Managing Anger

Anger is a universal emotion that we all have. The challenge is that we don’t always know how to deal with it effectively or use it to our advantage instead of letting it drive us. Even when we do know how to deal with it, practicing what we know is not always as easy as knowing what to do.

Another challenge is dealing with situations when others get angry. Of course, it goes without saying that dealing with hostile situations (when others get angry) is only possible when we know how to deal with our own anger first. We can’t help others unless we first help ourselves.

The reason we think we get angry is usually one of three: ourselves, others, or our situation or circumstance. When we get angry, our instant reaction is to let it all out of our system and put it on others without thinking twice about it. Of course, that only makes it worse for us and for others around us.

In order to understand why we get angry, it’s important to know and understand what anger is. Anger is an emotional response to our fears. When we get angry, it’s never about the thing we claim to be angry about. It’s always about the fear that is associated with it. When we get angry, it’s our ego talking. Of course, we’re not self-aware. If we had awareness, ego would hide itself.

Mark Twain on anger:

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

When we get angry, we end up hurting ourselves and others around us, but we end up hurting ourselves more. We use our circumstance as a reason for our anger. Remember, our anger can hurt us and others around us in ways that we can never take back. When we frequently get angry, we are also making ourselves more susceptible to heart attacks and higher stress levels.

The truth is that anger is rarely caused by a situation at hand. What matters most is how we respond in these situations. Anger is almost always followed by regret because it is our response to situations that hurt us more than the situation itself. It’s about being proactive.

Anger affects our judgement in many ways. It’s hard to think clearly when you are angry. When we get angry, we often get carried away and make decisions in the heat of the moment that we might regret later. We should never make decisions when we’re driven by emotions — especially when we are angry.

The problem is not anger itself. Anger is just a tool, and there is nothing good or bad about it. What matters is how we use it.

As Leo Roskin has said:

It is the weak who are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.

Preventing anger is more ideal than dealing with anger. Here are some ways to do that:

One way to prevent anger is to understand that life is difficult. Only when we accept and internalize this truth does it become possible to prepare for the difficult moments. That’s when we stop being reactive and start being proactive.

When we are proactive, we don’t blame ourselves or others. Instead, we accept responsibility for our lives and we do something about the situations we find ourselves in. Either we do something or we accept what we cannot change and make our peace with it. What we shouldn’t do is blame and criticize others or our situations. This is especially true when things don’t work out as we intend.

Believe in the paradigm that one must always be in control of one’s emotions regardless of the situation. Believe that our emotions are our slaves and not our master.

Stop taking yourself so seriously. Nothing we do today is going to affect the course of our civilization, so lighten up.

One of the least obvious reasons for our anger is that we haven’t taken the time to eat, move, or sleep well. We are sub-consciously choosing to use our anger as a response to our situation by not doing one or more of those things well.

Doing meditation for a few minutes every day can help us be more mindful and proactive. It also lessens our chances of becoming reactive and hostile, and, therefore, less angry.

Aristotle on anger:

Anyone can become angry — that is easy…but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way…this is not easy.

The best thing would be to prevent anger if possible. The next best thing would be to know how to deal with anger before we get angry. The single best way I know to deal with anger is to pause in the moment. When you find yourself angry, try to pause for a minute or two before responding. Of course, pausing in the heat of the moment is not easy, but it’s possible.

Here are some ways to deal with anger in the moment after you pause:

  • Check your ego. Realize that it’s not you who’s angry, it’s your ego that is making you angry. Ego and awareness cannot coexist. When we have awareness about our anger, ego has to leave. Remember, the purpose of ego is to keep you alone, and it will do anything to achieve this objective.

  • When you’re angry, be aware that you’re angry. When you are self-aware, even the act of saying “I’m angry” makes you less angry. It lights up the language centers in the brain that are in the more evolved frontal cortex, which give you more control over your actions and thoughts.

  • According to Tony Schwartz, we must pay close attention to how long we stay angry because that feeling can be poisonous to the body. The physiological feeling of anger (hormones associated with anger) moves through the body in under a minute. After that, it’s our choice whether to stay upset.

  • Use logic to kill anger. Try to rationally understand why you’re angry. Again, easier said than done in the heat of the moment, but works nonetheless.

  • Think about something or someone close to your heart that makes you smile, such as a loved one. This can often disarm anger, causing ego to hide and love to appear. Ego and love are mutually exclusive.

It’s possible that you’re angry about something even after the event has taken place. In those instances, we are dwelling on the past by blaming others. As a result, we become enslaved to them, and they can’t free us because they are unaware that they are our captor.

Maya Angelou on anger:

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.

In some cases, we express our anger silently in a passive-aggressive way. We do that by withdrawing, ignoring things, keeping to ourselves, staying aloof, talking to others only when they talk to us first, etc. Because we haven’t moved on from what we are angry about, it stays with us and affects our interactions with others in a sub-optimal way.

So, what do we do to vent it out in a healthy way? Well, try to let it out in a productive and non-threatening way by writing about it in your journal or talking to a friend so they can empathize with you. When your anger is directed at someone, write an email draft without ever sending it to them. Call it email therapy, if you will.

Do some kind of physical activity or pursue a leisure activity to take your mind off of it. Go for a workout since physical activity dissipates stress and gets some endorphins in your body.

Avoid smoking or drinking as a way to escape as those things will likely worsen your anger.

The point is that your anger needs to be vented out in some form and this works best when you can do it in a way that helps you rather than something that works against you.

How can we use anger to our advantage? How can we use it as a tool in a way that works for us and not against us? Find a way to use your anger positively and to your advantage. Also, feel the least amount of guilt in expressing it. For instance, when someone says passive-aggressive or sarcastic things to you, confront them in a calm, objective way. Ask them why they are saying things to hurt you and what you have done to deserve that. The worst thing you can do in the situation is to ignore what the other person is saying, and then dwell on it later without ever bringing closure to it.

How do we deal with situations when other people are angry? We need to know beforehand to value this principle, and even more so when we find ourselves in a “hostile” situation: We need to understand others before we can expect to be understood.

When others get mad, the last thing you want to do is respond with anger because that will only make things worse. Also, try not to give any “solutions” in the moment for a couple of reasons. First, you haven’t yet understood their predicament completely and giving any solution would be premature. In other words, you can’t prescribe before diagnosis. And second, because they are being driven by their emotions, they won’t listen to you since they are not in a state to listen.

Also understand that they are not angry at you or because of you even though it might appear so. It goes much deeper than that. Think of it as a response to their primal fears or thoughts that may be rooted in their childhood experiences.

At that point, simply try to empathize with them by listening and understanding without feeling the need to agree or disagree with them. Later, when you’ve understood them, after they have acknowledged you, and when the conversation turns logical/rational, you may then make your point and/or give an appropriate response.

Raymond W. Novaco on anger:

We all experience anger; anger only becomes a serious concern when an individual is angry too frequently, too intensely, and for too long.

We rarely get angry about things that we claim to be angry about. It’s almost always related to our primal thoughts or fears, and anger is our way of using these things as crutches.

Anger, even when justified, is highly irrational. We all have the ability to feel anger. The key is in using it as a tool to our advantage instead of letting it drive us and get the better of us.

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