It’s not easy to hold your temper, is it? Before you even know it, anger uncontrollably bursts forth. Recently, my own patience was tested over a four-month period by a liar and a cheat. Yes, I know that’s not her fundamental nature, but that’s how she acted out.
For the most part, I stayed calm, communicated clearly, and kept a compassionate perspective. However, there were moments when anger burned so hot, I thought I would explode. And, in fact, the steam did spill over onto my innocent husband once or twice, which I regret.
The whole affair showed me I have more training to do when it comes to skillfully working with anger. So I’m redoubling my commitment to catch anger before it catches me, potentially harming myself or another.
As I dig into the art of patience, I want to share all that I know about transforming anger with you. So let’s begin!
Step 1: Don’t Get Mad At Yourself
Do you feel self-recrimination, shame, guilt, or self-righteousness when anger arises in your mind or expresses itself in your words or behavior? Beware! None of these are healthy emotions to have on a regular basis nor will they bring you happiness or joy.
It’s healthy to feel regret, a wish to makes amends, and a determination to do better next time. But don’t get stuck in self-flagellation. Have compassion for yourself when angry thoughts arise and when you actually lose it. None of us are perfect yet so don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic standard.
The seeds of anger live deep within your unconscious mind. They may have been planted there in your childhood or, who knows, even in past lives. Then, the tendency to react with anger was reinforced through repetition over many years. Now, when triggered, anger will often shoot to the surface long before your rational mind enters the scene.
This happens to everyone so there’s no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. The problem is not the arising itself, but what you do with it.
So to start with, it’s important to know you are not your anger. Anger is just a passing emotion arising in your mind. As strong as it may seem, with practice you can learn to notice the first flash of annoyance and to let it go before it shoots forth like a geyser. Of course, this will take time but gradually it will get easier and easier.
Whatever arises in your mind, whatever mistakes you make, accept yourself with love and compassion. At the same time, know that you have the power to change your mind. Commit to working with anger until you’ve mastered it.
Step 2: Fully Embrace the Dangers of Anger
Anger is one of the most destructive forces on the planet. Look around and see the immense suffering that results from war, violence, and abuse. All these destructive actions begin in the individual mind.
Anger is detrimental to your personal health and happiness as well. Consider what your own anger can do to you:
"When people get angry they lose all sense of happiness. Even if they are good-looking and normally peaceful, their faces turn livid and ugly. Anger upsets their physical well-being and disturbs their rest; it destroys their appetites and makes them age prematurely. Happiness, peace, and sleep evade them, and they no longer appreciate people who have helped them and deserve their trust and gratitude. Under the influence of anger, people of normally good character change completely and can no longer be counted on. They are ruined by their anger, and they ruin others, too. But anyone who puts all his energy into destroying anger will be happy in this life and in lives to come." - the Dalai Lama
Modern science concurs. Anger can raise your risk of heart disease if it occurs frequently at high levels. It also activates the stress response, which - if chronic - can cause or contribute to everything from digestive distress to immune disorders.
The next step in working with anger is to really get just how damaging this emotion is. This can be done by reflecting, again and again, upon the serious consequences of angry words and actions. You could call this a very simple form of contemplative meditation, an important complement to mindfulness. In contemplative or investigative meditation, you reflect upon and explore a particular life-changing idea until it’s firmly instilled in your being.
Start by sitting quietly and reflecting on the negative effects of anger for 5 minutes each day. When an insight dawns, your mind begins to feel tired or disturbed, or you're ready to finish, let go of the contemplation and just let you mind rest quietly for a few moments.
- Reflect on times when people have expressed anger toward you. How did it feel? What were the consequences?
- Reflect on times when you spoke or acted aggressively towards others. What was the effect?
- Reflect on the anger and aggression you see in the world both close to home and faraway. Does it bring any good? What harm do you see?
You can increase the time of your sessions if you wish. Or try short sessions a few times a day. Use the practice wisely, however. It's not meant to make you depressed or enraged. If these kinds of emotions arise, just take a break and shift your focus to something positive.
Why do we need to reflect on the dangers of anger again and again? It’s not enough to have an intellectual understanding of the dangers of anger, which will likely disappear the minute you are triggered once again. Contemplative meditation moves a truth from your head to the depth of your heart and into the very bones of your being. [Click to Tweet]
You need to be fully convinced that anger brings no good whatsoever. So much so that as soon as an angry thought comes to your mind, you want to spit it out immediately like a rancid food. Then, anger will no longer have power over you. You'll be able to respond with love, kindness, patience, and tolerance instead.
As a complement to this practice, also contemplate the advantages of patience and its power to deflect and dissolve anger. Patience - in this context - is the ability to refrain from anger when someone harms you and to feel compassion instead.
Does this mean you should suppress anger? No, that could be harmful to your health and well being. The key is to be aware of anger or its related emotions when they arise and to learn how to release or transform them before they are fully formed.
Getting a Handle on Anger
I used to anger easily myself. So much so that I finally had an epiphany, took responsibility for my anger, and put these methods to work. As a result, anger stopped being a prominent force in my life. Of course, I'm not perfect yet as my recent encounter illustrates. So I'm grateful for this opportunity to refresh my practice and refine my ability to deflect anger before it causes harm.
There's a lot to work with here. So my suggestion is to work with one of these steps every day, if possible, until next week. I will too. Then let's gather back here to share our experiences and learn the next step for working with anger. In my next post, I'll discuss catching anger before it catches you.
Remember, no one likes to be around an angry person. So you can only benefit by developing your capacity to dismantle anger before it causes harm. By learning to dissolve anger, you’ll enhance your own health and well-being and contribute to a more tolerant and peaceful world. It's the best way to secure your own lasting happiness and to contribute to the happiness of others as well.
How does anger manifest in your life? How do you feel when it does? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra
Image Credit (Geyser): Joggeli