“How has your week been?” I asked my client as we sat down for our routine weekly session.
“Terrible. I’m finding myself becoming so angry and I can’t get control of it these days. This isn’t like me! I’ve never been an angry person but the way the world is right now I can’t seem to keep myself from getting angry to the point where I am out of control. How can someone be happy when society is turning in on itself?”
It was an excellent question and one that I have found many people asking lately. There’s so much in the world to be angry about. Between Covid-19, politics, racial injustices, how do we not react out of anger? I find myself getting angry every time I look at the news.
Here’s the thing. Anger is a normal and very human emotion that everyone experiences. Not only is it a shared human experience, but it is very healthy as well. Healthy anger can be a driving force for motivation, action, and change. But when we allow ourselves to be ruled by rage that is fueled by the anger, we set ourselves up for harm in many ways. Unhealthy anger, or destructive anger often has a way of consuming us to the point where we have the potential to destroy our relationships, cause problems at work, and even inflict physical harm to ourselves. But then if this is the case, how do we allow ourselves to be free of this destructive energy?
When it comes to destructive anger, we must find the antidote to whatever is making us angry. Now, I don’t literally mean finding a magic potion that is going to take our problems away, because unfortunately that is the thing. We can’t run from the world and the problems it loves to throw at us. We don’t have a magic wand that will make it go away. What we do have is the ability to control how we react to what is happening around us. We can react in a healthy way. Remember, the goal is not to stop ourselves from ever experiencing anger. Rather, we are working to keep that anger from becoming destructive. Next time you find yourself in a position where you can feel your anger is escalating, try the following steps to help prevent it from turning to rage:
- Yell in your head STOP. This will give you the few seconds you need to allow yourself to think about your next actions.
- Ask yourself, what are the consequences if I allow myself to become destructive? For this, you need to think about true consequences that would matter. Is it worth it? How will your anger make things better for you?
- Take a deep breath and count to ten
- Recite to yourself “I can think about this in a healthy way”
- Keep taking deep breaths while reciting coping statements to yourself so you can reduce the intensity of your anger.
- Focus on positive feelings
- When you find yourself calmer, use that time to reflect and see how overwhelming your anger has made life become. Answer the question: What do I need to be OK right now and healthy in the long run?
When we get to a point where we feel lost and out of control with our anger, it can be overwhelming and make us feel hopeless. Sometimes we find that it is just too difficult to manage these symptoms and we need extra support. When I am meeting with a client, we work together to uncover the sources of our anger and learn how to build a toolbox of strategies to manage it better and learn to develop an anger management life practice. Clients I’ve worked with have been able to transform their lives by learning how to change their emotional reactivity.
At the end of the day remember that you are human. You’re going to feel angry sometimes and that’s okay! You have the right to not only be angry, but to express your anger in a healthy and productive way. Preventing ourselves from becoming destructive is what we are trying to achieve. Can you imagine what it would feel like to hit a life stressor and be able to pause, think, reframe then react? Change is possible and you deserve support.