What is your relationship like with anger? How do you experience anger, and how do you express anger? We all get angry. Whether it’s road rage, a fight with our partner, or something that has happened that is out of our control, we all get flustered and frustrated. It’s okay to get angry. Yes, it really is okay to be pissed and to feel what you are feeling. Your feelings are valid, and your anger is a real emotion that requires tending to, just as any other human emotion.
Often times, anger can be a surface emotion that stems from something deeper, such as pain, shame, feeling attacked, feeling helpless, or simply feeling down. You can work on uncovering what is beneath the surface and process the source of your anger. If the anger is coming from a deeper source, such as not feeling heard and validated during an argument or feeling overwhelmed with life’s stressors, you can work through the causes and find new ways to communicate or cope. However, I believe it is equally important to simply acknowledge anger for what it is and to understand that anger is not the issue. Anger management issues stem partly from how we handle anger when we experience it and in what ways we choose to respond.
Buddha once said, “Do not learn how to react. Learn how to respond.” Going back to my previous question, how do you express anger? Do you react? Or do you respond? There is a space, no matter how minute, in which we have a choice to react or respond. The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) model shows us that the same event can result in differing responses based off of how we immediately think and feel. Using the CBT model, a great example is when one is driving on the highway and is quickly cut off by another driver. The event is being cut off while driving. Two different thought processes and responses are as follows:
This person cut me off! What a jerk! I’m going to chase this person down and show them! They will learn their lesson! I’m going after them now!
Wow, this person just cut me off. They must be in a hurry. I’m not going to risk my life for something so small. By the time I get to my destination, this will no longer be an issue for me. Let me let them go on by.
This example shows how the same event can create two different reactions and actions. There was a small window of space where the person could make a choice, including the choice of both thought responses and behavioral responses.
The CBT model highlights the importance of recognizing our immediate thoughts, emotional responses, and the behaviors that follow. Questions to consider: What makes you angry? What are your immediate thoughts and emotional responses when you become angry? What do you notice in your body and in your mind? What physical signs show you that you are angry? What rational and irrational thoughts come to mind? How do you respond? What do you do or say? What do you not say that maybe you could or should have said?
Thinking of a time when you became angry, remind yourself that it was okay to be angry. You became angry for a reason. Why did you become angry? Can you think of how you could have used your anger to best serve you? What is your anger telling you and showing you? How can you respond to either have your needs met, be heard, or be able to let it go? Using the space you had between the anger-producing event and what resulted afterwards, could you have reframed your thought patterns to produce a different outcome? Could you have used more effective communication skills to get your point across? Could you have used a mantra or a word/phrase to immediately help calm down and refocus? Could you have paused and asked yourself if this issue will matter in one month? In six months? In a year? Is this a pressing issue that needs to resolved in this moment, or is this a fleeting issue that can be let go?
The difference in reacting versus responding is how we choose to think and act. Responding requires us to pause and take a moment to reflect. During this moment of inner stillness, validate that you are angry. Validate that your immediate thoughts and emotions are okay and normal. You’re pissed, and you are allowed to be pissed. Now ask yourself how expressing your anger can best serve you and how you can benefit from expressing your thoughts and feelings. How does reacting serve you versus how does responding serve you? Based off of your answers, what will you choose? I hope you choose what you believe will best serve you.