What Did You Learn Growing Up About Handling Anger Effectively?
Now that you’ve looked at your attitudes and internal reactions when you or someone around you gets angry, here’s the next thing to look at – the one that will really make a difference in your life: How have you learned to cope with anger in your life?
It’s one thing to express anger, avoid anger, or become passive and attempt to ignore it till it goes away (at least, you think it does!). But whatever you do in the moment, that doesn’t mean the energy of that anger isn’t still in your body after that moment ends, because unless you have a healthy coping strategy it definitely is!
What is Healthy Coping?
Some of the common definitions of “cope” are: “handle, deal with, survive, manage, and muddle through.” In psychological terms it refers “the strategies and skills that reduce stress levels.” I would add to that list an energetic version: “to neutralize or release the energetic tension caused by an interaction, event or thought.”
We need to actually release the tense energy in our bodies to really be completely “ok” after an angry confrontation or circumstance.
For example, if you just try to keep a low profile while someone close to you gets over being angry – but you don’t engage with them in a way that defuses the anger, or actually do something to process your own discomfort with that anger – then that anger energy is still being stored as stress in your body. That is not effective coping.
As we’ve noted before, the consequences of not coping well can include everything from long-term emotional misery to physical illness. So this is important for all of us to learn.
When We’re Not Coping, We’re Reacting
If you’re not coping, you’re at the mercy of your least rational actions and most unproductive behaviors. Here are some classic ways that unresolved anger shows up in families, since they are the people we are around the most:
- Being competitive – heated debating or one-upsmanship, as in “no one’s going to get the better of me!”
- Redirecting anger – the “kick the dog” syndrome, where long after you got angry at one person but didn’t express it, you later snap at someone else who had nothing to do with it
- Pretending to be easy-going, like things don’t bother you at all, and everything’s “No big deal” – but storing it all up for a rainy day…
- …then letting loose the deluge, also known as “Kitchen-Sinking” someone – where you angrily list everything they’ve ever done that bugged you, all at once
We’ve all done all of these at one time or another. The helpful question to ask is: do you do any of these on a regular basis, as your primary way of trying to cope with anger? If so, you might want to really commit to developing new, more effective strategies.
Finding Coping Strategies That Work
The great news is, there are lots of ways to release anger energy, so you can find the tools and strategies that work best for you. Even better, you can alleviate your stress whether or not the other person changes their behavior. So you have choices, and you are fully in charge of how you feel!
Since anger, stress and frustration are all variations of the same energy, and it stems from a sense of powerlessness, helplessness and vulnerability, the desired outcome is to EMPOWER yourself when faced with these feelings.
We cannot control the things that may set us off, but we can control what we do with our feelings once the trigger has been pulled. So when one of your “hot buttons” is pushed and you have a rush of anger, choosing empowering expressions of your feelings can quickly cool down “those damn hot buttons” and put you back in charge of your emotions.
Your coping strategy doesn’t have to look pretty, or make sense to anyone but you. You may find it works best for you to vent your feelings with a good friend or counselor until you are ready to communicate respectfully with whomever you are really angry with.
Maybe you need to vacuum the house, so that not only are you releasing a lot of energy physically, but you can talk about what’s upsetting you out loud, without anyone hearing you over the noise.
Or maybe you need to run, take a brisk walk, or go workout at the gym until you’re exhausted. Some people scream into a pillow, or punch sofa cushions – which may seem like extreme behaviors, so some people don’t do them even when they’re in private. If they would be embarrassed to be seen by someone else doing it, they figure it “must be crazy” so they don’t give themselves the gift of releasing the energy in that way. The truth is, no behavior that releases anger without doing damage to anything or anyone is an inappropriate coping mechanism.
Some people don’t have such reservations; they like to yell at the top of their lungs and stamp their feet. That’s fine too, but be sure to do these in private – the goal is to release your anger in private, not at or on anyone else.
Any of these choices are healthy, not harmful to you or anyone else, and they all will give you an opportunity to release your energy so that you can THINK, and FOCUS on how you really want to handle a situation in a way that will be loving, respectful and compassionate for yourself and for whoever else might be involved.
BREATHE slowly and deeply, and state out loud and frequently throughout the coming days, weeks and months: “My desired outcome is to be safe with my most challenging feelings. I release and express my feelings in ways that are respectful of myself and those around me.”
BREATHE … slowly and deeply … and allow this to resonate within you.
Look for ways to make offers of peace, compassion, forgiveness, love and joy to family members. Leave aside for the time being any need to assess blame or hash out those seemingly insurmountable differences. Allow them to have their point of view even if it may not make sense to you, in the name of keeping your connection compassionately intact. May all your holidays be full of warmth, love and the blessing of a peaceful spirit!
And we breathe,