I find myself working more extensively with “Anger” these days. Clients, at the root of their distress, are enraged that they find themselves dealing with this intense emotion. In some families, you see, it’s just not OK to be angry, not even a little, and as “little people” we pick that up pretty fast when we get clobbered after expressing our extreme dissatisfaction with life’s daily demands.
As adults, we play out the same dramas we witnessed as children, and often with even more entitlement because we know exactly what most displeased the adults in our lives then. Once in a while, we’ll get a strong message to stop that behaviour from a family member, however, if it goes unchecked, this can become a solid strategy for engaging the world and finger-pointing at all the wrongdoing others are up to. Reality is, we’re all doing things wrong all the time. Little miss-steps, mistakes, fumbles, dropping the ball and at times outright strategies to make ourselves appear better, and on it goes…
Entitlement: Perhaps one of the worst forms of venting on others, raging at those innocents that happen to get into your field – “I’m entitled to rage at you, because this is my life and it’s so terrible, and somewhere I know I signed up for something better and I don’t want to get over it, I want to RAGE about it” When you don’t realize you are hurting others with your anger, and you just won’t stop the behaviour, you will find yourself quite alone in the world. That entitles the “suffering”. It’s true bad things do happen and sometimes in a continuous series too, and that feels overwhelming and hostile. Yet what to do about it?
Parents ask us to make up – forgive, or share of all things! And the delightful three-year-old would just as much like to give you a good poke, or a chomp on the arm, as share their new toy! And in some families, anger is just not OK at all so it must be diminished, squelched, and rejected. So where does the anger go? It doesn’t just dissipate into thin air, as children we see our parents moods and almost know them before we understand what they even mean. In fact, this is how children learn. Children often learn it’s better to be “depressed” than angry, so suppress the rage so we can all get along better at home.
Every family knows the “angry one” and the one to watch out for if they haven’t eaten, or are tired. Bad days at work can contribute to late afternoon brawls at the families expense. There is a whole host of places where people forget they are venting their mood on the people that most love them.
So what to do with the anger?
Anger and the self
When we witness angry behaviour in the adults around us, as children we begin to believe this is the way life operates. In fact we see everyone cowering to the one that is angriest. Does that mean the angriest one wins? Seems to.
Adults that get angry a lot, don’t stop and share with those around them, “hey I would have been better to do that differently, so if my anger upset you…etc” Because they feel the shame and guilt of having let loose on others and so their cold withdrawal also makes it hard on the relationship
As adults we feel losing control and letting anger turn into “big brother rage” becomes self shaming, and we just don’t want to talk about it. We’re judging ourselves, that was too much I was over the top, maybe I went too far this time”
So to justify our behaviour we tell ourselves and look for evidence to support ourselves, that the person we got angry with – deserved it! I was entitled to my anger and rage. This is most evident in Road Rage. “That person cut me off, that person was behaving badly that person…” so that entitled me to ram my car right into them! Or worse, get out of my car and threaten them.
If they didn’t deserve it, then I certainly would not have become angry with them. So now, because I got angry, I have the right to advise them exactly what they did to make me behave in such a manner. (The taking it out on the other phase of the program actually is a justification of the anger and keeps the fuel flowing)
“Me? I don’t like being angry, I don’t really like the feeling at all, so it’s not me, its definitely YOU that wants to make me feel this badly about myself, and I’m angry with you for it.”
Anger –out – Venting and blowing up as the anger pours out of me onto others this kind of anger has to be deserved, so we go for evidence gathering. Where and when, all the times, all the places, (a search through the past) which also adds fuel to the flames
This is really exhausting as we know we are often making mountains out of molehills, however, we have to justify this rage, so we have to keep a detailed record in our mind of the events Ugh, exhausting. If we get called out about an incident we have to have the backpack of ammunition to defend our attack on the other
Anger – In – Silent Seething resentment: this holding in the rage becomes a pattern, supported by a belief if I ever let this out of me, I don’t know what might happen. The sad part is that energy of Silently Seething Resentment continues to radiate outside of us, and people may not know your reasons, but they know what they feel around you. Again, this inner collection of evidence for this behaviour requires we keep an internal journal packed with all the times and all the places…
YOU DID THIS TO ME… (intrusive thoughts? Call it what you will, this is how we fuel our behaviour)
Deleting Distorting and Generalizing:
Our minds can only hold so much detail, and we certainly cannot articulate every nuance of any encounter. So the brain holds onto the PUNCH line and drops a lot of the additional details, we call this deleting.
