Anger is a normal human emotion, a reaction to something or someone that we feel has wronged us in some way. Like most emotions, it provides the basis for a stronger reaction than necessary if we allow our minds to run away with our thoughts. And it is a way that we grasp at what we believe is the right and correct order of things when in actuality no such order exists.
For those who work in service or ‘helping’ professions, there is often an element of anger that creeps into one’s daily routine. And on some level, that’s ok. Anger can be a powerful motivator. It can cleanse, like fire, consuming everything in its wake and leaving a clean slate. It can open the way for frank discussion of a difficult topic. But like fire, it can get out of control.
A lot of anger management techniques are based on what you can do to change the way you experience your anger. This makes sense, because ultimately you can only control yourself and your reactions to things. You cannot control events or other people, and recognizing this is a huge step towards gaining control over your angry feelings. Remember, there will always be reasons for anger, and some of them will be quite legitimate. The goal is to find ways to control anger that may be causing you suffering in other aspects of your life. Some techniques that have been shown to be successful include these:
There are many other techniques we can use to try to control our anger, but in the end the goal is to become less reactive to things that upset us, to relax.
Relaxation techniques are key to helping us in many situations, including managing anger. There are many ways to relax, and no one way or method is right for everyone.
All of this really comes down to developing some kind of mindfulness practice within your life. Something that takes you out of yourself–the everyday self that is mired in the world, that gets tired, that gets sad, that gets angry–and allows you to tap into your deepest sense of what it is that makes you happy.
It could be an activity like those listed above, or it may be writing, dancing, photography, spending time with your pets, stamp collecting, or a million other things. Sometimes these activities have a spiritual aspect for the practitioner but they don’t have to.
Any activity that puts us into the here and now, that makes us appreciate the moment we are experiencing right now, no matter how challenging it is, is suitable for the development of mindfulness.
Left unchecked, anger produces an emotional and spiritual landscape that is all too similar to the charred forest left behind by a wildfire. It consumes and leaves nothing in its wake. The resources needed to care for others, or even oneself no longer exist, and it can take years to recover.
Some people never do recover, becoming permanently angry and increasingly bitter until they can no longer nurture or care for anyone or anything. This is often referred to, appropriately enough, as burnout. Anger can motivate, but it does not renew one’s commitment.
Today, while doing some reading, I was reminded of a story recounted by Thich Nhat Hahn. While addressing a conference of environmental activists, Hahn was asked what activists should do in order to curb environmenutal devastation. His response was that they should place their hands upon the earth and listen to its cries.
This was clearly not the answer the activists were hoping for. What about taking action, protesting, doing something?
But Hahn understood that the problems that lead to the ecological crisis in the first place are not easily fixed, and that they often arise from a disconnection with our love and reverence for nature. He invited the activists to get back in touch with the emotion that had motivated them to become involved in the cause in the first place: love for the earth, its beauty and its resources.
This love is always there and available to us if we can simply open ourselves up to it.
And, unlike anger, it is self-renewing.
When we love, we open our hearts, and this causes great joy, but it also exposes us to great pain when that which we love is harmed. Our anger over the situation can sometimes motivate us, but it we do not control it, it can lead to burnout and to increased conflict as we blame others and divide ourselves from them.
On the other hand, our love can provide all the fuel we need to find the strength to protect that which we love. This is the emotion that we all need to reconnect with from time to time, because it can fade from our attention so easily.
Love for our homes, love for our friends, our families, our lives, for the sun, for the flowers, the cold winter air, the warm summer sun, for our breathing, for life that happens all around us every day. It is this emotion that gives us the ability to face the challenges of another day.