Coping with Anger

(Again –  I am not a professional.  The information provided in this post is my opinion only and is what works best for me.) 

Over the past ten years or more, I have experienced many intense moments of anger. I’ll spare you the gory details and just say that the majority of these moments revolve around two specific people. Their behavior – the lying, the hypocrisy and the impudence – has sometimes left me burning with such anger, I’m surprised my stomach isn’t riddled with ulcers. In the last year; however, I have grown weary of feeling this way.  I am tired of giving these people, and others, so much power in my life.  My anger will not change their behavior or anything about the situation. I have finally realized that I am not entirely helpless either.  I have one option – I can choose to change my own behavior instead of focusing on theirs.

I am still tweaking my personal “anger rehabilitation” plan but, thus far, have chosen four familiar, basic concepts to help me break some ground on this journey.  I settled on these particular concepts after discussing the physical and mental effects of anger with health care professionals and after perusing various “dealing with anger” articles.  I try my best to remember these concepts when I  feel myself approaching that level of anger from which there seems to be no return.  I realize breaking a behavioral habit of ten years is not going to happen overnight, but these concepts seem to be helping. Perhaps you already have a successful system for managing anger or ways of improving on the concepts below; if so, please feel free to share!

Concept I:  Anger is poisonous only to one person – ME

I don’t know about you, but when I get really angry, when I “see red,” it not only affects my mental state but also my physical well-being.  My heart rate increases, my blood pressure goes through the roof (yes, I’ve checked it), and my stomach becomes a twisted pretzel.  It is not fun. What are the sources of my anger doing while I’m enduring these adverse physical reactions?  They are living their lives – going along their merry way, totally oblivious, as I fume on and feel like my heart is going to explode.  Is this really the way I want to live my life?  Do I really want to allow someone else’s bad behavior to have such a profound effect on my well-being? No, I really don’t. So, when I feel I’m entering “the red zone” I try to remind myself of the power I’m giving these people.  I’m giving their behavior the power to affect me physically while they experience nothing.  When I remember to “re-frame” the situation in this way, it helps me maneuver to a calmer place.

Concept II: Anger solves nothing.

You would think I’d have learned this after 10 years, but apparently I’m a slow learner.  If I reflect upon all the times I’ve been angry, I can honestly say my anger neither solved nor resolved anything.  A good five-minute rant may make me feel better, but only for those five minutes. After that, I am left feeling helpless, frustrated and just as angry as I was before. These days, rather than ranting, I try to remind myself that my anger solves nothing. Not once has it resulted in any positive changes to this situation or in the behavior of these people.  It hasn’t and it won’t.  My anger, in this instance, is a waste of emotional and physical energy – energy that I could put to a better and more beneficial use.

Concept III: You must manage the adrenaline dump that comes with extreme anger.

When you are in a state of extreme anger or frustration, you can experience a massive surge of adrenaline.  This adrenaline needs somewhere to go; it needs to be released in a healthy manner.  Unfortunately, in the past, I didn’t do anything to alleviate this adrenaline dump and it took me hours to calm down.  Now, if I find myself in this state, I hop onto the stationary bike and ride until it feels like we may actually start traveling somewhere.  It is amazing what a difference this makes.  The adrenaline has a place to go, it is put to a productive purpose, and I get a great workout in the process!

Concept IV:  Will this matter five years from now?

Sometimes,  I must repeat this question over and over.  The answer, at least for the moment, is no, none of this will matter five years from now.  It won’t even matter two years from now.  This may seem like a dramatic coping strategy, but it provides me with a great deal of comfort.  Regardless of the behavior of these individuals, in reality it will have no long-term effect on me, unless I allow it to.  Fortunately for us, the particular situation vaguely referenced in this post, has an “expiration” date of sorts, but even if it didn’t, the lies and bad behavior won’t matter to me in years to come.  (It may matter to the people in question because as we all know, “what goes around, comes around.”) Life’s daily irritations, the bumps and hiccups we experience along the way, the behavior of difficult people we encounter from time to time, will not matter in five years if we make the decision that it won’t. If we focus only on that which we can control – our own reactions and behaviors – we can find freedom from anger that would otherwise follow us for years to come.

Having said all of this, I don’t think anger is necessarily a bad thing in certain situations.  There are times when anger can be a great motivator.  If I finally get angry enough at the ever-increasing pile of laundry in the hamper, then I will eventually do something about it.  If I get angry enough at someone for mistreating me, then I will, hopefully, bring it to someone’s attention or simply remove myself from the situation.  In my case, I am referring specifically to anger that is not productive.  It is anger that causes me to expend a lot of negative energy over a situation I cannot control.

The destructive power of anger can be intense and far-reaching but we have the tools to diffuse that power.  We can choose to respond differently. We can choose to “re-frame” the situation and loosen anger’s relentless grip on our mind and body. If we remember a few key concepts and hone the ability to talk ourselves down from the ledge so to speak, then hopefully we can avoid poisoning ourselves with this toxic emotion.

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