I recently ask readers three questions:
1. How has anger effected your relationship?
2. How do you deal with it?
3. How does it make you feel?
I want to share one readers response. I’ll call her Marsha.
1. How has anger effected your relationship?
Unfortunately anger is my go to in a relationship before I stop to think about what has actually happened.
Anger tends to be a mask for hurt and an avoidance for the pain.
It has cost me two, almost three marriages.
My tongue has caused irreparable damage even though my husband has a forgiving heart.
I hear his pain when certain situations are brought up later in life.
2. How do (did) you deal with it?
I have had to self reflect to decide if my anger is worth the irreparable damage.
I try to stop before I react although I often fall short.
3. How does (did) it make you feel?
At the moment I feel like I have “won”. However after I have no choice but to deal with the guilt of causing such pain to the man I love.
Marsha is not the only one who has ruined a relationship because of unbridled anger.
What can you do if you struggle with anger issues?
What To Do If You Are Angry?
This is Part 5 in our series ‘Anger in the Household.’
Anger in the Family [Part 4]
This is Part 4 in the Anger in the Family Series
The Series in a Nutshell:
We’ll talk about six things you can do to win over anger.
Yuphaphann Hoonchamlong is a linguist at the University of Hawaii. She identifies seven degrees of anger in the Thais culture (the main ethnic group of Thailand).
“We don’t walk around saying ‘I’m angry.’ That’s too broad. We may start with ‘I’m displeased’ and ‘I’m dissatisfied’ and then increase the intensity.”
Anger is a normal emotion. It’s not something we should be ashamed of. It works a lot like pain in the body. Pain tells us something is wrong. When we identify what’s causing the pain, we can seek help.
Same with anger. It can signal something is out of alignment emotionally. This should in turn lead us to get help or do something to heal the emotional pain.
However, when anger stops serving us (pointing out emotional pain) and begins to control us, we have problems.
What do you do if you have anger issues?
Let’s Unpack Six Ways To Win Over Anger
1) Get In Touch With Your Anger
This is called emotional granularity. Granularity means the level or scale of detail given to a certain thing.
Recent research indicates that the more emotional granularity a person has, the less likely they are to explode in anger.
When things go wrong, people who are in touch with their emotions respond in more productive ways. They drink less. Show less aggressive behavior. And don’t shout or hit.When things go wrong, people who are in touch with their emotions respond in more productive ways. They drink less. Show less aggressive behavior. And don’t shout or hit. Click To Tweet
They also show lower signs of anxiety and depression.
How do you get in touch with your emotions (anger)?
It takes intentional practice. Begin by noticing when your emotions run high. Then analyze it.
- What triggered your anger?
- Was it something someone said?
- Was it something someone did?
Identify it so you can understand it.
Michaeleen Doucleff suggests identifying what triggers the emotion then give it a specific name.
While I have cautions about becoming too focused on this (I’ll explain below), it can help you become more aware when those triggers are in place.
Maria Gendron (Yale University) says:
“There’s definitely emerging evidence that just the act of putting a label on your feelings is a really powerful tool for regulation. It can keep the anger from overwhelming you. It can offer clues about what to do in response to the anger. And sometimes, it can make the anger go away.
Autism and Anger Management
When one of our granddaughters was young, she was diagnosed with mild autism. It was challenging at times to help her navigate her emotions. It was especially difficult before she learned to talk.
One thing we discovered was when were able to help her label what she was feeling, she managed those emotions better.
On one occasion she had a meltdown at our house. She ended up standing in the corner of our den, shaking her hands and crying uncontrollably.
I eventually took her gently by the hand and asked her to take a walk with me. She reluctantly agreed (still crying). As we walked I practiced what I’d seen my wife do with her time and again…I helped her articulate what she was feeling.
I said, ‘Let’s use our words…can you tell Big D (that’s what the grands call me) what you feel?’
She couldn’t so I helped. ‘Do you feel angry?’
She shook her head yes. ‘What made you feel angry?’
We made our way through a series of questions and answers until she finally gained control of her emotions. It was a lengthy emotional journey, but we made it.
By labeling what she was feeling, she could better understand why she was feeling that way.
This same process works with adults.
Sometimes it’s important to name it; to say what we are experiencing. When we do we can put a label on it and then decide what to do with it.
There is a balance to this that I’ll discuss next. For now, it’s important to get in touch with WHAT we are feeling. If we don’t know what is going on inside of us, how can we address it and get it under control.
This is usually the first step in dealing with anger issues.
Here’s a clear explanation of how to do this with children. This is from Catherine Mogil at UCLA Health. You can apply the same technique to your situation.
Remember, to get in touch with your emotions (anger), you first have to identify the source. Once you know the real source (which is usually different than the trigger), you can better deal with it.
Related Article: 7 Ways To Create Respect In Marriage
2) Identify It, but Don’t Own It
I hinted at this above.
While it’s important to ‘name’ what we feel (anger), there are three cautions.
We have a friend who began having stomach issues several years ago. She went to her primary doctor a number of times to figure out what was causing her problems.
