When it comes to anger, control is important so that you do not go off the deep end. This is what it means to stay calm.
Staying calm does not mean that you stop being angry.
What you want to learn is how to both manage and master your anger so that it works for you and you can use the energy it gives you to correct a negative situation.
This is what I mean when I talk about strategically deploying your anger.
Let me give you some background information so you understand what anger is and what happens to you when get angry. I will then give you some suggestions you can use to help you master your anger so that you can say what you need to and deal with the situation.
Anger is one of the 6 basic emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, surprise and disgust) that humans have had since time began. The job of anger is to prepare us to fight off threats that will harm us if not dealt with. When we were living in caves, these threats were always real and usually were life threatening. When angry, adrenaline is released into the body and prepares us for battle by giving us the energy we need to overpower our adversary
Fast forward to the 21st century.
Today, anger acts on you the same way that it did for Mr. Caveman.
Your anger tells you that you perceive a threat to you. Today, unlike for our ancestors, most threats are not survival based. They are threats to our ego, our sense of right and wrong, our values and so forth.
I call these psychological threats.
With the above in mind, let’s take a look at what you can do.
- The suggestions I will be making sound simple to do and they are.
- However, they will not be easy to do in the situation when you are angry.
- Consequently, in order to use these suggestions, you will have to practice them.
This is a mistake that many writers make.
- The writer offers a strategy. The reader tries to implement the strategy. Nothing changes. The reader feels more frustrated.
- I hope this does not happen to you, my readers.
You should practice moving into anger management as soon as you become aware that you are getting angry.
You manage your anger when you create both psychological and physical “space” between you and the person with whom you are interacting.
You create psychological space when you lower your initial arousal level so that you can respond rather than react to your situation. You do this by taking a deep breath as soon as you become aware of your anger.
There are two reasons for taking a deep breath.
1. The first reason is that the deep breath relaxes you physically and lowers your arousal (level of energy). If you need to take several deep breaths, that is okay.
Most people tend to get over-energized in angry situations. The deep breath helps to counter this,
2. The second reason is that the breath gives you a few seconds to collect your thoughts. Your thoughts (perceptions) are what create the anger in the first place.
You create physical space by taking a step back from the other person.
You do this for two reasons.
1. First of all, it gives you some additional safe space if you need it.
2. Secondly, it sends a message to the other person that you are not a threat to them.
This physical space can be a small or a large step back.
Anger management involves lowering your level of arousal and most writers talk about anger management as an end goal.
I suggest you move on to anger mastery which involves resolving the situation in which you find yourself by either strategically deploying your anger if the threat is valid or letting go of the anger if you determine that you have misinterpreted the other person’s behavior.
When you master your anger, you attempt to assess the nature of the threat and choose your most adaptive response.
When you are in the middle of an interpersonal interaction the goal of which is to communicate your concerns, there are two assessments to be made:
- On the one hand, you need to assess the validity of the threat that you perceive in the situation that is leading up to (not causing) your anger.
- Secondly, if the other person is expressing anger (or its lesser cousin irritation), you should attempt to assess the threat that he (or she) perceives in you.
There are two reasons for assessing the nature of the perceived threat (both yours and theirs).
1. When you think about the threat, you give yourself a few moments to “calm down” a bit further and plan your response.
Note: You are not becoming less angry. You are simply letting some of the energy go so you can take effective action.
As an analogy, when you are in your car, you slow down just enough to get around the curve. Too much speed, you get in an accident. You don’t stop the car, you just drop the level of energy (speed, in this case) to remain effective.
2. Thinking about your adversary’s perception of threat gives you an advantage in that it helps you manage your own anger by giving you some awareness of where their anger is coming from so you don’t take it personally and helps you deal with him or her.
If you can’t figure out what their threat is, this is okay. You can still master your own anger.
You may decide that there is no real threat and just let go of your anger.
If you decide that the threat is real, you can use all of your energy to effectively deal with it.
As I said above, it is easier for me to make these suggestions then it is for you to implement them when you are angry and over-energized. But you can learn to implement them!
With this in mind, I suggest that you “practice” these strategies.
Here is how…
In the comfort of your own home,
A. Review the strategy in your mind ==>
1. As soon as I become aware of my anger, I will stop and take a deep breath. If I need to, I’ll take two deep breaths.
2. Once my thoughts are more clear, I will think about the nature of the threat I perceive. If I can, I’ll try to get a fix on his or her perceived threat.
3. As my thoughts continue to clear and my energy level drops just enough, I’ll engage him or her in conversation.
B. Next, think about the last time you got angry and did something that was not very effective ( like crying or screaming)==>
1. Let’s say this is point B in the interaction.
2. Try to think back to point A when you first became aware of the anger.
3. Imagine yourself taking a deep breath and successfully implementing the strategy.
4. Do this several times.
C. You can also practice taking a deep breath with other feelings such as stress, anxiety and so forth.
The purpose is to give you a sense that you can do this (YOU CAN) so when you find yourself in the next angry encounter, you are more prepared to take effective action.
I welcome your comments.