Anger is a normal part of daily life. Someone cuts us off in traffic, or misrepresents our words, or betrays our trust, and it is only natural to respond with frustration or even outrage. However, living from a place of reactivity is exhausting and can make us sick in many ways. The key to understanding how to transform our anger into effective action lies in the knowledge that benevolent intent is at the heart of the frustration we feel. These 3 simple steps will help you be more flexible in the face of frustration. Recently in working with a patient, we explored these ideas through conversation. Before we even began hands-on treatment, the patient reported to me, “already I am different than when I came in today. I feel so much better!” Read on to reap the benefits of this work.
1) Identify The Wrongdoing
Generally, anger arises in response to feeling wronged. The first step towards transforming anger is to identify what triggered the anger. More specifically, it is important to determine who or what is the source of the wrong. After this step of processing, you will be able to take effective action to address the situation.
Take some deep breaths, notice what the anger feels like. Tell yourself, “anger is present” and ask “why?”
If someone cuts you off, there’s little you can do to address the cause of the anger. You were wronged, but retaliation will not help matters. In this case, you need to proceed to step 3 - Let It Go.
However in some interpersonal situations, there is more flexibility of action around the wrongdoing. Perhaps someone makes a joke at your spouse’s expense in a gathering of friends. In this situation, that someone has clearly hurt your feelings, and there is an effective action you could take to address the situation. From here, proceed to step 2 - Take Action
2) Take Action
The anger gives you the required energy to take action for benevolence - standing up, speaking your mind, and making things right involve some degree of confrontation. This is appropriate anger, and it can be transformed into partnership and intimacy by consciously taking action.
Sometimes the timing of this step can be challenging to navigate. Maybe now isn’t a good time, maybe it’s best to wait to confront this person until you have a chance to talk to them alone.
Sometimes, the most effective action is inaction.
Yes I said these were simple steps. “But wait,” you say, “this sounds very challenging.”
Repeat after me: “I’m a beginner.”
In time and with practice, you will feel more confident in your ability to determine when and how to take action in the face of anger.
When it comes to the actual confrontation, use words that link your own feeling to a request or demand you are making (for more on requests versus demands, see my previous post). For example, you could make the following demand: “I feel angry with that behavior, because that joke was cruel toward my spouse. Please do not make jokes at the expense of others in my presence. If you keep making jokes like that, I won’t hang out with you anymore.”
Once you take effective action, the anger should soften and give way to an ease of being. If not, evaluate the effectiveness of your action. Did you get to the root of the problem? If so, it’s OK to still feel upset after such an emotional situation. It’s time for step 3.
3) Let It Go
Sometimes the wrong is outside of our control. Maybe it literally rained on your parade - you can wave your fists at the sky all you want, but you can’t control the weather. Or you’ve made your request or demand, and the party you’re in conversation with has agreed, but the emotion was very strong and is still with you. Western medicine teaches us that the body releases hormones in response to emotional stimuli. Hormones can take awhile to clear out of the blood stream. I like to thank my body for alerting me to the wrongdoing (or scary thing, or whatever may be at the heart of the particular emotion) and then make an effort to acknowledge the emotion and let it go. So having come this far and realizing that there’s no more effective action left to take, at this point it’s important to still move the emotion. For this step, you have options!
Option A: Talk it out
Find a trusted friend or partner and tell them, “I am processing something, and I need someone to listen to me. I don’t need you to fix anything. Just listen, and when I’m done say, ‘that sucks!’ Ready?” Make sure your friend is willing and able to listen. Ask for their listening, and receive the gift of their listening as you voice the anger. This usually helps to dissipate and move the emotion, giving way to a feeling of friendship and partnership.
To work on letting go of an issue on your own, try writing it down. A great way to do this is to sit with a piece of paper and a pen, set a timer for a minute, and spend that minute writing down whatever comes to mind, stream-of-consciousness style. This allows another medium for no-judgement expression of what you’re feeling. When you’re done with your minute, ripping up the piece of paper is a good way to make sure you don’t keep returning to those ideas over and over (or for that extra “let-it-go” flare, toss it in your fireplace).
It’s important to limit the amount of time spent in this type of acknowledgement. There’s a distinction between engaging an emotion and indulging in it. Give yourself a minute or two or three, but no more than that to sit with the emotion. The more you drag your mind through the emotion, the longer the hormonal cascade will run, and the exercise will be counterproductive.
Option B: Twist and Shout
Go for a walk, or a jog. Turn on some music and dance around your living room. Play an instrument, play a sport. Do Tai Qi or Yoga or whatever you love to do with your body. Sing. Loudly. Go out into the woods and scream (or roll up the windows in your car and scream or sing as loud as you want). Do whatever you feel like doing to move the anger.
One of my professors from acupuncture school likes to “prescribe” a whiffle-ball bat and a pillow. “Go to the dollar store,” she would say, “and buy yourself a cheap whiffle-ball bat. Take it home, put a pillow on a chair, and set a timer for 30 seconds. In that period, hit the pillow as hard as you want and as much as you want. Shout if you want. Everyone should do this at least once every few days. If everyone did that and meditated, I’d be out of a job.”
My ultimate goal through treatment is to help people to realize their health by understanding that they are already whole and complete, so that they do not need treatment anymore. This kind of emotional work is a often big part of that process. If you want help working through anger, or fear, or vulnerability, set up an appointment with me today! I would love the honor of helping you transform your emotions.
This blog is not intended to replace professional medical or psychological care. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or unsafe, please seek care from your doctor or a licensed counselor, social worker, or psychologist.