At first, the doctor diagnosed her with common gastro problems. She was given medication but got worse.
Later he changed the diagnosis to something else. Nothing changed.
This happened for over a year. As they tried to find the source of the problem, they looked at different diagnosis.
Note: This is common. No doctor is perfect, and all medical professions miss things at times.
Finally, our friend went to see a specialist. He ran some test and found that she had liver cancer.
It had been missed is previous tests.
This is not to shame or bash her primary doctor. I simply mention this to point out that her misdiagnosis was costly.
We often misdiagnose emotional (psychological) pain.
It’s easy to think ‘this’ is causing your emotional angst, when in reality it is something much deeper.
This is one of the reasons I say, ‘Identify it, but don’t own it.’
Don’t get so locked in that you miss the real cause.
I mentioned in Part 1 the story of the lady who brought home the wrong kind of milk, which causes her husband to explode in anger.
Obviously, the milk is not the issue. There are much deeper emotional problems.
As we seek to identify the source of anger, dig deep to explore the real issues.
2. Identity Association
I often hear people say, ‘That’s just the way I am. I’m wound tight.”
Or, “Hot tempers run in our family!”
One of the problems I see with focusing too much on identifying the cause of anger is we can begin to identified with it.
We own it. As if it is something that is bound together with our personality.One of the problems with focusing too much on identifying the cause of anger is we can begin to identified with it. We own it. As if it is something that is bound together with our personality. Click To Tweet
There is a difference in ‘I feel angry‘ and ‘I’m an angry person.’
I hope you can see that difference.
It’s possible to identify it without allowing it to become who you are.
3. Distraction Obsession
One final issue to be guard against is focusing so much on what’s getting under your skin that you become obsessed with it.
It can cause you to focus too much on what’s wrong rather than directing your thoughts to more productive issues
3) Change Your Thoughts
I realize this almost sounds patronizing. But hear me out.
It’s not just about changing ‘a thought.’ It’s about changing HOW you think. Psychologist call this cognitive reconstruction.
“The best attitude to bring to such a situation, then, is not to focus on finding the solution, but rather on how you handle and face the problem.
Veterans of war are taught to acknowledge their feelings but remind themselves that how they respond to the situation can either help it or hurt it. Think before you act.
Learning to identify what goes on in our thoughts between the trigger event and our response can be helpful.
To put it another way: There is a gap between what happens and your response. It may be a split second, but there is a gap.
Knowing this gap exists gives us an opportunity to change our response.
Realizing that something does happen between the trigger event and our reaction lets us know there is a time lapse. We often control what happens in that gap.
Betty and Frank often argue. It is loud, animated and often physical. Frank screams. Betty throws things. It seems to happen in a flash.
Frank called Betty at work one day and the conversation soon turned bad. Frank said something that triggered the typical emotional response from Betty. She felt like yelling and throwing the stapler across the room, but she didn’t. She know that response would get her in trouble at work. So she held her anger.
The fact that she could control her outrage is very telling. It lets us know there is a space between the event (trigger) and the response (outrage).
If we can learn how to manage those intervening thoughts, we can control our emotions.
I explain it in more detail (with a visual aid) in the short video below:
What happens in the gap between the trigger event and the response determines which way the conversation goes. And whether there is a solution or a fight.
It may only be a split second, but the gap holds the key to your marital success. What you do in the gap determines the health of your relationship.
This isn’t some mystical, magical fantasy act.
The American Psychological Association says:
Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself.
For Help Changing Your Thoughts: The Automatic way to become Calm and let go of Frustration
4) Reverse Your Emotions
The concept is rather simple. Picture yourself going down the road in one direction, stopping and changing directions.
There are several ways to practice this:
Sometimes a simple physiological shift can bring about a shift and our emotions.
Marsha Linehan is the creator of a concept called ‘Dialectical Behavior Therapy.’ She teaches a technique called ‘Willing Hands.’ It’s designed to help people shift their emotional state.
She explains in this short video:
Another technique is called, ‘Anger Reversal Technique.’
This was first practiced in India at the Department of Psychology at Bharathiar University in 1985. It combines relaxation, deep breathing and self-talk.
Studies were done with 500 high school students divided into two groups: experimental group and control group. A test was given to determine the level of anger (Speilberger’s State Anger Scale). The reversal techniques were employed on the experimental group.
The test found a significant decrease in the level of anger after reversal techniques were used.
The study concluded:
“Educating and practicing such behavioral interventions will help individuals to overcome from anger problem. Learning anger management skills enhances one’s social skill, self-awareness, emotional self-regulation and performance.
This leads to the next key…
Breaking Anger As A Habit
In Part 3 I discussed how anger can become a habit.
Anger becomes a habit because our brains are wired to find the easiest solution to a problem. It desires to conserve energy and work efficiently.
If you do something over and over, the brain doesn’t want to waste energy consciously thinking about the details of how to do something.
It creates habits to take care of the things we do on a routine basis.
Things like going to the mailbox. Boiling an egg. Checking your email. Riding a bike. Driving to work.
