We all come wired for anger. It’s a vital part of our emotional programming, that thing that separates us from the machines. But you can use a machine to imagine the different levels of anger, just think of your stove:
- The lowest setting (simmer) is like feeling annoyed, irritated
- The medium setting is closer to cross, offended
- Then there’s the high setting – this is more like a rolling boil = real anger
- Lastly, you get the red hot grill and this is rage, fury
What Is Anger For?
Sadness, happiness, restlessness, fear and anger are all emotions hard-coded into us for survival and socialisation. Where fear operates as an instant switch, getting us to either run from danger or fight it off, anger is the heat that we’d use to sustain the fight. Used properly, it’s meant to act like a burst of nuclear energy that puffs us up, makes us strong enough to face something (or someone) bigger than us. But that’s anger in its simplest form.
Where Does Anger Go Wrong?
Long ago, when all we had to worry about was avoiding predators and getting supper, anger was probably quietly just waiting in its lane for the right moment. When under threat fear would shoot us into fight-mode, anger would rise on a red tide of adrenaline, we’d win (I hope), and then anger would subside, leaving us with shaking legs and a feeling of massive relief. But in a society where we’re crowded together on freeways, in supermarket check-out lines or browsing for the most awful sites/comments, anger can become an unmanageable emotion.
It goes wrong in one of two ways:
- we get a burst of anger and lash out in unacceptable ways
- we stay angry for longer than necessary, and it becomes our normal setting
The first problem can get you put in jail, hurt or killed. The second can ruin your relationships, your health or put a serious dent in your career.
How to train the beast
- Timeout: Learn what triggers your anger and take a moment to count to 10 and breathe before reacting. One of two things will happen: you can respond reasonably and the situation will resolve itself, or you can walk away and tackle it another time. Either way, you get to avert a potential mess.
- Avoid the blame-game: Simple changes to language are effective here. Using ‘you’ turns every line into potential criticism or blame, so use ‘I’ statements to tackle problems. Be specific and calm, such as: “I’m upset that you left the kitchen without offering to help wash the dishes” rather than, “You never do anything around here!”.
- Don’t get headlocked by grudges: Being able to let things go is a great strength. Conversely, allowing offence and anger to elbow out positive feelings like happiness can impact emotional and physical health. If you can sort a situation out in a reasonable way, do it – if something is impossible to resolve, move on. And remember: it’s unreasonable to expect people to behave exactly the way you’d like them to at all times, this is not how people are.
Learning how to manage anger takes time and attention, but the pay-off is amazing – plus, it gets easier. Within a relatively short time, you’ll see an improvement in relationships, the workplace and your health.
It costs nothing but a bit of time and attention – go on, you can do this!
(pic from patch.com)