Do other people tiptoe around you so you won’t get mad? Are your kids afraid of you? Have you been told to take an anger-management class?
We all experience anger because it’s the natural reaction to violations and injustices. What we do with it is a different story. Anger, like each of the six emotions, is e+motion — “energy in motion” in our bodies. If we deal with it as just energy, physically and constructively, the anger will quickly pass. Then our love can shine through.
Maybe you can relate to Lorraine, a client whose anger was jeopardizing her job, her home life, and her relationships with her siblings. On Friday, when Lorraine’s coworkers told her she shouldn’t have gone to the boss about a problem, she blew up. This was the first time in a while she’d really lost it.
Then as she drove home, she started to stew. She hid away in her room all day Saturday, snapping at her family’s overtures to join them. Thankfully, when she woke up on Sunday she remembered what she had done in a therapy session. (How easily we “forget” what works better than our old habits.) Lorraine expressed her anger physically, naturally, and constructively, and salvaged her day and family. Not only that, she had a workable solution when she was next getting ready to lose her cool.
Here’s what she did to dissolve her anger:
1. Express the anger energy physically without damaging a person or anything of value.
Identify what your anger feels like in your body. Lorraine’s cues were that her ears really got hot and she experienced a surge rising in her chest before lashing out. Then decide what would be a satisfying way to express that anger physically and constructively.
Lorraine decided that destroying something would be most satisfying. She could have chosen to pound pillows, stomp, growl, kick, push against a wall, or shout a word like “broccoli.” But she decided to pull out the 20 inch flexible plastic hose I had given her and hit a couple of old telephone books in the garage. So she moved some boxes around and tore into her pile of old telephone books that she put on the floor. She pounded and pounded until she couldn’t anymore, making sounds and grunting along the way. Lorraine caught her breath and then started pounding once again. All together she did this half a dozen times. It took less than ten minutes. She was sweaty and exhausted.
Off the wall as it seems, I suggest that the next time your heart starts beating loud and the rage starts surging, excuse yourself and find a safe place and give it a try. Whatever method you choose, do it hard, fast, and with abandon. Let go. Let it out. While expressing the anger don’t say negative things and swear. This will only reinforce your old feelings and perpetuate your anger. Just move the physical energy out of your body.
2. Interrupt your destructive thinking about how people and things “should” be different than they are and accept what is.
Indulging your old thinking will only keep you feeling righteous and judging others as wrong. Instead, accept reality. Repeat, “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” Say and think it 100,000 times. Repeat this phrase any time, when you feel frustrated, but especially while moving the energy out of your body.
Lorraine modified this generic acceptance statement and repeated “My co-workers are the way they are, not the way I think they should be.” After a few minutes of saying it out loud, she realized that it was true! People are the way they are. That was a fact. That was a revelation. Lorraine almost laughed. She felt strangely peaceful, climbed into bed, immediately fell asleep for half an hour, and awoke feeling oddly refreshed. She was ready to join the world again and went downstairs.
3. Determine what you need to say or do to feel resolved.
Just a few minutes of expressing the emotional energy and focusing on acceptance will dissipate the anger and bring you back in balance. You’ll feel more centered. You’ll feel more loving. Your thinking will be clearer. You’ll be able to figure out what you need to say or do to resolve the specific thing that triggered your blow up so you can feel complete.
It became obvious that Lorraine wanted to apologize to her co-workers on Monday and ask them to gently remind her to take a few minutes break when she started to raise her voice. That would be her signal to go to her car and vent her frustration by shaking the steering wheel while repeating, “People are the way they are, not the way I think they should be.”
Each time you own and deal with your anger, you create love. It’s hard at first. We’ve got our pride. Our ego is strong and we feel so justified. It’s the last thing we want to do. But it works. It’s effective. Natural. Fast. Reliable. Just ask Lorraine.
Think about how you will spare yourself and your world when you change your old funky habit. Think about the doors that will open. Imagine how much more loving you’ll feel and how much others will benefit too.