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.
Indicator #19 I am able to tolerate negative emotion
“Weekly Wellness Check-in” is an ongoing weekly post appearing on Mondays, in which I present one indicator from a checklist of positive mental health attributes. Take a look at the indicator and think about how it applies to you, keeping in mind it is an important factor of well-being. We all excel at some things, and need to work on others. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10; One, meaning I am a failure at this, and ten, meaning I have no room for improvement. Nobody may record a 1 or a 10 because there are no failures, and nobody is perfect. If you are happy with where you placed yourself, consider the indicator a strength. If you aren’t, think about a “realistic” place you would like to get to and how you might carry it out. My hope is that you will give it some gentle thought. I’d love to hear your tips on how to make each a strength in the comment section.
Indicator #1 I get a good night’s sleep so I feel healthy and alert
Indicator #2 I eat healthy foods to promote health and well being
Indicator #3 I exercise regularly
Indicator #4 I avoid mood altering substances (unless taken as prescribed).
Indicator #5 I make time each week to engage in activities that give me pleasure
Indicator #6 I have friends and family that I can talk to whenever I need a sense of connectedness
Indicator #7 I live in a home that feels safe and nurturing
- Indicator #8 I actively seek solutions for the complaints I have regarding my life, work, and school
- Indicator #9 I know how to forgive myself and others who have hurt me in the past
Indicator #10 I let go of guilt for my past mistakes
Indicator #11 I have enough money, time, friends, space, love, fun, and affection
Indicator #12 I take action based out of love rather than fear
Indicator #13 I am part of a community that gives me a sense of purpose
Indicator #14 I live a life based on choice and meaning
Indicator #15 I am able to ask others for what I need
Indicator# 16 I am able to say no when I don’t want to do something
Indicator #17 I am effectively able to express my feelings and stand up for what I believe in
Indicator #18 I am able to identify what emotion I am feeling at any given time
When all else fails, I say, ask a child. So this week I had the opportunity to sit down with a few of my grandchildren to ask them “What are emotions?”
Kevin said, “If you go fast, it’s fast emotion and if you go slow then it’s slow emotion.” “Oh Kevy”, I said, “You’re talking about motion, I’m talking about e-motion,” to which he cocked his head and shrugged his shoulders. We then shared stories about being happy and sad, and he quickly knew what I was talking about. He said, “If you’re smiling you feel happy because of your emotion. If you’re frowny then your emotion is sad. If you’re normal, your emotion is easy and normal.”
I said, “What does it feel like when you’re scared?” He got a look of fear on his face and said, “Icky.” “What makes you happy Kevin?” He said, “When my dad tickles me.” I followed with,”What makes you mad?” to which he replied, “When I want to do something I can’t.”
I asked him if he could tell how other people were feeling by looking at their faces. He emphatically said, “Yes.” By the expression on his face, I could only assume he was thinking about when he knows he’s in trouble.
If I ask older people the same questions they use more sophisticated language, but the answers are similar. We know what emotions feel like and sometimes they seem to be running our lives; but beyond that, they are a mystery. A mystery for good or bad, that we often feel captured by.
Close your eyes and imagine this scenario…
We’re sitting in a room talking to each other and all of a sudden, I throw my pencil on the ground.
What would your first thought be? You might think, “She’s either mad at me or maybe being dramatic trying to prove a point.” Another thought might be, “What’s wrong with her? Is she having a stroke, or is she just being silly?” There are so many possibilities.
Dropping the pencil is a “cause and effect” result. I had the pencil in my hand, pivoted my wrist, open my hand, and the combination of centrifugal force and gravity made the pencil fall to the ground.
Life would be a lot easier if we could leave it at that, but as human beings we are not wired that way. We are wired to create meaning out of what we see; first to determine our safety, second, to label and categorize it, and third to know how to respond.
Emotion happens as the result of what we make a situation mean. For example, if you think I’m angry, your brain is wired to release adrenalin and noradrenalin to prepare your body to respond to what it interprets as a potential threat.
When those chemicals get released into your body, you may notice your heart beating faster, your jaw getting tense, and your face getting flushed and hot. You may even feel your hands begin to clench and have the urge to lash out, or you may want to run as fast as you can to get away from the situation.
It might be surprising to learn that emotion is nothing more than your body responding to chemicals released into your system, based on how you have interpreted a situation. When you feel those physical reactions, you are experiencing emotion. It’s really quite amazing!
1. A situation happens.
2. We make it mean something.
3. Depending on what we make it mean, our brain determines if action is required.
4. If action is required, the brain sends messages to release chemicals, which prepare the body for action.
5. If the brain doesn’t sense the need for action, chemicals don’t get released and you will not experience emotion.
From a survival standpoint this is AWESOME! But what if I we’re only trying to teach an object lesson, or I had butterfingers and accidentally dropped the pencil. You can see how misinterpretation could cause unnecessary negative emotion and in addition, potentially damage a relationship.
Can you think of times you misinterpreted a situation and suffered as a result? If you can, you are not alone because we all do it. We don’t have crystal balls and we are not mind readers so we are at a disadvantage in making accurate assessments.
An example on the lighter side might look like this:
We’re sitting in a room talking together when unexpectedly I hand you an envelope. You take the envelope, open it, and pull out a hundred dollar bill.
What’s your first thought this time? It could be, “What a generous gift,” or “I feel cared for”, or you might think, “Ok, what’s the hitch?”
If you make the situation mean I am cared for, you will have a set of positive emotions spurred on by the release of endorphins, dopamine,and oxytocin. You may feel the corners of your mouth turn up and find yourself smiling. You might feel like jumping up and saying “Thank you”, or even feel the urge to reach out and give me a hug.
Whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant emotion, it all works the same way.
Let’s review… 1) A situation happens 2) We make it mean something 3) Depending on what we make it mean the brain determines if action is needed 4) If it is needed, the brain will send messages to release the appropriate chemicals in order to prepare the body for action. Emotion is what you feel as your body is preparing to respond.
Situation –>Thought –>Emotion –> Action
In the next ‘Emotion School’ post, I will explain why the relaxation skill, 123-pause-321 works. Until then I encourage you to practice discovering what thoughts you are having when you experience emotion, as well as what physical sensations you experience as a result. Observe how the meaning you attach to a situation affects your mood.