According to the American Psychological Association, “the goal of anger management is to reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. You can’t get rid of, or avoid, the things or the people that enrage you, nor can you change them, but you can learn to control your reactions.”
I love that this definition does not say we need to manage or control our anger! We do not have control over this emotion (or any of the others). The only thing we ultimately have control over is our actions and reactions when we sense anger burning inside us.
In fact, our anger is not coming at us to harm us, it is actually come to us to help us.
Our anger assists us by bringing to our attention the violation of our boundaries. It is solely concerned with our safety and security. Karla McLaren, author of The Language of Emotions, says this about anger: “Anger’s basic message is one of protection, for yourself certainly, but also for others.”
When we feel anger, or frustration, or irritation, or any of anger’s emotional offspring, then we can always know: a boundary has been violated. That boundary was keeping us safe and protected, and now that it’s gone, our anger has arrived to make sure we pay attention to it and re-establish the boundary, so that we don’t forget about it and move on boundary-less. And as McLaren states above, our anger alerts us when we witness other’s boundaries being violated as well.
I actually like to think of my anger as a sidekick to me. It comes when I need to be alerted about a boundary that has been violated, and then it leaves once I have re-established that boundary. When I see it this way, I can feel grateful that I have my anger to communicate this to me. This is important stuff to be aware of!
Well, this is all great information to know about our anger, but what can we actually do when we feel angry? How do we work through our frustration? Our irritation? Our rage? In a healthy, nondestructive, and safe way?
PROBLEM: How do we work with our anger, so we can control our actions and reactions?
The first step in shifting your mind from anger management to anger assistance is to understand that your emotions are messengers telling you something you need to specifically do. Once you understand this concept, then you can learn to discern the messages you are receiving from your emotions. If you are receptive to those messages, you can know what you need to do regarding your real-time circumstances. Finally, if you have done all that and acted on the action item your emotion has brought to you, the emotion leaves, and you are left feeling peaceful—and triumphant!
This process doesn’t just “reduce both your emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes,” but it completely eliminates the anger from the current situation, allowing you to see things more clearly, without the “anger lens,” so you can problem solve and address the situation in your logical brain, rather than your emotional, fired-up brain.
We’ll walk through this whole process, so keep reading!
Working through your emotion this way will not stop you from ever getting angry again. And if you can see how anger is protecting you, then you wouldn’t want to live your life that way at all. We need our anger. But we also need to know how to identify its message and work through it!
I’ve had many experiences where I’ve felt anger and its offspring—frustration, irritation, annoyance, etc. I’ve even written about a few—like the time I was feeling a little defensive when I thought people were going to rent my parents’ house, or the time I felt disrespected when someone put a dirty bowl on the countertop instead of in the dishwasher. These times, and others (click on the Anger tag to find more stories), I was able to recognize the message in my emotion of anger, and I after I acted on it, my anger left, helping me to feel completely peaceful afterward.
It’s an amazing process—that anyone can do. EVEN YOU!
Would you like your anger to assist you right now?
Let’s do it. Let’s work through something you’ve been angry about for a while, and see if we can figure out its message to you.
But before we start, let’s talk about something really important.
We often associate anger with BAD. I remember growing up thinking it’s not okay to get angry. I would always stuff it deep down inside and repress is, or sometimes explode with it. I never felt better for doing either of these things. And I always felt BAD for having felt it in the first place. I truly believed iff you’re angry, you’re a bad person.
But THIS IS NOT TRUE.
So if you feel this way, say this out loud to yourself:
“My anger does not make me a bad person. My anger is not bad. My anger is bringing me a message about my situation. I am ready to receive it.”
. . .
Did you say it out loud???
. . .
The process below is best accomplished in the quiet. So if now is not a good time, bookmark this page and return to it early tomorrow morning, or set a reminder on your phone to open this page again this evening when you are the only one up.
But if now is a good time, continue on.
Now take a few deep breaths. Breathe in and fill your lungs full to capacity. Breathe out and blow the air away, visualizing releasing any gunk and garbage that you’ve been holding onto.
Once you have done that, now breathe fresh air and visualize it going into your heart, filling your heart, and then exhaling from your heart. Give your heart a good five or six breaths.
Finally, visualize yourself remaining there within your heart as you ask these next questions.
The first question to ask is this: “Is the anger I’ve been feeling lately my own anger?” Sometimes we can pick up and carry other people’s emotions. If the anger you’re feeling is not actually yours, you don’t need to work through it, you can just give it back. If someone comes to mind and you feel like you got someone else’s anger that you’re carrying, check out this post here called “Carrying Emotions and How to Give Them Back”.
But if the anger is your’s, then remain in your heart and ask, “What boundary was violated?”
Wait quietly and listen. Perhaps an image will come to mind. Maybe you’ll remember an experience from earlier in the day/week/month. Or you might just get that gut knowing.
Don’t hold any expectations of how it will come. Expectations limit what you can receive.
Once you have gained insight, dig around until you understand clearly what boundary was violated.
Then go back to the existence in your heart and ask now, “How can I restore this boundary?”
Again, don’t assume things. Just wait and listen.
The message might be a mental action you need to take, perhaps a visualization of creating an energetic bubble around you representing your respect or honor. Or your message might be to do something physically, like the experience when my friends picked our cherries and I got mad.
However, your anger’s message will never be to hurt yourself or someone else, so if you feel that is the message, go back and start again—taking in a few extra deep breaths while you’re at it.
If you received your action item, great job! Now do it!
If you couldn’t figure out what your individual message was, leave a comment, or send me a message. Let’s figure it out so you can feel better!
SOLUTION: The best way to work through your anger is to recognize that it’s helping you pay attention to a violated boundary, and to listen to its message so you can re-establish that boundary once again.
So . . .
How did it go? Do you feel better now?
Perhaps now you’re starting to feel sad, or maybe a little anxious. That’s another sidekick coming to tell you something.
You might even still feel angry—and if so, then there’s another boundary that you need to focus on and re-establish. So do it!
Shifting from the paradigm of anger management to anger assistance can truly change how you act and react with your anger’s help. Managing and controlling your anger is a life-long losing battle. But learning to listen to its message only takes some practice and then you can come out on top every time.
Know someone who struggles with anger? Gently, tactfully, share this post with them. Work together and help each other in recognizing the message that anger is bringing.
You can do it! I know you can. You were created with the ability to recognize the message in your anger. It just takes some practice, but pretty soon, you can approach any anger-arising situation and use the assistance of your emotion to empower you!
(Remember! The contents of this website, Everyday Emotions, are shared for informational purposes only and are collected from my own life experiences. I am not a professional in mental health. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.)