So much has been happening in our country recently that it’s difficult to make sense of it all. We’ve had destruction by natural causes and the loss of life by one person. We have had little control over most of what has happened, leaving most of us feeling incredibly sad and angry.
We also have anger on a smaller scale, like when a car pulls in front of us on the freeway or our child refuses to do their chores. We can all relate to these reactions. What we do have control over is how we manage ourselves when we feel this anger.
Anger can be a confusing emotion as we often get mixed messages about how we see and cope with it. This is often mirrored by how our parents managed anger: leaving us stuffing it down, expressing it without seeing the consequences, or projecting it out on others. None of these ways of managing anger work well.
“Anger is just anger. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice,” says author Jim Butcher.
As a therapist, I see anger as a healthy emotion, one that needs to be managed in a healthy way. This can be easier said than done.
As a culture we tend to dismiss anger, and minimize the importance of it, yet anger is an emotion, and like all emotions they are not right or wrong. They need a healthy way to be expressed. When we do not feel like we can express our emotions, we tend to become passive aggressive as a way to cope.
As it is okay to feel anger, it helps us let go of hurt and pain. If we let anger control us, it can truly affect our mental and physical health along with those around us.
Holding in anger stops us from coming from the frontal lobe of our brain where we connect with others and have a larger understanding of the world. One of the biggest issues of anger is we cannot connect to others as we are stuck in our own emotion, unable to see or have empathy for other people. However, if we can express our anger in a healthy way, this can be cathartic and allows connection with another person that can actually build on the relationship.
I went to see the play “Twelve Angry Men” at the Laguna Playhouse last week. This play certainly showed how each of these men managed their anger and how it impacted their thinking, how it created bias and affected others. Such a wonderful performance and a great picture of how anger is played out and affects so much of our choices.
So how can we manage anger in a healthy way? Here is the process I recommend.
- Acknowledge your emotion: “I’m angry.” Do not blame others at the time, just acknowledge the anger.
- Start with breathing, going for a walk, exercise, meditate, write, paint, to just name a few ideas.
- As you have now calmed the amygdala part of the brain where anger sits, you are able to come into the frontal lobe where you can start looking at the true routes of the anger.
- Check in with yourself and see if there is any part that you need to own for yourself.
- Look outside of yourself and see if there are any other circumstances that have led up to the anger.
- Once you have walked through these steps, decide how you want to share your anger, emotionally and physically taking into account what is healthy. This means sharing your perspective, not projecting out onto others.
- Show compassion towards self and others with good boundaries.
When we do not manage anger well, we end up with the one who carries the pain.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha.
Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at DrZavala.com or [email protected]