Relieve Frustration To Gain Control over Anger
Anger is not just an emotion but also an emotional reaction. Anger comes to tell us that we are in some kind of danger and to survive our mind has already decided that the best option is to fight, or, well, at least in try harder… rather than smarter.
Sadly, more often than not, this reaction is far from being the best option for us. So often we find others, and even ourselves, fighting against things that aren’t trying to harm us, or even can’t harm us. Definitely not physically anyway.
Of course, the easiest thing is to just blame our innate animalistic instincts for sweeping over us and pretend that we, being our minds, had nothing to do with it. But to find a real solution and stop tilting at windmills, we’d have to take some responsibility (being the essence of control) and find a way to get things back into our hands.
When Tension Rises – Maintain Safety
Anger is part of the fight-or-flight system. It was designed to keep us safe when in danger. Due to that, any situation that we perceive as dangerous has the potential to provoke our anger. And to not be angry, we must try to keep ourselves safe. Needless to say that if you’re in an actual real-life physical danger that requires a strong physical reaction you really shouldn’t use this. but if you’re in a sticky mental/social situation that can’t physically hurt you, you’d probably want to do your best to remain mentally safe.
Perceived danger is the feeling that our needs may not be satisfied. Throughout the millions of years, it took these bodies of ours to evolve, unsatisfied needs would usually mean death, or worse, extinction and annihilation. Naturally, the lack of satisfaction is perceived by the body as life-threatening. From the need for food and shelter to the need for love and belonging, all needs appear to be important enough to fight for. Or at least they used to be.
For the last couple of centuries, at least, our perceived needs grow and multiply like a possessed virus. We NEED that iPhone! Or the dress, doll, new car, or whatever else. We are deep underwater, drowning in needs, and the more we need the more we’re instinctively willing to fight for.
So the first thing you’d want to do when noticing that your body starts getting angry is to pay attention to your unmet needs, authentic or otherwise.
Don’t worry though, I’m not trying to insinuate that you don’t need a new iPhone or anything like that. I’m just saying that believing you need it might not be the best way to get it. After all, uninhibited physical aggression is no longer how you get what you want around here anymore.
Back when humans lived in caves, screaming, fighting, and killing was a pretty reasonable way to get stuff, right? Feeling stuck? Why don’t you break things, that usually helps! Hungry? Just kill something and eat it. Horney? Grab someone, hit them on the head, and… But nowadays, 99% of the time this strategy will backfire and you’d end up shunned, hated, rejected, banned, in jail, or worse. This is really not a good way to get anything anymore. Nonetheless, people still use it and get angry quite often it seems. Myself included!
If we were rational beings and in full self-control, let’s say, anger would have to be sitting on the shelf somewhere, gathering dust. In the modern world, most of the time, the best way to get your needs met is no other than the good ol’ use-your-freakin’-head – be rational, calm, and focused.
How to get angry in the first place
To find out how to not get angry, first, we have to figure out what is it that makes us angry, but in a very general way. Not what makes you or me angry, but what are the conditions or triggers for anger.
For that, we’d have to try and see things from the unconscious. Which is a little tricky since the unconscious, is, well… unconscious. Unconscious is really just a general name for all the things in our mind that we can’t understand, or even observe. But that’s part of us that gets to choose when to trigger anger, so we must find a way.
Well, to make a long story short, the unconscious, or at least the unconscious part that’s responsible for anger, reasons much like a child at about the age of 6 or so. That’s how it got the name ‘the inner child’. Just like a child, when things don’t go their way they would either scream, cry, or throw a fit.
Children, you know… what else can they really do.
Once you communicated to your deeper unconscious that something is important, and you NEED it, it will do everything in its power to help you get it, so you could survive! And yes, that means screaming, crying, and throwing a fit. So if you end up having needs that require logic and rational abilities to satisfy, the best strategy is probably to try and be the adult about it and not turn to your unconscious inner child for assistance.
