Anger is a normal part of life…but if you don’t listen deeply to your anger, you’ll have a hard time. I often ask my clients, “What role does anger play in your life?”
That may seem like a strange question until you realize anger shows up differently for other people.
- Chris holds it in and holds it in until it explodes, which has destroyed some of his relationships
- Jordan pushes it down, way down, and that works except he often feels like he doesn’t feel other emotions either
- Kayla believes in letting it all out so she flies into angry rages that frighten her spouse and children
Part of taking good care of yourself is considering how anger affects you and you in your life. How? Listen deeply to your anger.
If you live your life and never reflect on the role anger shows up in, that means anger is in your blindspot. Just like when you’re driving, the thing in your blindspot can hurt you!
Anger isn’t bad or good. If you react and speak only in anger, it’s like pouring bleach on a plant. It’s deadly. It’s a huge mess. Anger hurts you on the inside and those you are close to on the outside.
Don’t we teach children to use your words not just take actions?
A closer look at anger
Anger is when physiologically your stress hormones flood into your bloodstream, your heart begins to beat faster, and your blood pressure rises.
It does makes sense and is in line with research that people who feel this anger surge are at a higher risk for heart problems.
The emotion can become so strong that we forgot to check in with the need behind the anger and instead grab whatever is within immediate reach.
There is always a need behind anger.
Yes, anger is natural and just suppressing it and holding it back can also be bad for your health.
Remember Rumi’s poem: anger is a guide from beyond
Last week I talked about Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” and how we can think our emotions as guests. Emotions are guests, not permanent residents, and they have a story to tell you!
When anger shows up, it carries this message: “something’s not right here.” Listen deeply to your anger. It really wants your attention.
Before you express your anger at someone else, first let your anger express its message to you. Your anger is a guide and a messenger.
However, take your anger’s message with a grain of salt because your anger’s truth is not the truth. But you should still listen. It could be right, it could be wrong, it doesn’t matter. Listen for the meaning.
What meaning are you making out of a situation? The parable of the cow in the parking lot
Imagine you’re trying to park your car in a lot and a car unexpectedly pulls out in front of you. You have to slam on your brakes to avoid hitting the car. I bet you think something like, “What is this guy’s problem? Isn’t he paying attention? What a jerk. What an inconsiderate jerk.”
Now imagine you’re trying to park your car and a cow walks out in front of you.
How are your thoughts different? Do you think “What an inconsiderate jerk this cow is” ? Probably not! Depending on where you live you may think “Where on earth did this cow come from?” or “Oh no, Farmer Joe’s cattle got out of the fence again!”
But at no point are you angry at the cow. Because the cow is just a cow! And you know it doesn’t understand your human agenda of trying to park your car.
How can we apply this story to everyday situations when someone is aggravating us?
- Stop. Become aware of yourself in that moment. Check in with the meaning your are making of the current situation.
- Ask yourself. Is this true? Do I absolutely know this to be true?
- As you explore the meaning behind your reaction you find a “pot of gold” of what is true for you.
When we can stop and check our own meaning behind our emotion we have the power to take care of ourselves in a way that feels safe and caring.
We can make a YOU-turn to recover.
How to listen deeply to your anger
The way to defuse your anger so it doesn’t become a squatter in your home is to take a YOU-turn.
First, stop and notice your anger, irritation, or frustration. Where do you experience it in your body?
- A hotness in your face
- Something wanting to burst from your chest
- Clenched in your fists?
Remember this is your reaction. It is personal to you. In this moment it could feel justified to have this feeling. This is the knee-jerk response that you have to anger.
Not everyone would respond this way. They might feel something different. This is your personal knee jerk response.
Listen deeper. Listen to the words anger shares with you.
What are your knee-jerk responses?
When you listen deeply to your anger and follow your reaction you’ll learn something helpful about yourself!
Your knee-jerk response to anger may look nothing like anger. Do you notice when people are angry around, you you get extremely quiet or submissive? They get out of reaction and then you feel safe.
But then you notice there are more vulnerable feelings like, “no one cares about what I need!” And in this example apparently not even you!
Listening deeply helps you hear how your knee-jerk reaction of getting “safe” compromises what you also felt angry about.
Another way to be angry is to be impatient. Then the knee-jerk response to anger is impatience.
Focus on your impatience. Do you wish others would do it the way you think is right, and when they don’t, you feel angry?
You may realize you like to be in control because you feel safer. Who would have known that being impatient means you feel out of control or even unsafe!
Use your words not only your angry behavior
Once you listen deeply to your anger however it is showing up you find out what that part wants of needs.
- Begin to understand yourself better and can return to the people in your life and let them know you better too!
- Can say what you have found out and what you need more of in relation to them.
- Might not get exactly what you need but the success is that you used your words and not just your behavior.
Sometimes you are telling yourself what you need. Then it is up to you to listen to yourself and follow through.
Anger is an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself. Take it. Find your words and step out of the anger reaction into stating your need behind that anger. The anger reaction is slowly killing you.
“Parking side-by-side” by Flickr user vil.sandi is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.