we want to change- in this case it is anger

2- Then we try to pinpoint what triggered our anger (what happened before we felt angry)

Here we need to describe what happened using all of our senses and try to identify patterns- is there a specific situation that causes us to usually react in anger? Does it have anything to do with the time of day, people we are with? Are you easily angered by your partner’s PB&J’s sandwich crumbs being everywhere? Does not feeling in control have you bulldozing through your day?

3- Then we need to look at our thoughts, interpretations and assumptions about the event.

After identifying our triggers we need to challenge our judgements and cognitive distortions. Some might look like this:

Mind Reading-Thinking you “know” what someone else is thinking or feeling- that they purposely wanted to upset you or push your buttons.

Blaming- This one is common. Having a “life’s not fair” attitude or blaming others for your problems rather than taking responsibility for your own life.

“Shoulds” and “musts”- Having an inflexible view of how something must go. Reacting in anger when reality doesn’t line up with your demands.

We need to ask ourselves some questions here- Are there other possible interpretations? Is there a different way to look at this event? Does my anger and /or intensity fit the reality of the situation?

Remember- Anger issues have less to do with what happens to us and more to do with how we perceive and interpret situations.

If our anger does NOT fit the facts or when our anger is unhelpful in the situation (not effective) then we turn to a skill called Opposite Action. Feeling frustrated when you are cut off in traffic fits the facts, road rage does not! Feeling frustrated when you blow your bike tire on your commute to work fits the facts, being in a terrible mood for the remainder of the day because of it is unhelpful.

Opposite Action

Although this may seem silly, it can be really effective. If we intentionally alter our emotion and/or behaviour our thoughts will follow suit! So let's say you planned an entire vacation and you just found out that it has to be postponed. Instead of reacting in anger, shouting at the lucky person in our presence- we can take a time out or do something kind (be compassionate) towards ourselves or someone with us in that moment. We are doing the opposite of what we would do if our anger was unleashed. Something else we could do is change our body language- crack a half smile and turn our palms up to the ceiling in a willingful way (willing hands). These actions literally trick our minds (in a good way) into being more calm and then we can start to give ourselves a reality check.

Reality Check

It can be so hard to see the bigger picture when we are engulfed in our emotions. But if we can remain calm by using the skills above we can start thinking more reasonably and realistically. Great questions to ask ourselves to get a better perspective are:

How important is this in the grand scheme of things?

Is this worth ruining the rest of my day?

Is there anything I can do about this? Which leads to my next skill - Problem Solving!

Problem Solving

So if your facts are correct and the situation is the problem, start by brainstorming a solution, choose one and put it into action. It’s important to evaluate the results- if it didn’t meet your goal go back to an alternate solution!

Pros and Cons of Changing an Emotion

If we are trying to decide whether putting in all this effort to change our anger is worth it, completing a pros and cons worksheet might be helpful. Write down the pros and cons for staying angry AND choosing to regulate anger. See what comes up and then the decision might be really obvious. How is anger serving us? Is reducing our anger likely to increase or decrease our freedom. Is being attached to our emotions about a situation useful or not?

Prepare for Your Sore Spots

Another thing we can do is plan ahead! When we know what types of situations trigger us we can make ourselves a plan so when it actually happens we know what to do. This can be really helpful because when we are in the emotional mind it is hard to think clearly and objectively. Envision yourself doing what you planned just like how a figure skater might visualise their routine. This one can be very powerful.

Healthier Ways to Express our Emotions

If we can practice expressing ourselves in the moment instead of starting to feel angry, we may find that just expressing how we feel diffuses the situation with no further action required. If your spouse does something that is hurtful, instead of going off on them, tell them how you feel and how their actions affected you. You may have misinterpreted their intentions or they may immediately try to reconcile their behaviour. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements when expressing yourself. Using “I” prevents feelings of blame. If you are alone and you feel like rage is coming up, try journalling to express yourself.

Other Helpful Tidbits to Keep in Mind:

Make your relationship the priority- Instead of focusing on being right or “winning” the argument think about strengthening your relationship as the priority.

Be willing to forgive or let something go- when we feel like punishing someone, remember forgiveness will set you free. Oftentimes, if we are still processing or experiencing hurt from the past, letting go of something or radically accepting what happened is the key to moving forward.

Focus on the present- it’s all too easy, when something goes wrong to start bringing up other things from the past. Keep the focus on the present to establish a better chance at solving the problem.

That’s it for now friends. I hope this was somewhat useful! Regulating our emotions is not an easy thing to do. But just imagine a life without the yucky, toxic feelings of anger lingering around us, ready to pounce at any chance it gets! It just takes practice and lots of it. You got this!

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