When we react immediately to anger without thinking or calming down we've allowed our emotional brain to hijack our thinking brain. Aggressive reactions become more likely at this point which rarely serves us.
Imagine that your take-out order arrives late, is incomplete, and the driver has no change.
You're frustrated. Acting from your knee jerk response, you might work yourself up to verbal or even physical aggression.
It's important to recognize that anger is considered a secondary emotion, meaning there is almost always another emotion hiding underneath. Often fear, disappointment, hurt , or frustration lie below. If being ignored, passed over, or forgotten triggers hurt you may well feel angry. If you're thwarted from achieving something you want there could be fear or disappointment lurking below. Commonly, feelings of powerlessness are at play which can be difficult to tolerate.
It can help to recognize underlying emotions, untangle the feelings, and identify the strands that make up your intense angry feelings. Many of us "prefer', whether we're conscious of it or not, to experience anger than helplessness because anger feels energizing and powerful. Helplessness and hurt can make us feel weak and insignificant. The more you know about the origins of angry feelings the better equipped you are to manage them.
There are a number of anger coping styles. What do you know about your style? Do you tend to bottle up and seethe? Do you stuff it and blow later? Do you let it rip on the spot? Do you clam up and push it down, denying yourself the knowledge that you feel angry? Do you allow yourself to calm down and identify what you find disturbing?
It's important to ask yourself if your coping style works well for you. Does it diminish conflict? Magnify it? Clear the air? Promote understanding between you and another? Surely, positive results would indicate that your style is effective.
A major key to managing anger is to learn to shift from reacting to responding.This can be difficult and require practice. Reacting is like going from 0-60 in seconds. Sometimes it FEELS like that's our only option but the truth is that it works something like this-an event occurs, thoughts happen, there is a physical reaction, and a behavioral reaction.
Event happens - Boss smirks at you.
Thought follows - What did I do? Is she mad? What’s her problem?? What a bitch!
Bodily Reaction- Tension, shallow breathing, adrenaline is released, breathing rate and heartbeat increase, blood pressure goes up.
Possible Reactions- Walking away, ignoring it, stuffing feelings, shooting back a comment, yelling, striking something, slamming around, pausing to take a breath and tell yourself it's not necessarily related you.
You may wonder- what's wrong with reactive solutions? They tend to feed anger's fire and limit available solutions.
Also they inhibit clear and rational reasoning and negatively impact memory.
Commonly suggested solutions like punching a pillow or throwing eggs in the woods are now thought to intensify rather than calm anger. Letting it all hang out is not only ineffective, it can be dangerous, fueling additional anger.
While reacting aggressively isn't desirable, we also want to avoid a passive response- stuffing it down or ignoring it. Denied and unrecognized anger often pops up where we least expect it.
What we want to do is to respond rather than react. Consciously acknowledging anger and deciding upon a strategy for coping with it are empowering. Taking a moment to breathe, giving your emotional (reptilian) brain a break and allowing your "executive functioning" brain an opportunity to kick in, and giving yourself a moment to decide how to handle the situation are all essential steps for responding.
We ask ourselves -what just happened? What got triggered? What pushed my buttons? What other feelings are at play? What options do I have for responding rather than reacting?