Unless you are new to the planet you don’t have to think hard to do these things.
The brain has created a routine (habit) so it can focus on other things.
The part of the brain responsible (at least in part) for this is called the Reticular Activating System.
If you had to think hard about every action your body performs, your brain would short circuit.
So the brain filters out the simple stuff and focuses on the hard things. That’s why you don’t have to think about your route when driving to work.
Sadly, this incredible mental machine will take anything we do regularly and turn it into a mindless habit. Even emotional responses.Sadly, this incredible mental machine will take anything we do regularly and turn it into a mindless habit. Even emotional responses. Click To Tweet
This is why it’s hard to not get mad when you’ve trained yourself to get mad.
For example, if you got mad when the neighborhood kids called you names, its easier to get mad when you feel challenged as an adult. Your brain literally sends the ‘anger chemicals’ to the brain because that’s what it was trained to do.
In order to break the cycle of anger, you must retrain your brain to respond differently.
It takes time and energy.
After all, you didn’t become angry by nature over one event. It took time to create those neural pathways. It will take time to re-channel them.
This is where the techniques mentioned above come into play.
But there are a few other things you can do to break the cycle…
5) Exercise More
Everyone needs a physical outlet for daily stress.
My wife often says, “What do people who don’t exercise do with all that stress?”
It’s a great question. Doctors have known for generations that people who have a physical outlet for their stress live longer. And happier.
Physical activity helps reduce stress and releases feel good chemicals in the brain. It’s literally an exchange of stress for happiness.
Last night my wife handed me an article she was reading on how running helps your creativity.
There’s actually a science behind it. Researchers identify four reasons exercise gives us that problem solving boost:
1. It frees the brain from stressful distractions.
The mind desires creativity. Stress gets it bogged down so it can’t operate to create solutions to problems. Running (or any exercise) gives the mind something ‘less interesting’ to focus on which releases the subconscious mind to find solutions.
2. Exercise boosts brain health.
It not only increases the growth of grey matter (which is linked to memory), but the oxygen it sends to the brain improves thinking.
3. It reduces stress.
Increase blood flow flushes cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol has been called the bodies alarm system. Too much sends a continual signal to your body which results in sleep problems, anxiety and depression, headaches, and even weight gain.Exercise is the way to flush high levels of cortisol from your body so hormones stay regulated. Click To Tweet
Exercise is the way to flush high levels of cortisol from your body so hormones stay regulated.
4. A regular exercise routine trains your brain, not just your body.
Novelist Haruki Murakami says he can create great works (we call them great, not him) because of his routine.
He writes at 4 am each morning for sis hours then either runs or swims.
“The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind,
When we do something routinely (especially exercise), it’s as if our brain anticipates it and rewards us with problem solving creativity.
Perhaps the biggest advantage is stress relief.
We all need to flush our emotional system of toxins. Exercise is the best way to accomplish this.
The Mayo Clinic suggests:
Practice deep-breathing exercises, imagine a relaxing scene, or repeat a calming word or phrase, such as “Take it easy.” You might also listen to music, write in a journal or do a few yoga poses — whatever it takes to encourage relaxation.
It’s important to understand that mediation is a broad topic, and people practice mediation differently. For some it’s just weird. For our purpose, I focus on the relaxation and ‘centering’ concepts, not religious ideas. I’ve written before how religious practice helps marriages.
The American Psychological Association offers four steps for relaxation techniques that reduce anger:
- Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won’t relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your “gut.”
- Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as “relax,” “take it easy.” Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
- Use imagery; visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.
- Non strenuous, slow yoga-like exercises can relax your muscles and make you feel much calmer.
How Meditation Changes the Brain
Mediation produces higher levels of alpha waves, which reduces negative feelings and gloomy moods.
Brain scans also show that those who mediate have less grey matter in the amygdala. This part of the brain related to stress, high blood pressure, fear and anger.
This video by AsapSCIENCE gives an excellent overview of how mediation changes the brain.
The goal in managing anger is to respond to events, not react. Responding implies we are in control, not our emotions. When we react, our reason steps aside and our feelings take control.
This is rarely a good thing.The goal in managing anger is to respond to events, not react. Responding implies we are in control, not our emotions. When we react, our reason steps aside and our feelings take control. Click To Tweet
Meditation helps by increasing our ability to cope with (and control) negative emotions like anger.
Unlock Your Mind: Banish the Deep Rooted Failure Images Holding You Back
Wrapping It Up
Anger is a normal emotion that serves us by showing us where we have emotional pain or misalignment.
It becomes a problem when it controls us.
There is a way to regain control of your life.
In this article we saw six ways to break the cycle of anger.
Here’s a brief summary:
- 1) Get In Touch With Your Anger
- 2) Identify It, but Don’t Own It
- 3) Change Your Thoughts
- 4) Reverse Your Emotions
- 5) Exercise More
- 6) Meditate
Resources Mentioned in this Article
Crystal Clear Visualization by Think Right Now
Anger Management by Think Right Now
Have you struggled with anger issues?
How has it effected your relationship(s)?
What have you done to get control of anger?