Susan Dunn

Article Summary:

The key to dealing with anger is not to deny it, but to accept it.

Dealing With Anger: How to Control Your Anger (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part One: Understanding Anger

We have a long communal history of judging our anger and finding it “bad”. It’s hard to accept. It makes us somehow “not nice.” The physiological response to it doesn’t feel good, and we wish it would go away. We want to be “calmed down; at least those of us who aren’t so addicted to it we’re living in a state of hostility, on the verge of going postal, walking time bombs, coronaries waiting to happen.

However, the more we fight it, the greater the hold it will have on us, and we compound the stress. It takes energy to stuff it down and that takes its toll. Besides it doesn’t work.

The first step is to recognize and accept it. “Nothing’s either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” said the poet, and this applies to all our feelings, including anger. They are. They happen. They’re there for a reason, which should be noted. Judging our emotions only compounds the stress. Even in the Bible it says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” [Ephesians 4:26] The New Living Translation phrases it, “Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.”

It gains control over us when we do one of two things – either ignoring it, or reacting to it in knee-jerk fashion, and doing something harmful.

What’s the alternative? Sit with the anger. Experience it. Acknowledge it. Then move yourself to the higher center of the brain, the neocortex, and figure out what to do about it, if anything. Respond, don’t react. Put a pause in between feeling and action. Be willing to do nothing, while feeling it at the same time. But don’t ignore it.

Better Anthony’s wife had told him each time she was angry and asked for changes rather than just throwing the keys on the table one day and walking out. Then it was too late. There was too much water under the bridge, too much resentment, too much to deal with.

When we stuff it down, it’s likely to come out in the “kick the dog syndrome” as well. Some unsuspecting person will be the brunt of our resentment toward someone else, or we’ll get drunk, or crash the car, or trash our life in some way. Anger is energy.

One way to deal with anger is to learn to forgive. This is a long learning process for most of us, but, of course, we have plenty of opportunity to practice it. Unjustices occur all the time, and we have all been wronged. Learning to let go of this anger is part of Emotional Intelligence. One reason this is a good policy is because many of the most grievous injustices can’t be undone. An apology wouldn’t be enough. Therefore, we forgive, and we do so for our own benefit, not the benefit of the perpetrator. The anger will eat us up, while having little effect on the object of our anger, which means we are twice victims, and more the fool.

Channel the energy. When your boss makes you angry, go chop wood when you get home. Use the anger over your divorce to flame through graduate school. Get angry at the opposing team and win the football game. Write poetry when your mother dies. Master Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Concerto when your wife runs off with another man.

This is another method for dealing with anger. Name the feeling and claim it. It’s your anger. Intellectually speaking, someone could have said the same thing to someone else, and it would’ve had little or no effect. YOU are in the equation! “Aim it” means know where it’s coming from. Don’t slap your child because your partner infuriated you. “Tame it” means learning to self-soothe. Developing your emotional intelligence can help eventually to modulate your feelings. (So can therapy.) You experience them less strongly after time, if you work at dealing with them as they come up.

This is Paul Pearsall’s formula. He has a Ph.D. in psychoneuroimmunology and is the author of “The Pleasure Principle.” His work on anger is compelling, as he has studied the effect it has on our immunology system, which is our health.

Repressing anger makes us sick, and so does expressing it. There’s a plethora of research showing that just recalling an angering event causes the same reaction as if it were happening again in real time. Why do this to yourself over and over again? Wasn’t once enough? Skip the war stories, and skip the bypass, yes?

“Confess it,” says Pearsall, meaning roughly that you acknowledge you have it, and that maybe you aren’t “yourself,” or thinking straight. You take a break. Breathe deeply. Count to ten. Think it over. Move on.

Learning to manage anger is part of emotional intelligence. We are never far from the two-year-old throwing a tantrum. “We never grow up,” someone said, “We just learn how to behave in public.” The difference is self-awareness and tools – understanding the emotion, being able to stop, self-soothe and think it through, and not letting it get the better of us.

Susan Dunn, MA, of The EQ Coach, offers coaching, Internet courses and ebooks for your personal and professional success. She is founder of the EQ Alive! coach certification program, which has no residency requirement and trains coaches internationally. For a free ezine, email [email protected].

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