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. Aristotle
I want more control over my anger
I want to harness and use that massive energy to defend myself when I need to be defended
I want to stand up for myself when people abuse me
I want to be strong
I don’t want to be afraid of mine, or anybody else’s anger
I don’t want to lose control of myself
I don’t want to misuse my anger
I don’t want to feel angry all of the time
I don’t want to hurt anybody
…Complete the list with what you want, and don’t want with regard to anger.
Now stick with me and I will show you how to master one of the most formidable emotions you possess.
Anger is very powerful. When it’s out of balance, either over the top or suppressed, there is a serious problem. It has the potential of consuming huge amounts of physical and mental energy, can cloud your perception, and wreak havoc on your relationships, both personal and professional. The health consequences of chronic anger have been well documented. They include: heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, a weakened immune system, insomnia, chronic headaches, and skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis.
On the other hand, anger can enable us to stand up for ourselves, protect us in dangerous situations, and when used appropriately, empower us to obtain what we want and need.
Some interesting facts about anger
Anger is only energy. Granted, it is forceful enough to catapult us into regrettable action, but it is still only energy. The loud, sometimes violent acts we interpret as anger, are the expressions of that energy.
In other words, anger is not good or bad; it is only the messenger. What triggers our anger, how we express it, and how long it stays with us are the issues that needs to be dealt with.
Meet The Dirty Dozen of Anger Triggers
1. Being attacked
2. Being imposed upon
3. Being ignored
4. Being hurt
5. Being powerless
6. Being scared
7. Being embarrassed
8. Not getting what we want
9. Being overwhelmed
10. Being tired
11. Being in pain
12. Memories of past enraging events
Do you notice what they all have in common? They all represent feelings of vulnerability and NOBODY wants to feel vulnerable. In a very primitive way, vulnerability is a threat to our survival, and because of that anger rushes in to defend. The problem is, 99% of the time we are not in the kind of imminent danger that requires the amount of energy anger provides; but the energy is still there and we don’t know how to handle it.
There are 3 ways to handle anger:
- Express it
- Suppress it
- Calm it
Each has its costs and benefits, but the most important thing is to be in control of it, and to be in control of it we must understand it.
I am reminded of the Buddhist story in which Mara (the tempter) visits the Buddha, who invites him to sit and have a cup of tea with him. In doing so Buddha takes control by having a conversation with his opponent and gains understanding and insight.
Mastery over anger requires us to take a close look at why we get angry and how we process the energy. It also requires us to know the difference between irritation, anger, and rage. There are over fifty words in the English language that represent the different intensities of anger.
While in the muse of writing this post, a picture of a wild horse came to my mind. It was bucking and foaming at the mouth, snorting and trying to bite its handler. Out of control and dangerous, it was impossible to ride. Yes I thought, that’s unbridled anger. And in the next moment, a scene from the 1998 film “The Horse Whisperer” came to my mind.
Then bamm…the thought:
Is it possible that we could be our own horse whisperer in managing our anger, or any other intense emotion for that matter?
Filled with excited energy, I began my research. Below is a compilation of the definitions I found.
Horse whisperer (plural horse whisperers) A horse trainer who adopts a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse, based on modern equine psychology. A person who tames and trains horses by gentle methods. A true horse whisperer has great patience.
I am not a horseman but from my observation, there are 6 stages in horse whispering.
1. The whisperer must first establish alpha status
2. Next the whisperer creates safety for the horse
3. Trust is established
4. Body language is read and worked with
5. Taming and training
6. Riding the horse
It might be a stretch, but I think with the help of family, friends, and clients, I have learned that anger CAN be managed like a horse whisperer. This is what I came up with. it’s a work in progress, so any feedback would be appreciated.
1. The Whisperer Establishes Himself as the Alpha.
The key to managing anger is to take control early on. There is always a moment between cause and effect. The time between the activating event and our anger being ignited is ¼ second. If we grab that moment and take control, we assert that we are in charge of our emotions; they are not in charge of us.
2. The Whisperer Establishes Safety for the Horse
Safety comes from reducing the intensity of the emotion. As anger escalates we lose our ability to be rational. The neurological effect of the initial trigger is amazingly only 2 seconds. The phenomenon of feeling like we’re a train going down the track happens when we continue to feed ourselves thoughts that keep the fire going. It turns out that the clichéd advice of counting to 10 actually has a lot of merit. Even if your neurological response last 5 seconds, counting to 10 prevents further fueling. Take additional deep breaths. Calm yourself down. Use every skill you know.
