Every so often, I notice I am surrounded by angry people. People start slamming doors, cutting me off in traffic, and even the movies I watch seem to have angry characters! When that happens, it is the perfect time to stop, pause, and self-reflect. After all, what is around us is always inside us, and if I am noticing angry people, there’s an angry Dr. Saira somewhere inside me, waiting to be acknowledged. I grew up around chronically angry people, and through my personal and professional research, have learned a lot about anger. Read on to learn how to identify your own anger, and what to do with it. This is an especially important read if you don’t think of your self as angry, because the deeper your anger is buried, the more freeing it will be when you finally get it out of your system!
The first step through anger is to actually admit that you get angry sometimes. We would think it strange if someone said, “I never get sad”, or “I never get excited.” Yet so many people go around claiming they never get angry. Anger is an emotion, just like sadness or joy, and it is only natural to feel angry sometimes. When you don’t admit to feeling angry, the people around you have to act it out for you to be in energetic balance. That is a lot of pressure to put on your loved ones! Because it is easy enough to judge someone else for being angry. In relationships, the person who is visibly angry seems out of control, irrational, and even childish, and it is often easier to point a finger and call them crazy rather than taking responsibility for your own anger. Each one of us has anger inside (unless you happen to be an enlightened being or a hermit!). For some, anger is like hot burning coals, never flaring up but always seething in the background. For others, anger is a volcano, waiting for the next opportunity to erupt. And for those with chronic anger challenges, anger is like a raging fire, burning down everything in it’s path, even on good days. Anger can show itself in many ways, from barbed comments or sarcastic observations all the way to actually punching a wall or a person. When you can actually admit that you know what anger feels like, it frees the people around you and makes you more real. Now, you can also overdo it, and make your anger an excuse for your behaviours. Beware this strategy, as it is your ego’s way of making excuses so you don’t have to actually resolve your anger issues. While anger is natural, it is not a license to act in unethical and harmful ways.
There are different ways people behave when they are angry. You may get very quiet, giving death looks to the person that upset you. On the other hand, you may retreat inside yourself, unwilling to come out and join the party even when the “bad-guy” has said sorry a hundred times. You may get very vocal, telling everyone you know what made you angry and what you are going to do about it. You may be confrontational, addressing the issue right away, or leave it alone, only to bring it up years later at the most inopportune time. Perhaps you are the type that abruptly leaves the house, car, or office, takes some time to cool off, then returns like nothing happened (this one drives your loved ones bonkers, by the way). Perhaps you have healthy ways of dealing with your anger, such as journalling, going for a run, or screaming in to a pillow (that last one is still a bit dramatic, and there are better ways!). But when you are really under pressure, when you are tired, hungry, broke, and grouchy, and nothing is working out right, that is when you will tend to go to your childhood ways of dealing with anger. The key to knowing your style is honesty. Because when you are really angry, I mean seriously steam-coming-out-of-the-ears fuming, you will probably feel like you are about two years old. And what do two-year olds do with their anger? They throw tantrums! Tantrums are very useful at two, as they allow the little body and voice of a two year old to expel the emotional energy that would otherwise be blocked. Tantrums in adults are not so healthy, nor are they attractive. Knowing your style will prepare you so you don’t slip into two-year-old mode, and then you actually have healthy alternatives to express your anger.
Feeling your full range of emotions is good for your health. People who can’t access their emotions often get physical manifestations of their pent up feelings, which is why late onset of chronic illness is so pervasive in our culture. Those who are stoic will often have their lives fall apart at some crucial point, as the Self is always striving for balance, and emotional health is as important as any other aspect of personhood. On the other side of the coin, there are those who indulge in their emotions, who are so mired in lower level emotions that they never get to the happier emotions. When coming to a balance point with emotional health, it is crucial to promise no harm. This means you take full responsibility of your feelings. Stop blaming other people for how you feel! No one can make you angry, they can only activate the anger that is already inside of you. Promise yourself and the people you love that you will not cause harm, and expressing anger becomes a safe and accessible exercise.
There are countless programs to help with anger issues. Most models have two things in common: pace and space. Pace is about slowing things down. When acute, targeted anger is involved, things tend to move really fast, and that is when unforgivable things are said or done. Slow it down when you are angry. That could mean counting to ten (a great one for men), humming a tune inside your head, or bringing your focus to something beautiful in the room. Slow down your words, slow down your actions, and slow down your breathing. The breathing is a really important one, as deep breaths create a calming effect in the body. Space is about taking the space you need. It is healthy to leave a situation if you feel like ore harm will come by staying. They key is to tell the other person when you will be back! Otherwise, the issue never gets resolved, and the other person is left without closure. Another way space can help is simply to move into another room. If you are arguing in the family room, gently move to the kitchen. Ideally, make yourself sit down during an argument, as it will naturally relax the whole atmosphere. Try not to have heated discussions in a confined space (such as a car!), as it can make the other person feel trapped and therefore defensive.
Anger is normal and natural. It is when we over-indulge in it or deny it completely that it becomes problematic. Follow the tips above, and you will be on your way to cope better and more effectively with the angry people in your life (and your own anger, of course!).