How to Manage Your Anger
By Arcana Siddhi
The Core of Anger
In 1976 I had my first boil. Beneath my skin emerged a red swollen protrusion about an inch in diameter. The inflamed mound soon had a snowcap as the infection made its way to the top. Eventually, it erupted through the skin and the infection came gushing out relieving me of the pain. For the next few days, the discharge continued to drain out and the boil receded. I was glad to have it over with until a friend of mine asked me “did you get the core out?” Since I hadn’t gotten the core of the boil out, although it appeared to have completely healed over, it again became infected.
Moods or Mind States
We all experience different moods or “mind states” that can change throughout the course of our day. In a loose sense, we are all multiple personalities.
It is very helpful to identify many of these “parts” or mental states and be aware of how they can take charge at any given moment. Most people identify between 7 and 20 different parts—although some can identify more. Some universal mind states or “parts” that most people identify are the critical part—this part may be focused on criticizing everything you do or may focus on criticizing others (or both). Most everyone identifies one or more child parts. The child parts can be very needy and demanding generally corresponding to what they felt was lacking at a particular period of psychological development.
The Effects of Negative Emotions
The following is a dynamic example of this principle. In the South Pacific and some parts of Africa, villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an axe, the natives will convene at the site of the tree every morning for about 1 month. Every morning for maybe 30 minutes the natives will yell and scream at the tree. Predictably, after about 30 days of this screaming ritual, the tree falls over.
What Predisposes Us to Anger and Resentment
Many conditions create a favorable soil for anger and resentment to flourish. By understanding what conditions nurture anger and resentment, we can try and eliminate as many of these nutrients that sustain their growth and replace them with conditions that encourage internal serenity and peace.
Certain personality types are more prone to anger than others. Persons who need to be in control of situations and who demand cooperation and respect from others are more apt to respond with anger when others don’t want to follow their lead. Very unassertive personality types also are at greater risk of becoming angry due to not expressing their needs and wants to others. On a personality continuum, those persons who are overly assertive (aggressive) on one end and those who lack assertiveness on the other end, are more prone to have issues with anger than those who are more balanced in getting their needs met.
Another personality trait that invites anger is rigidity. People who lack flexibility are generally intolerant and critical of other people and become easily angered. Their primary conflict resolution style is competitive wherein “I win, you lose.” They will rarely agree to collaborate unless forced by higher authority, and then it is done begrudgingly.
This personality characteristic is generally coupled with black and white thinking. There is a cognitive inability to see shades of grey. This can lead to fanaticism. In very extreme cases this can lead to a desire to exterminate anyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do.
Impatience is another trait that predisposes us to anger and resentment. We live in a fast-paced society and many of us suffer from the inability to wait for things. The whole culture thrives on our inability to delay gratification. The credit card economy, buy now and pay later epitomizes this mentality.
Personality is how we think and feel about our external conditions and how we respond to such circumstances as a result of our perceptions. Personality is the mentality we have acquired from our subtle body, which is a repository of images from our behaviors and thoughts, not just from this one lifetime, but many lifetimes.
There are healthy and unhealthy attachments in this world. Many of the clients I see in therapy have unhealthy attachments. Everything here in this material plane of existence is temporary, so a loss is part of our human experience. Grieving is a natural response to loss. There are stages we go through in accepting any loss. Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her work with dying patients identified 5 stages that a person goes through when diagnosed with a terminal illness. These include denial, anger, depression, bargaining with God, and acceptance. Depending on the degree of the attachment, we go through a similar process with many of the losses we experience.
The propensity for this intense attachment is often seen very early on in a child’s development. Young children who have a very difficult time accepting limits and who throw themselves on the floor with fury upon hearing the word “no”, often are the middle-school-age children who are referred to mental health services with anger control problems. They are the children who get into lots of fights when they don’t get their way. And predictably these children often grow up into angry adults.
Taking on too much/stress
I recently received an e-mail from a close friend. She became inspired to invite all of her friends to her house for Thanksgiving. Aside from inviting her friends, she extended invitations to all of her friend’s relatives as well. In a mood of service, she set out to cook a Thanksgiving feast for this large group. But as the day went on, she felt more and more stressed with her undertaking. She started to feel resentment towards her friends for not helping her with the cooking. By the time dinner was to be served, my friend’s anger was smoldering. Unable to contain her displeasure, Joanne’s feelings fumed out with a barrage of insults and accusations. Joanne’s predominant nature is very gentle and sweet, so her friends were baffled by this out-of-character behavior.
This is particularly challenging to personality types that want to please others and have a hard time saying no.
When I was 21 years old I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland. I had a part-time job at the counseling center teaching assertiveness training groups. Most of the participants were young housewives who were experiencing resentment in their marriages due to their lack of assertive skills. They felt it was wrong to express any negative feelings like anger to their husbands. So instead of expressing their feelings, they ignored them and in more extreme cases, repressed them.
In my experience repression is similar to sinking an object, such as a dead body, into the ocean that later floats back to the top. The memory of the event and the emotion are pushed into the subconscious, but often the emotion finds its way back into the conscious mind without the memory of the event that created the feelings. Later the memory may also surface, but until that time the person is left with one or more free-floating emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, or fear.
Avoidance of emotions and repression is not a good way to deal with uncomfortable feelings and memories. Rather, they should be dealt with in a healthy, growth productive way.
Respectfully expressing our feelings to others allows us to direct the anger energy outward rather than pushing it down inside. It releases the tension and allows for a resolution to take place.
Ellen one of the group participants was very introverted and feared being rejected by others. This fear made it very difficult for her to express her true feelings about most anything.
We all have certain expectations of others and ourselves. Many of these expectations come from our family of origin. Often young couples get married and each one has a preconceived set of expectations for the other spouse based on how things were between their parents. Sadly, many of these expectations are never verbalized and when they go unmet in the marriage, they create feelings of anger and resentment. My husband and I have counseled many couples where the primary source of anger and resentment was unmet expectations.
Anger often masks sadness, disappointment, and hurt. It becomes like a protective armor shielding us from having to face more painful feelings. Anger can become an addictive emotional response similar to a drug or alcohol. When we cut ourselves off from feeling uncomfortable and hurtful feelings, we also cut ourselves off from the emotional growth that comes with having to cope with sadness and disappointment.
We also have societal expectations based on the culture we are raised in. We expect to be treated fairly, we expect to have our rights protected, and we expect justice to prevail. When individuals or groups are discriminated against and these basic rights are violated, the predictable response from resentment is aggression. In the 60s riots broke out in American cities as a backlash to a century of mistreatment of African American citizens.
Terrorism is a heinous modern method for disenfranchised individuals or groups to retaliate for perceived wrongs. Rageful terrorists target innocent people in an effort to create intense public fear. These tactics may have some short-term effects for the perpetrators, but violence against innocent people is never sanctioned and such strategies will only bring more suffering to the aggressor.
All anger triggers ultimately stem from unmet expectations. We expect people will treat us in a certain way. We expect that the drama of our life will unfold in a particular way. A person who has a very realistic vision of the world has more reasonable expectations.
Anytime we attempt to accomplish something within this material plane of existence there are bound to be obstacles on our path. We have to deal with others who may move at a slower pace or see things differently than we do. We also have to deal with different types of modern technology, some of which can waste endless hours of our time due to some glitch or because of the complexity of learning how to use the product.
When someone takes advantage of our trusting nature and exploits us, we can easily be cheated. Kathy, an 18–year-old client was referred from the psychiatric inpatient unit. She had taken a bottle of Tylenol after her “boyfriend” convinced her to have sex with him. He promised her that he would marry her if she gave her body to him. Shortly after submitting to his desire, he stopped calling her and wouldn’t answer her calls. She felt unprecedented rage and despair. In a desperate measure to get even with him, she tried to end her life.
Months after being taken advantage of in this way, Kathy held tight to her resentment toward her old boyfriend. He had taken her virginity, something she had promised to give only to her husband. Her feelings of mistrust extended out to the entire male population and she vowed to never get involved in a relationship again.
We can be cheated in so many areas of our life. Scams of every description plague the postal service, the Internet, and multimedia. Cheaters prey off trusting and innocent people.
As adults, this mentality of comparing what others are getting with what we are getting continues. Perhaps we become a little more sophisticated in expressing our feelings. At work, we can become resentful if our colleague gets a promotion or a raise. At home, we can become resentful if our neighbor’s college-bound child gets a scholarship and our child doesn’t. As adults, we may not scream “no fair” at our boss or neighbor, but we can nurture resentful feelings that can subtly undermine our relationships.
Recently a client was complaining that bad things always happen to him and life just isn’t fair. Ultimately, he was challenging the partiality of his supreme father. Without a spiritual perspective, it is very difficult to accept the perceived inequalities that exist in this world. The law of contrast will always be there. If we want to change our “no fair” attitude then we can look for those who have less than us.
From Sadi The Gulistan:
“Once, when my feet were bare, and I had not the means of obtaining shoes, I came to the chief of Kufah in a state of much dejection, and saw there a man who had no feet. I returned thanks to God and acknowledged his mercies, and endured my want of shoes with patience.”
Violation of Boundaries
Norma’s story is a violation of boundaries. Most people have a strong sense of physical and psychological boundaries, both of which are strongly influenced by the culture they are raised in.
The more we understand our unique psychology, the more control we can exercise in making positive changes in our lives. In this next section we discuss victim consciousness, and how holding onto anger and resentment creates this.
A person in victim consciousness perceives that they are helplessly suffering and have no control over their situation. They have a fatalistic attitude about their circumstances and rarely put forward much effort to transform their situation. We often hear them say such things as “This is the way I’ve always been. It’s just who I am.”
How we become victimized by resentment
It is important to understand how holding onto resentment make us a victim. When we hold onto resentment, we are abdicating responsibility for what happened in our lives. We thus blame another person or the situation – or we even blame God.
Blame strips us of our power. As soon as the focus is on someone or something outside of ourselves as being the source of our distress, we lose the ability to make changes that could transform our lives.
Negative emotions are fueled by the way we perceive our situation. The kinds of questions we ask ourselves about our circumstances determine the direction we move towards in life. Questions such as “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” keep us imprisoned in victim consciousness. We want to ask the kind of questions that will help us move forward and will empower us to improve our situation. For example, ask such questions, “What can I learn from this?” or “How can I use this situation to help myself and others? These questions have enormous potential to change how we perceive our condition and thus how we feel.
Resentment keeps us emotionally rooted in the past. We have a limited supply of energy at our disposal. We have so many units of energy to expend on our physical, mental, and spiritual health and our growth. Keeping resentment alive requires a large output of energy, and this drains us of the resources for a healthy progressive life. It is similar to allocating money to take care of our current and future needs. If we are paying off a large debt from the past, we may not have enough money left to meet our immediate needs, what to speak of our future requirements.
Closing the resentment account will free up a lot of needed energy that we can then use to go forward in our lives.
Personal Growth Exercise:
How does holding onto resentments affect your ability to accomplish personal goals?
Identify Your Feelings
When you express only some of the emotions you feel from a conflict or upset in your life, the resentment never gets fully resolved and the emotional tension can’t be released.
Start with level 1: Anger, blame and resentment:
I hate it when…..
It really makes me angry…..
How could you…..
I am so mad at you for….
Don’t explain your feeling from your head –express them from your heart
Don’t edit your feelings. Even though part of you might be thinking, “But I don’t always feel this way. I don’t really think he’s a jerk.” Let it out. By writing it out, you won’t push it down to make it an even bigger feeling to explode later.
After you write your feeling of anger and resentment, you might start to feel sadness. This is a signal to go to the next level:
Level 2: Hurt, sadness and disappointment:
It hurts me that…
I feel so sad when…
I felt so disappointed when you…
Level 3. fear, insecurity and wounds
I’m afraid that…
It scares me when…
It reminds me of..
Level 4: regret, understanding and responsibility
I’m sorry that…
I didn’t mean to…
Please forgive me for…
I know sometimes I…
I understand that you feel…
Level 5: Intentions, solutions and wishes
I want to …
I promise to …
I hope that…
Level 6: forgiveness and appreciation
Thank you for…
I forgive you for…
You are so…