Instead of increasing tension and stress by telling yourself how important and urgent this random intangible need is to you, try to calm your inner child and tell yourself that everything will be alright. That you don’t really need the iPhone, or the job, or your relationship. Not because it’s true, but because it will reduce aggression, increase cognitive abilities, and help you get what you want.
When you’re a child, needing is stronger than wanting. When you’re an adult, and it’s your responsibility to get things, it’s the other way around. The less you need it, the more likely you are to get it.
But I’m already in it!
Though when you’re in the moment, none of this logical BS is going to help you even one bit.
When all conscious efforts fail, and the fit-throwing inner child feels threatened, in pain, or incapable of satisfying its needs, it sounds the alarm and initiates what’s called an Amygdala Hijack that immediately sends the body into Fight or Flight mode. the sympathetic nervous system kicks into action; the body is pumped with adrenaline, the heart starts racing, breathing quickens, muscles tense, and the body is now ready to fight… or flight… I guess.
Once in fight or flight mode, the conscious mind is quite literally being suffocated as blood flow now evades it. There’s just not enough of it to both pump your muscles and think at the same time. When in F&F wise words fall on death brains. It’s up to habits and instincts to protect us from the threat at hand. Though, fight or flight doesn’t have to mean anger.
When to Fight and When to Flee?
What can we do if our brain was already hijacked? Well, the other part of our childish defense network, i.e. F or F mode, is obviously, the flight part.
Running away is always safer, so, it’s always preferred. So we can really see that when people believe they could more easily satisfy their needs elsewhere, they won’t bother to fight and just walk away. In this case, anger won’t be triggered, and instead, a big fat “I don’t need this shit!” would be the end of the unfortunate situation.
But when people can’t just leave. When it’s a job they must keep, or their last shot in a normal relationship, or simply their home and they got nowhere else to go, leaving is not an option and they tend to get feisty.
Wait a minute. Fighting your colleagues, boss, partner, or people you live with doesn’t sound like such a wise decision… Hmm… That doesn’t matter though. Corner a dog and it will bite, corner a person and they will fight.
When trapped or backed into a corner, every animal would fight their way out. This is not a rational decision but a pure survival instinct, and instincts are so much stronger than conscious rational decisions.
So the next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation and feel your blood beginning to boil, try to remember that you can leave if you want and distance yourself from the situation. Even when it seems crucial that you stay put, you must allow yourself to leave, take a break, or ask for some space. Make sure not to feel trapped, so your instincts won’t need to help you out.
Give yourself the time you need to bring your inner child back to safety, disarm the fight or flight response and regain conscious control. Just back off and allow freedom. Don’t push, don’t chase, and don’t explain things. Space and safety. That’s all.
Afterward – The Responsibility Trick
Once you’ve distanced yourself from the stressful incident and managed to stop the situation from escalating, you’d probably want to make sure it won’t happen again.
“This will never happen again!”
Don’t be too fast to avoid triggers. Even though that’s the simplest way to make sure something won’t happen again, it takes endless amounts of a continuous effort to control things this way. Another way to make sure it won’t happen again, which may be more complex, but overall much easier, is to break apart the mental framework that causes this reaction to begin with. In that way, the situation will never happen again simply because you are now a different person, with different reactions and behaviors.
One interesting way to achieve that is to use personal responsibility.
The trick here is that if you were to see yourself as the cause of the problem, and assume responsibility, your anger will simply evaporate. Though it’s a little like walking a tightrope and there’s a fine balance you must maintain. On one hand, giving away too much responsibility causes anger and disempowerment, but on the other, taking too much responsibility leads to self-blame, sadness, disappointment, guilt, and eventually even self-hatred. So when working with responsibility, always aspire to split it down the middle.
In a way, you could say that the unconscious mind is hard-coded – It comes ingrained with a certain set of rules by which it regulates emotions, like anger, sadness, etc. These rules can’t be changed, so they must be accepted and lived with, although, they can be outsmarted.