3. The Whisperer Establishes Trust
By establishing yourself as the alpha, your prefrontal cortex (the center for logic and reason, aka your evolved self) takes over for your reactive amygdala (the center of emotion, aka your primitive self). Your evolved or higher self always has your best interest at heart, and acts like a trusted wise advisor. With confidence you say, “I can handle this.”
4. The Whisperer Reads the Body Language of the Horse and Responds Accordingly
Know thyself ~Socrates
Mindfulness of emotion is the practice of observing emotion in its pure state. It is identifying the physical manifestations occurring inside your body. You might notice your face is hot, or your jaw is locked, or your throat is tight and it’s hard to talk and swallow. Other manifestations might be clenched fists, shallow breathing, or you may feel an adrenalin rush and have a strong urge to move forward. One of the most powerful ways to lower your reactivity is to focus on the parts of your body experiencing the transformation, and deliberately release the tension, or breathe into the affected body parts. If you feel like moving forward, move, but not forward. Horse whisperers teach that everything is a dance. By recognizing your body language when angry, and then working with it, you dance the dance of self-control.
5. The Training
Once our emotion is calmed, our ability to concentrate is secured and we can trust ourselves in answering some important questions.
1. Am I in danger?
2. Do I need to be angry?
3. What do I really want?
4. Do I want to expend large amounts of energy?
5. What will be the consequences of my anger?
6. Is my anger congruent with my deepest values?
7. Do I need to deal with the vulnerability underlying my anger more than expressing my anger?
8. How does my highest self want to handle this situation?
Sometimes it helpful to get out the old pen and paper and write your thoughts down. This is not only a way to think through an issue, but the translating of thoughts into words, and then words into letters is a left brain (analytical) activity, that has the ability to balance the right brain (emotional).
Let me share with you my pen and paper method.
1. Simply write down the situation. Stick to the facts-no embellishing.
2. Then think about all of the emotions you are feeling and write them down.
3. Decide which emotion you are feeling the strongest, and underline it.
4. What thoughts are connected to that emotion? Keep writing until you hit on the thought that sets that emotion on fire.
5. Is the thought rational?
6. Which of the dirty dozen of triggers have been activated?
7. Knowing that all anger stems from vulnerability… figure out where you believe you are vulnerable.
8. Are you truly vulnerable?
8. If the answer is yes, then decide what you want and come up with a plan to express yourself. Make sure that you are fair, that you are telling the truth, and that you are sticking to your values without making any unnecessary apologies.
8. Act in a way that your highest self would approve of.
9. If after answering the questions above you determine anger isn’t necessary, walk away and let it go.
10. Make a list of things you can do to safely return to a state of equilibrium. Such things might include going for a run, listening to music, eating something, taking a shower, playing a video game, or calling a friend and talking. Do something from your list.
Part of understanding your anger is to know what things help you to calm down. Start paying attention and keep a list close at hand to be used in emergencies.
Ride the Horse
If you take responsibility for managing your anger (energy) by staying in charge of it, reducing your vulnerability by creating safety through de-escalation, you can trust yourself in handling a difficult situation. Your head will be clear enough to determine if action is necessary or if you should just walk away. If action is required you will take your lead from your highest self and effectively express yourself. Understanding how anger affects you will allow you to dance with it, and use it to empower you, without destructive consequences to yourself or others.
Remember… There isn’t a solution for every problem, and sometimes knowing how to handle an unwanted situation through acceptance is what is needed.
Definition of an Anger Whisperer
1. One who harnesses the energy of anger through choosing to be mindful rather than mindless. 2. One who has a keen understanding of what anger is, how it is triggered, and how to reduce the intensity of it so that it may be used to protect, defend, and empower. 3. Above all, an anger whisperer understands that he must stay in control. A horse whisperer is a trainer before he is a friend.
…Well that’s it for my thoughts on managing anger like a horse whisperer. What do you think?
Yesterday I had the pleasure of getting my hair done. I was talking to my hair stylist, Fauntelle, about my post and told her about my idea. She liked it and we had a lot of fun exploring the possibilities. I shared with her how hard it is for me to translate my thoughts into writing and this is what she said..
“No, no Barbara. It’s all okay. Your blog whisperer will come to your aid. Go home and meditate, and it will come to you.”
I smiled so hard I laughed, and told her she made my day. I love it and think I want to change my blog’s name to The Blog Whisperer. Thanks Fauntelle 🙂
Have a great week everybody. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts about The Anger Whisperer. Our community of readers becomes stronger the more we speak up and share… and by the way, please pass this on to all who you think would benefit. Next week, my favorite pasta recipe straight from Rome.
Until then, Shine on 🙂
P.S. If you like the painting of the Horse Whisperer you can click on the link and purchase it from the artist.