Have you ever forgotten to turn on your blinker when changing lanes?

Then you glance at the driver you moved in front of, and you see they are flying off the handle… completely enraged with hand gestures and horns, etc. Well, this is not really about your blinker.

flying off the handleAnger is a completely natural emotion to have and express if and when needed, however, sometimes we express anger at one thing when we are really upset about something else – and something like the missed blinker is just a trigger allowing the flood of pent-up emotions to finally explode.

And, unfortunately, many of us do this all too often.

We push away our feeling of anger with distractions and other coping mechanisms, so we don’t actually “feel” the feelings. When we repress how we feel, we avoid sitting with the problem and analyzing why we feel upset and what is causing the emotional triggers deep within.

So how do you go about correcting this learned behavior?

First, you need to learn to be accepting of ALL your emotions. Know that it is completely human and normal to feel hurt and frustration and anger.

Next, it is important to acknowledge your feelings when they arise instead of pushing them aside. Take the time to feel them, process them, and see if you can pinpoint why (really why) the emotion is occurring at that time. Is it really about the blinker? Or, did something happen earlier in the day, or week, or even in childhood or past trauma that you still react to?

Then, you can make an educated decision on how to best handle the situation and take it from there…

The way we think and act upon our anger falls into 3 categories.

3 Modes of Expressing AngerWe can not act or act indirectly (Passive / Non-Assertive), we can act out stormily (Aggressive), or we can choose a middle path that is calmer and more constructive (Assertive).

From an anger management perspective, acting assertively is the best way to deal with a person or situation that has angered you. Being assertive means that you acknowledge your worth and choose to stand up for what you desire and feel is right. But you also show respect for the other parties involved and are sometimes willing to compromise if feasible.

If you are too passive, you may let other’s take advantage of you and consistently treat you poorly. This leads to self-esteem issues and can even lead to serious anxiety and depression.

And, if you are too aggressive, you will likely alienate people you care about. You could end up losing your job, your respect, and potentially even end up in legal trouble depending on how violently you behave.

The good news that we all need to hear is that your reaction to anger is a learned behavior, meaning that you can learn to change how you think and react to triggering situations and improve your quality of life in the process!

Here are some strategies for navigating and managing your anger…

Cognitive – Understand that we create our own anger.

Anger is energy that we create for a variety of reasons. Typically, because our demands or unreasonable expectations are not met, we are projecting blame, or we are unwilling to look inward… to go back to examine the deeper emotional piece of why we’re angry.

If we acknowledge that we create our anger, then we can also know that it’s healthy and normal to get angry. We have to give up the idea that it’s unhealthy to express anger.

We need to accept that we may get angry more often than we wish so instead of condemning ourselves, pledge to work on it! Do so by analyzing your own relationship with anger.

Spend time thinking about what anger means to you. What bearing do your past relationships or family of origin lend to your beliefs and mannerisms surrounding anger? Some people think anger expressed means the sky is falling; to others, it simply means pass the salt!

Emotional – Acknowledge that you have angry feelings.

To clarify, the cognitive part of anger is where we think the thought that we are angry, whereas this emotional part of anger is where that thought begins to manifest into feelings – sadness, frustration, anxiety, fear, etc.

Because our bodies hold our emotions, try to think about where you feel the anger in your body. Is it in your stomach, burning ears, a tenseness in your jaw or neck? Try to remember when other times that you felt that way… this way you can realize if this is a trigger for you and, if so, you can then work to identify the true source.

And, now that you are beginning to be conscious of your feelings, you can then attempt to empathize with other people’s feelings. Try to imagine what you might be feeling if you were in their position. Practice understanding and giving acceptance to the people you feel angry with.

Behavioral – Exercise assertiveness using I statements.

Now that you have thought clearly about the fact that you are indeed angry and hopefully understand why you are having strong feelings of anger, we can move into evaluating how you can best express that anger.

state change to regulate the high emotionsIf you have been presenting your anger aggressively, start by releasing yourself from blame from feeling the anger in the first place. The move to using distraction techniques to control angry outbursts. Some ideas include stepping outside to get some fresh air and a brisk walk, or deep breathing and mediation exercises. I have also defined a variety of simple state change exercises that work well for diffusing anger.

If it’s a pattern that someone keeps crossing a previously stated boundary of yours, then you should use assertive language techniques to address those concerns. This means using “I” statements and avoiding “you”, for example, “I feel hurt when I hear things like that and I would prefer to not be spoken to like that moving forward.” You may also lower your voice to help prevent escalation and indicate that you are being serious.

Another option is to choose not to express your resentments at all. If you can realize that the anger is there but that it’s really about the other person and not you, then perhaps it’s best just to let it slide. Or stop and think about what could be happening to the other person and chose empathy – choose to get curious and inquire about them in a genuine (not passive-aggressive) manner.

What about hitting the pillow to get it out?

Recent research shows that hitting something like a pillow can just increase your agitative state and it’s more helpful to do a non-aggressive state change like taking a shower or going for a walk. This method also creates a learned behavior that has the potential to lead to hitting walls or people later on in life.

What about just bottling it all up?

Well, you have to first have to admit that you’re angry… and understand why are you keeping it in… Are you scared of that person and how they would react? Is it learned behavior, for example, you feel unworthy or unsafe to express your emotions in this particular relationship? Or are you simply choosing empathy?

If you are choosing empathy, that’s great because your anger will subside as you recognized it and made the conscious choice to let it go.

If you are taking a passive route because of fear or unworthiness, then those issues need to be addressed – you may determine you are in a toxic relationship and decide to extricate yourself from it entirely for your own well-being.

What if it’s a gridlock conversation?

If the argument cannot be resolved with a concession or compromise, you may need to step away and revisit it later. For example, if either person is “flooded” (i.e., so rushed with big emotions that their rational system is shut down), then this is not the time to problem-solve. Instead, take a break from the conversation and hopefully, both people can engage in self-care and state change to regulate the high emotions. There is also the option of agreeing to disagree and just moving on in separate directions on the issue if that is an option.

Choosing awareness and empathy are the best ways to control your anger response.

Choose awareness and empathyManaging and assertively communicating your anger can help you avoid being stuck with guilt, anxiety, depression, and other undesirable consequences. Even just becoming more aware of the reasons surrounding your anger can help ease the frustration you may feel when you can’t change another person’s anger.

Know that you can only control how you want to feel about it and communicate around it… taking the higher road can leave you feeling less stressed and generally more satisfied with life in general. After all, maybe that driver who forgot their blinker was actually on the way to the shop to get it fixed, right!? 😉

If you – individually or as a couple – would like help exploring the reasons behind your anger, identifying triggers, and determining the best way to handle your particular stressors, therapy can be a great resource. Please feel free to give me a call!