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If we are frustrated and feel stressed, we are more likely to react with anger. If we are tired or hungry, we are more prone to react in an angry fashion. And, if we tend to hold our feelings inside rather than talk them out, we are more likely to have an angry outburst (picture a pressure cooker).
The process of dealing with negative thoughts and feelings can be divided into three parts for purposes of discussion, although the living of it occurs in one piece.
3 Parts of Dealing with Negative Thoughts and Feelings
1. Recognition and Labeling: Anger is a body-felt sense. We can begin to recognize our anger by becoming mindful and aware of these cues. Physiological body changes occur such as sweating, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, quickened breathing, trembling, brain wave pattern changes, face flushing, tensing up, depressed thinking, and the “fight or flight” response. By assigning a label to the feeling, we are able to more fully identify what is going on inside of ourselves, which gives us more control over how to deal with the feelings in a constructive manner. At a deeper level, it provides us an opportunity to become aware of the underlying thoughts and feelings driving the anger response, including fear, threats to our sense of self, or responses to resentments we hold.
2. Owning It: We are socialized early on about whether or not it is okay to get angry. Anger is an emotion that we learn to suppress in many cases because we may have been taught it was bad or wrong to be angry. We also may have been taught that aggression and violently expressed anger was the way to control, dominate or manipulate others to get one’s way. Both suppressed anger and unbridled, uncontrolled anger create a toxic brew of psychological and physical consequences. To overcome the devastation of destructive anger, one must identify and confront, with honesty and courage, the underlying feelings or issues that stimulate the anger. Are they from present-time experience? Or, are they stimuli, drawing on deep-seated, subconscious feelings of fear or hurt that indicate unresolved emotional blocks from your past? It is very important to explore why you are angry and upset (with someone else) by identifying and acknowledging any guilt, resentment, rage, fear, embarrassment or loss underneath this anger. This cannot be done objectively when you are angry. Why are you angry?
3. Expressing Anger: Expressing anger requires dealing with the person, situation or problem causing the anger. Confronting a situation in a healthy and assertive manner, in a way which also gets your needs met, sometimes takes a lot of courage. In preparing for confrontation, it is wise to explore whether the person or situation is similar to an original source of hurt, fear or outrage. Dr. Paul Standal uses imagery, role-playing, an empty chair, or other object, to confront past hurts and pains; with his help, you learn to express the submerged feelings that come out as you deal with this anger.
Learning to express anger in a healthy, assertive way, particularly when confronted and dealing with other angry people, is the goal. Healthy expression more likely leads to mutual understanding and a productive outcome in which one’s needs are understood. Dr. Standal helps his clients learn to modulate aggressive, out-of-control or explosive anger. He alternatively helps clients “find their voice” through expressing their anger in a healthy, assertive manner, contrary to behavior that, in the past, has led to toxic consequences.
Dr. Standal explores and teaches healthy alternatives for expressing your anger and getting your needs met in ways that do not harm others or yourself. In doing so, he helps you change some of your negative responses to anger, like ignoring it, “stonewalling,” walking away, withdrawing in fear, becoming defensive, yelling and screaming, or becoming physical. He helps you find alternate ways of dealing with situations (ex. “Are your expectations realistic?”). He encourages you to inform people in your current life of your need to analyze anger responses and to seek professional assistance and understanding in this exploration process as needed. Additionally, he helps you learn to express assertive communication and alternative ways of dealing with the situation.
Steps to Handle Current Anger
Step 1: Recognize what arouses or provokes your anger. Learn to recognize when you are becoming angry and respond to neutralize it. The “anger energy” is produced even if you do not realize that you are angry. Is it a situation, an event, a person? Is it real or imagined?
Step 2: Take a Time Out.
Step 3: Relax yourself by using deep, natural breathing and muscle relaxation. Take deep breaths and silently repeat the word “relax” until you are able to calm down. Do not say or do anything until you are calm. Avoid words or actions in the “heat” of the moment.
Step 4: Use a rational approach to “rethink,” “reframe,” and reason in your mind. What is going on and why am I angry? Is this a trigger event, bringing up old unresolved anger or resentment in me? Is what is happening right now to provoke my anger a product of my past?
1. Expression of assertive communication and dealing with the situation. Differentiate between aggressive, assertive and passive-aggressive. Practice expressing your anger in ways that do not offend, but which also help meet your needs.
2. Physical activity rids the body of some of the energy of anger. Problems grow when we suppress that energy or hold in our feelings when we have been angered or hurt. Some constructive releases of anger include taking walks, swimming, cycling, bowling, jogging, yoga, systematic relaxation and meditation.
3. Talking to someone, preferably an unbiased mediator such as a therapist or counselor.
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