How do you deal with anger? It’s one of the hardest things to react to properly. Most people’s reaction is to A: let it cause an explosion, B: stuff it deep and pretend it’s not there, letting it squeak out in passive aggressive ways or C: direct it outwards at someone that perhaps didn’t deserve it. It’s like spreading a nasty virus – and often just as accidental, because anger has the tendency to render rational thinking useless. The goal then becomes finding a way to address your feelings with the appropriate actions.
Fighting and conflict isn’t necessarily a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes we just don’t agree and conflict will arise despite the fact that everyone is doing their best. However, it’s easy to misdirect and put the blame for our anger on a person that is not the total cause, because at the time you don’t have a whole lot of control and you also don’t care. You’re angry. It’s a mean and careless emotion! But it doesn’t have to burn so much down in its path. It can be extinguished much more painlessly if we can just hold onto the goal that we wish to let it go. It’s easy to decide to be angry and stay angry, fueling a desire to make others as upset as we might be; so that someone might understand the degree to which we are upset. In our rational minds we would never want this, for ourselves or anyone else. Being angry is terrible and it makes us into monsters. Let the goal be in the back of your mind, to find a way back to peace. In the face of a spark of anger, often all we can do is rely on our most basic and easily recalled tools. I really only have one, and that’s “stop”. If I am really mad, I try and tell myself to stop immediately. Don’t say anything, don’t do anything. Just wait until I am “sober” from the anger to see it objectively. Otherwise, I know I’m going to make a mess that didn’t need to be made.
If you do blow up at someone, give yourself a break, but try to think back about how you could have vented it to them sooner from a less super-angry place. It’s important to vent anger, otherwise it stews and becomes increasingly toxic inside your body, polluting your behavior and your perception. Unventilated anger also, interestingly, converts into depression over time. Altogether, not something you want inside. The hard part is always going to be figuring how to best accomplish that.
A simple rule of thumb when you’re angry is count to ten before saying anything. If you’re really angry, count higher and picture the numbers clearly in your head. Focus on the shapes. This might not go far enough in most cases but it’s something we can recollect while blinded by rage. If you are in a state of mind that’s definitely too emotional, wait until the next day. I am writing this in part to myself because I fail to listen to my better judgment the most often when I am angry. It takes discipline and maturity at a time when you couldn’t care less about “what you should do”.
One anger tool that’s good for cohabitation is to have an “emergency phrase” that has been fully defined in the severity of its implications. It’s like an anger alarm / emergency cord. Like “Really, really bad traffic” or “Code orange”. This tells another person, “I am not myself right now – make way or I might bite your head off.” That person can then know, “Oh, it’s not me. They are in crazy mode right now.” I like to think of anger as a match thrown into a pile of dry kindling, and it needs to be put into an incinerator so that it can burn up entirely with the right ventilation. My solution is usually the treadmill, or cooking from a cookbook (because it turns off my brain). Yours might be car-singing or whacking a golf ball. Whatever it is, respect the chemicals of rage and medicate them as best as you can, as soon as you can.
If you are angry at something someone does or doesn’t do, tell them. Express what it is you wanted them to do in as objective of verbiage as possible. Don’t coat it with broken glass on the way out. Deliver a clear communication of your needs and how they were not met, and also an acknowledgement that you are angry. This at least gives the other person a clear understanding of what has caused you to be upset. It’s much better than the infamous, “Are you mad?” “Not at all. Why don’t you just go on doing that thing that you were so insensitively doing?” This type of behavior is also crazy making because you are sending opposite messages. It also might cause that person to take you at face value and continue said insensitive act, causing you to bubble hotter and hotter in your now re-justified resent.
Another no-no of venting anger is bundling your objective communication with a painful dash of personal attack. “I am mad at you for being selfish”. That is not objective. That is a grenade thrown at someone’s character and an invitation to war. If your goal is truly to communicate so that you can solve your conflict and let this crappy angry feeling go, let your fights be about that one thing that they’re about. “I am angry because you only got food for yourself even though I always get food for you.” (Or whatever else you might be fighting about that’s less trivial.) When you stick to the facts, often they can inform real differences of understanding and interpretation and with that release a whole lot of misguided fury. If you do throw that grenade you might end up inflicting unintended harm on someone you care about, and that’s something you can’t take back.
On occasion, you might find that another person is mad at the simple fact that you are mad, which is fine – frustrating yes, but not yours to dismiss and also not your fault. Your anger exists whether they or you want it to or not. Think of it as you’re both in the same boat. Best to start bailing.
Venting anger will always be challenging and most likely ungraceful, because it’s uncomfortable to be in any conflict. It probably won’t come out the way you intended, period, but try and let it be what it is and don’t let it build into something greater, causing more injury to your relationships. Through conflict can come a greater insight into who we are and what we need from one another. It can show us how much another cares about our intentions. It can define boundaries and values, to even ourselves and bring them into sharper focus. There will always be conflict. What matters is the shared goal of resolution. We can never be perfect, but we can always be loving.
Happy Sunday, and love to you all. xox Sarah
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