How mindfulness can help you manage your anger and not hurt the ones you love
In an earlier post, I wrote about our emotions, including anger. As described by Karla McLaren in her book The Language of Emotions, I discussed anger as being your boundary setting. When you become angry, it could indicate that your boundaries have been violated by another person, either intentionally or not. That doesn’t matter, what matters is that you have been hurt. Anger is often associated as a negative emotion, but it shouldn’t be. The emotion of anger has so much to teach us about who we are.
It’s my belief that because anger is associated with being a negative emotion, people do not find ways to express it appropriately. Instead, they bottle it up inside. Like a pressure cooker, when it gets too much they explode and their anger turns into rage. Rage is dangerous. A person experiencing rage can become violent and it could lead to criminal behaviour. This is why it is imperative that anger is dealt with each time it arises. This means allowing for the energy of anger, then letting it pass and resolving the issue that made you angry in the first place.
If you repress anger, you will put the ones you love in danger. You create a poorly defined boundary and enmesh yourself in the lives of others, especially your family. You may even create a fear inducing boundary that threatens the stability of others. This can lead to fractured relationships and violence.
On the other hand, when you deal with your anger appropriately, you set a strong boundary for yourself and protect those around you.
So you’ve come to this post because you feel angry a lot. You yell and abuse the people you love the most and you want it to stop.
Someone has suggested mindfulness meditation, but you don’t know what meditation is. Or even if you do, you’re not very keen on sitting still for 20 minutes cross legged and paying attention to your breath.
No worries. There are other ways you can practice mindfulness that can assist in the management of anger. However, using mindfulness to manage anger does require some insight into your anger and is best accompanied by counselling.
Take some deep breaths
You notice the anger emotion arising in your body, and you’re going to react. You are about to yell at a co-worker or even smack your child. You’ve done this before and hate yourself for it. Whatever has happened that made you angry doesn’t matter, because what we think we are angry about is not usually the issue. We don’t need to go to the roots of your anger for this exercise.
As soon as you notice the anger arising, stop and take six deep breaths. Feel the breath enter through your nose and leave through your mouth. Notice if any other emotions arise and allow them to be. Don’t be surprised if sadness arises and you feel like crying. This is because anger and sadness are often intertwined. Keep breathing until the anger subsides a little.
If you can, remove yourself from the situation and find a place to take your breaths. Before you return to your work or your child, think about what made you angry and if it’s actually the target of your anger. If not, set the issue aside and make time to think about how you can resolve the issue with the person who broke your boundary. Do you need to call Human Resources and raise this as a workplace issue? Can you sit down with your partner and express your feelings?
You’ve just finished work and you’re about to head home. Today was a bad day and you are angry at your colleague or manager. You know you are angry and you are dreading going home, because the family are going to drive you crazy with their demands on your time and energy. On top of that, you have to work out what to cook for dinner.
Try this exercise. It should take ten to fifteen minutes. Do it in the car in the parking lot before you drive home, or when you get home and are parked in the driveway. This meditation can also be done in the bathroom at work or in a locked room before you go home. The location doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do the meditation before you lash out at someone you love.
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel each breath as it enters and exits your body. Anchor your attention on a particular part of the body where you can feel your breath coming and going. This could be your nose or nostrils or chest. Throughout the ten to fifteen minutes, try to keep your attention on that part of your body.
As you sit there allow your anger to come up and rise. Think about the person or people who made you angry today. Without judgement, hold them in your thoughts. Keep them there and allow your emotions to surface. Do not hold anything in or pass any judgement. Thoughts may arise about the event that made you angry. That’s ok. Allow them to pass through, keeping your attention on the part of your body where you are experiencing your breath.
As you are thinking about the person who hurt you, think about what that person might be going through in their own life. Do they have sick relatives they are worried about or looking after? Do they have their own family stressors? Is the manager above them bullying them and thus causing them to behave inappropriately? Think about the situation from the perspective of that other person. What could be going on in their lives that could be affecting their behaviour? You may already know about their lives, or you may need to imagine what could be happening. That’s ok.
The lesson in this meditation is to understand the other person’s perspective and to understand that every person is going through something. We all have stuff to deal with. Sometimes when we are in the midst of our own lives, we forget that everyone else is experiencing their own hardships.
After a few minutes of this type of visualising, let go of the person by saying goodbye and thank them for coming into your thoughts. Then start to take notice where you are. Feel your legs and buttocks on the surface of your seat. Start wiggling your toes and hands and begin to listen to the sounds around you. Open your eyes when you are ready and, in time, return to the rest of your day.
Deal with the issue effectively and appropriately
It’s important to understand that these exercises help you understand where your anger is coming from. They help you to manage your anger better and not take it out on people who have nothing to do with it. That doesn’t mean that the anger itself goes away completely. As I stated earlier, anger is an important emotion and needs to be experienced but also dealt with appropriately.
Calming ourselves down so that we can get along with our lives also allows us to think about what to do next. Are you being bullied at work? Do you need to speak to Human Resources for support to manage this issue? Can you go directly to the source of your anger and discuss the issue with them and attempt to resolve it calmly? Are you in an abusive relationship and do you need to seek professional support? Do you need to seek professional counselling or see a medical professional?
We can’t make any decisions whilst we are succumbing to our emotions, especially anger. That’s why using these exercises to calm ourselves down are important.
These meditation techniques are a great accompaniment to any other type of therapy you may be doing in relation to your anger its management. But these techniques are not a solution on their own. You need to gain some insight into your anger before you undertake them.
A beginner’s course in mindfulness meditation can assist in developing this insight, when taken in conjunction with therapeutic support. I would encourage seeking out a counsellor who is skilled in this area. They can support you in developing other strategies to manage your anger, especially if you are hurting and alienating the ones you love. The more you understand the emotion of anger and learn from it, the better you’ll feel.