Managing anger positively

Reversing our relationship with anger

Its a scene often played out in public. The stage may be a supermarket, a sporting ground, the schoolyard… the actors are typically a child and an adult whether its a parent, teacher or someone else in authority.

The scene involves the censorship of anger, usually where a child is reacting angrily and the adult is responding with something along the lines of “calm down, don’t be silly, don’t raise your voice at me, stop that or you wont get xyz’.*

I was young when I was taught to censor anger.

I realised early that becoming agitated only resulted in my parents ignoring me, refusing me or yelling back, it never resulted in feeling heard or understood, and it certainly never resulted in getting my way.

The problem however, was that whilst I learnt what not to do, no one ever showed me what to do with anger.  Whilst I learnt anger wasn’t a useful social response, I never quite learnt what I do with that big ball of rage and frustration that filled up inside me.

So I dealt with it to the degree that my six year-old self could.  I stuffed it down inside.  I solemnly stewed, or I would whisper to myself scripts that would later turn out to stick (I hate you, they hate you, no one listens, no one cares).  When I got a little older (and really angry) I would punch my thighs, scratch myself or pinch my skin until the pain drowned my frustration.

It was only years later that I learnt I wasn’t the only one using self-harm as a method to soothe (until then I just added my scripts to my growing list of inner critiques “oh my god what have I done’, ‘there’s something wrong with me’, ‘maybe I am crazy’)

It doesn’t take  a Psychiatrist to work out that I’d developed some pretty maladaptive ways to manage anger.  In fact the relationship I had with anger went something like this:

Burying anger

 

Yep, let’s just bury this sh*t down and hope it doesn’t come back as some awful zombie-fied version of its former self!

It was, ironically, only when I had something to really feel angry about that I learnt how to cope with anger.  And, what a powerful and motivating force it could be!  It was only when I experienced an anger so overwhelming that I decided to roll up my sleeves and find a new relationship with anger.

Read on to see how that worked out…

Positive way manage anger

Can anger actually be good for you?

Reversing how we look at anger (part two)

In my earlier post I shared some of the detail around my maladaptive relationship with anger.

On the inside whenever I felt like this:

Positive ways to deal with anger
Yep this was me

 

What you actually saw on the outside was this:

Positive ways to deal with anger
Nothing to see here people

 

And predictably this disjunct between how I felt and how I presented to the world led to feeling shame, concealing and not really living honestly.

It was, ironically, only when I had something to really feel angry about that I learnt how to cope with anger.  And, what a powerful and motivating force it could be!  It was only when I experienced an anger so overwhelming that I decided to roll up my sleeves and find a new relationship with anger.

Anger gets a bad rap, but really its an energy, like joy or excitement. It simply is.  But its often our reactions to anger that frighten us.  I use five powerful visualisations which help me understand anger.

Anger as a warning light

Imagine anger as a warning light on your dashboard.  Its often our bodies first internal response that something is upsetting us.  And anger can manifest in many ways.  You know that choking sensation, the crimson that creeps across your chest and face..?  Thats anger.  When I ask you how you are and you say “oh Im fine, just a bit stressed / frustrated”… um nope, you’re angry. And that’s FINE.

(I love Plutchik’s wheel of emotion, it helps me to understand and name emotions much sooner)

Recognising emotions
A great way to compartmentalise emotions

Anger as a compass

Anger is a powerful compass which points us in the direction of our values.  It may feel that an event has triggered your anger, but usually that event points directly to towards something you value that’s been harmed.

Anger as a blinker

So let me explain, a blinker (or blinder) is that pirate-patch thing that goes on a horse’s eyes.  They’re worn to help the horse focus ahead and not be distracted by whats behind or to the side of them.  Strangely, anger can have a ‘blinker’ effect. Many studies have shown the clarifying power that anger has including this seminal paper published in 2007 which revealed that contrary to popular belief that anger clouds our judgement, those experiencing a short bout of anger are actually much greater at thinking analytically and deliberately.

Anger as a springboard

Sometimes you need that ‘thing’ to propel you to greater heights.  Anger can be that thing, sometimes we need to reach a point of such discomfort that we’re motivated to do something about it.  Viewing anger as an apparatus to propel us forward can be really empowering, motivating us to make big choices and changes.

Anger as an optimiser

Interestingly, research reveals that people who experience anger are optimists.  Don’t believe me?  Then check out this link I’ve embedded to show you I know what Im talking about.  Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that getting angry makes you more optimistic, my interpretation of the study is that optimists are more likely to become angry at situations (opposed to pessimists who are more likely to experience fear), so anger is more of a barometer of your optimism rather than the cause of it.

So next time you’re mad, remember its because you’re actually this: