I have been helping one of my favorite people address some things in her life, and I wanted to share one of those with you. I believe everyone needs to learn how to process their emotions, mainly their anger, because it has the ability to keep you “stuck” in life.
First, let’s understand anger. Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion. We tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from other vulnerable feelings. The underlying feeling is what we felt right before we got mad. It’s like an iceberg - you see anger on the surface, but what’s underneath the water that we can’t see?
Where did it start?
When my dad passed in 2009, I experienced all the emotions of grief and loss. The one that stuck out the most was anger. I was always mad or on edge, and I had no idea why. I worked with the most amazing, life-changing therapist who helped me deal with it one situation at a time. I would talk through a situation, and she’d ask questions that helped me get to the root of my perspective, and most of the time it was hurt, fear, or my general brokenness. Anger masks all those things, and when you get to the root, you’ll get better. You’ll have compassion for yourself. You’ll allow yourself to feel. But you’ll choose a better reaction.
My pastor always says: choices lead, feelings follow. He’s right! But, we'll dive into that another time.
In 2014, I had someone very close to me reject me because of my anger issues. I was completely caught off guard. I thought I dealt with it already! It was a wake up call that I had more work to do. I immediately found a book that trained therapists how to treat patients with anger management issues. I thought, “if it can teach someone how to help others, it can teach me to help myself.” It was a very dry read but I learned a LOT. The one main thing I took from it has changed the way I process my emotions in my daily life. POWERFUL? I think so!
This author said that the first thing he does with patients who struggle with their emotions, anger in particular, is to come up with their own anger scale (or thermometer) of sorts. Basically, something that describes how you progress through the severity of your mood.
Here is mine: 1 - 8. One is not that bad and eight is very bad.
1 - annoyed
2 - irritated
3 - frustrated
4 - upset
5 - mad
6 - angry
7 - pissed
8 - irate
So, what this does, is when something happens that upsets you, just pause and figure out how you feel based on your own scale. Taking this pause and taking stock of your feelings towards the situation, will help you in choosing a reaction. It also helps you let go of the stupid crap that shouldn’t get your attention or energy.
The delay also helps you CHOOSE your response instead of just reacting. I had time to think about what I wanted to say - or to calm down if what happened didn’t match my reaction. My former Pastor’s wife said once “if a small pebble hits the water and has a boulder reaction, something ain’t right.” Ha. It stuck with me because it’s so true! The little things are frustrating but not worth getting irate about.
The other thing to realize is that people love drama. So when I tell a story of “this happened today and I was really frustrated,” my friend would say things like “yeah that would’ve pissed me off.” But, because I decided where I was on my scale, I was able to say “I hear ya, but for me, I was just frustrated.” It keeps things in perspective instead of escalating my feelings based on how someone else would react.
It sounds simple, and it really is, but it has a huge impact.
How do I apply this?
Ok Laura, so I’ve take stock of my feelings and see where I am on my scale, how do I keep from overreacting? If you decide you’re at a level 4, how do you keep yourself from reacting like you’re at 8? How do you know your reaction is appropriate? And at what point do you decide that an argument is warranted?
1 - The first question I ask myself is - “is it true?” I used to get in a lot of trouble by making assumptions about why other people did things. This first question alleviated a lot of angst right away. Like, if someone asked me to do something at work but then did it themselves, I’d be mad that they wasted my time and my mind would start the "did they not think I could do it?!" My inner critic would then spiral. Chances are it had nothing to do with me or they needed it done faster than I could get to it. I try to tell myself positive things, or I just ask them why they did it.
2 - The next thing I think about is - "why am I so upset about this?" Did it hit a core belief for you? Did it affect someone you love? Threaten your safety or security? What was your trigger? The one that comes to mind for me - I’ll help anyone with anything they need. So, I get upset when someone manipulates me into helping them instead of just asking me. If I feel manipulated, I get to a 7 on my scale REAL FAST. I have to step back and realize it’s my own trigger and they’re probably just afraid to ask for help. This helps me have compassion for them, and I’ll talk to them about it when I’m calmer.
3 - The last question I ask is - "Is it going to make a difference if I say something?" Some people are just jerks and are selfish and won't change just because I speak. Like driving, oh man, my husband loves to flash his lights and try to "teach people a lesson." I got rid of road rage by telling myself that every time someone cut me off they were on the way to the hospital to see a dying relative. It seems silly but it worked. Ha. It's not worth getting upset over because they aren't going to think twice about you later in the day. A pastor once said "being angry and holding a grudge is like you drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." That really put things in perspective for me! It takes so much energy to be upset, but so much less to be content and happy.
I hope this is helpful for you! Studying my anger has helped me get to the root of what’s actually going on. It’s easier to address that than be angry or on edge all the time. I’m more pleasant to be around because my friends and family aren’t constantly waiting for me to lose my cool. I live more at peace now and I’m so grateful for that. I’m grateful for the people in my life who helped me through it, and I’m here to help you through yours. Send me a message if you’d love some coaching in this area; I’d love nothing more than to help you!
HIGHLIGHTED RESOURCE: Anger Management: The Complete Treatment Guidebook for Practitioners. By Howard Kassinove and Raymond Chip Tafrate