We also have to distort details too, let the not-so-charged ones go, and keep the meaty ones that really pack that PUNCH and shut the other person down, or play these out in a way that distorts the details, out of context with the actual situation.
We can’t run out our laundry list of evidence every time something goes off, so we generalize them into the one big PUNCH that wins the argument and supports the anger and makes the other person feel bad.
Once we allow our anger to surface, the activation in the chemical system of the body begins to mount up again. Almost like an addiction to the adrenaline response, anger looks for a way to manifest. The feeling feels really hot and alive and once released takes about 40-45 minutes to reabsorb into the body’s systems
These are some of the MYTHS of ANGER
Anger is a biochemically-determined event. – NOT TRUE
Anger and aggression are part of our ancient brain system of “flight or flight” – NO, it’s not automatic it needs a justification to ramp up and run over others
Frustration will lead to anger – NO, frustration is an inner dance we can fuel it or we can calm it down
It’s actually healthy to vent anger – NO VENTING Is FUELLING THE ANGER – the minute you start the venting strategy, STOP YOURSELF – you are actually reinforcing your beliefs and your feelings and establishing SOLID ANCHORS to your emotions that are firing off in the moment. STOP IT. Here you need a solid pattern interruption, like laughter – yes, take it in the opposite direction and release this.
These myths support the belief that anger and aggression are a necessary part of being human. When we rehearse anger and feel the power of it in our system – all we are really tuning into is a chemical release in the brain that is now pouring through our system.
It’s all activated through your internal chemistry and doesn’t have a thing to do with the other person or the events happening at the moment. It’s originating in you.
What to do with what I feel?
What to do with what I tell myself?
What to do with all the images and pictures I run in my head?
When we go over and over an incident we are actually building a recorded TRACK of the event in our mind, and we add to it other images and feeling and soundtracks that all trip over each other at the moment and it builds a huge reference file of rage.
The more you go over the feelings and review the thoughts you tell yourself, and review your movies of the infractions, the more you rehearse it and you are also building a magnetic resonance for “more of the same”
You tell your brain “look for more of these” and magically it appears. Someone cuts you off in traffic, an appointment is cancelled, you miss a flight or a dentist appointment… boom. (recently here in Vancouver, two women got into an argument over a parking space, and one woman went back to her car, and took out a machete – police were called, and things calmed, however, that is really rage…)
Venting about past experience is to rehearse that experience as if it is happening to you right now again and in the same intensity or even more when added to past experience
Venting doesn’t stop the anger. It actually helps you remain angrier than you were before the venting.
How often am I reviewing and Venting to myself or others about the things I am angry about?
The popular belief that venting is useful or a remedy for anger is really worse than useless. In fact, the reverse seems to be true: Expressing anger leads to being even angrier and solidifies and angry aggressive attitude in life.
** The belief that anger and violence are unavoidable is a psychologically attractive one for many people in society today – we see it demonstrated everywhere. It allows people to excuse and justify acts of aggression by suggesting that they have little choice in the matter.
Belief in these 4 myths of anger makes anger and aggression seem natural and even healthy. In fact, we now know the opposite is the case. Anger is basically a matter of choice.
It is determined by your thoughts and beliefs far more than your biochemistry or genetic heritage. And you can take control of it, through connecting with your own five senses and take action in a different direction when things “light up”
Venting anger rarely leads to any real relief or any lasting change. It just leads to more anger, tension and arousal.
The real culprit – Hostility:
Your Heart and your Digestive system:
Chronic anger and hostility can damage your heart and has a dramatic impact on the stomach. Anger produces physiological effects that are different from those produced by depression or fear. Angry subjects manifest RED stomach linings with increased rhythmic contractions and increased secretion of hydrochloric acid.
Anger’s role in increasing acid secretion is very significant. Anger is also implicated in the development of chronic ulcers and gastritis even colitis. When we hold and maintain chronic resentment and anger the mucous membrane of the colon reacts sharply to suppressed anger. It becomes engorged with blood and peristaltic activity
Whether anger is in or out, it’s a very unhealthy habit to allow yourself to get into.
To change this response is much easier than we think.
With awareness, we begin to pay attention to our own experiences and that begins to change everything
The true antidote to Anger? What actually brings it to conclusion?
You do. You can learn to live without anger, and doing so will improve your health too.