by George Pitagorsky
Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.
Who has not experienced anger?
Anger arises when someone or something has not fulfilled expectations, an injustice has been done, someone has attacked oneself or one's idea or property, or when things are not happening fast enough or slow enough.
Anger is what Buddhists call an afflictive emotion. It is a complex of disturbing physical sensations that afflicts the angry one. If the sensations become too much to bear then yelling, hitting, and/or passive aggressive behavior afflict others and the angry one alike.
We become reactive. We lose our temper. The degree to which we "lose it" and the nature of our behavior is influenced by the degree to which we are mindfully aware of our thoughts, speech and actions, our ability to control ourselves and the significance of the perceived threat.
Reactive behavior gets in the way of accomplishing objectives and does damage to relationships. What can we do to avoid anger and, if we can't avoid it, what can we do to moderate its effects (how can we learn to not react)?
While eliminating anger by cutting its root causes may be possible it is most practical to learn to effectively manage anger when it does arise.
To manage anger understand its source, recognize and acknowledge it and then step back from the feelings and choose a course of action.
The source of anger is within. It may be triggered by external events but its cause is internal. This is clear when we remember times when we became angry about something that at other times did not "make us angry." This understanding makes it possible to look inside and manage anger without blaming it on anyone or anything else. We don't need to change the world around us. We have to change ourselves.
Admitting to anger is difficult for some people. But difficult or not it is necessary. Unacknowledged, anger may be suppressed, resulting in physical and psychological issues, including gastrointestinal and breathing problems. Suppressed anger tends to build up and then burst out in overreaction to a minor incident.
What does anger feel like to you? Where in your body does it manifest? Is it a tightening of the stomach or jaw; a change in the breath? The earlier in its arising you recognize it, the more likely it is that you can avoid reacting to it.
The next step after recognition and acknowledgement is acceptance. In accepting anger we go beyond simplistic notions that experiencing anger is sinful or bad. Experiencing anger is part of being human.
Identifying with anger, "being angry", and acting anger out are unskillful and can be controlled.
Choosing a Response
With anger understood as a self generated emotion, recognized and accepted the next step is to decide what to do about it.
One choice is to explore its source in oneself. Seeing the underlying cause in oneself cuts the root of the anger and eliminates or at least makes the feelings manageable. Ask "What am I bringing to this situation?"
But there is the external the trigger. Someone has done something that has "made you angry". Do you just let it pass while you manage the anger by yourself?
Maybe that is the best thing to do. Perhaps the threatened belief or mental model is not one you want to keep. Maybe the person whose behavior got you angry didn't mean anything by it. Maybe the perceived injustice is unavoidable. By fully experiencing and seeing the internal source of your anger you can let it go. It is not suppressed, it passes. Like everything else, anger is temporary. Of course, you can feed it and make it last for years, but how effective is that as a strategy?
On the other hand, confronting behavior that gives rise to anger may be the better choice. Often there is no good reason to be a victim or to remain passive in the face of injustice.
If action is the better choice then take action consciously. Reactive behavior is generally less effective than responsive behavior. Use the energy aroused by your anger to fuel clear thinking and skillful action rather than to just be expressed unconsciously based on your habitual way of dealing with anger.
Your habitual way may be denial, passive aggressive or aggressive. You may seethe and plot over time or react immediately. But, are you going to get a result that is beneficial to yourself and the others involved?
Break your habits. Decide on the right course of action for the situation.
If your intention is to do no harm to others, to seek optimal resolutions to conflicts and build healthy and lasting relationships, then the right course of action will help to achieve those ends.
Unfortunately, we see all too many examples of people who just vent their anger because they can't bear the pain it brings them, or who must get even, righteously destroy the wicked, or protect some idea or belief. Just look around at the anger that is vented on the streets of Pakistan, Egypt and Libya over an affront to Islam or the murder of doctors who work at abortion clinics by Christians in the U.S. Look too at your behavior and the behavior of people you know in your work place or personal relationships.
What is your choice, to understand, recognize, accept and skillfully manage anger or to react?
© 2012 Pitagorsky Consulting