Breaking The Blame Game
When something bad happens, the unconscious mind immediately starts looking for the cause and begins to cast blame. Blame is a very important survival mechanism. Just think how silly it would be if someone in danger starts fighting their friends instead of their enemies. They won’t survive long. Casting blame is important, and doing it right is even more important.
Or is it?!
Blame has a huge part in the choice to produce anger. If the unconscious reaches the conclusion that the blame is external, and the incident is someone else’s fault, then it may invoke an aggressive reaction and attack them. Though if it concludes that the blame is internal, and it is our own fault, it will invoke a passive reaction, slow down, internalize, and attempt to correct itself. Invoking sadness or guilt instead.
Right in between these two extreme emotional reactions there’s a sweet spot. At the spot where the blame is both our own and others at the same time and in the same amount, the unconscious has no idea how to react. In such ambiguous situations, when everyone is to blame, and no one is more at fault than anyone else, the unconscious has no preset reaction pattern. It doesn’t know what to do or how to behave and it needs help. So, it turns to the conscious mind and asks for advice.
“Oh, wise conscious mind, who should I blame for this unfortunate turn of events?”
Of course, when asked the conscious mind is usually quick to answer. Maybe someone should have done things differently. Maybe one person acted more wrong than the others… Maybe there’s a president for such cases? Our inner judge has been waiting long for an opportunity to step in and do some judging. But is this really the right thing to do? After all, the second we’d find out who’s at fault, the unconscious will take back over and run its predefined course.
For that split second of ambiguity – in between unconscious decisions – we are awake. We are here, we are thinking, and we are conscious. That’s even better than being angry!
What if Everyone is to Blame?
If you’ve already enjoyed your fair share of anger, hatred, guilt, and all of these other fiery spiky blame-based emotions, and you don’t feel like you’d be missing out on anything new and exciting, why not stay here for a while? Stay in the space in between emotions. In this conscious ambiguity.
“It’s Everyone’s Fault!”
Aha, yes you little trickster. Yes, that’s right! Everyone is to blame. I did something wrong, they did something wrong, our parents, educators, government, society, and past generations, and even a butterfly on the other side of the planet. Everyone has something to do with everything that happens. We all share the responsibility. What are you going to do now?!
Other than being the correct answer (oops, spoiler alert) it’s also the wise one. The unconscious, being the rather simple structure that it is, really needs a simple clear-cut answer. Distributed responsibility is way too complicated. It can’t handle that. It makes it blow up. In other words, when everyone is to blame, there’s no one to blame. Business as usual. There is no anger, there is no sadness, no fight, and no flight. No unconscious reaction once or ever. Nothing but the silence of confusion.
Ambiguity is your friend!
For as long as you can maintain the balance of blame, the unconscious is out of the picture.
Preventions with Verbal Expression
So you stopped your anger from escalating and regained conscious control. OK, but what now?
Well, first of all, don’t get attached. It’s not all sunshine and roses from here on. There’s that small catch I should probably tell you about. If you indeed like using this trick, and you would like to keep managing your emotions in a consciously controlled manner, you must still manage them. Let’s not forget, anger isn’t random, it was triggered for a reason. If you want to live without anger, you must still resolve the issue. If we allow things to remain unresolved, all this anger we managed to suppress will transform into explosive resentment. Resentment that could later spontaneously combust and take over us at the wrong moment. Even without anger, we must still vent all this pressure.
Hence, the next and final step in mastering anger is to find a better, more rational, and more intelligent way to express it.
Conscious anger sounds like an oxymoron!
Conscious expressions of anger include patience, compassion, vulnerability, and clear honest communication. Meaning that instead of reacting physically, you react verbally and thoughtfully. Express the circumstances and events that don’t sit well with you, express the needs you have that aren’t being met, and the reasons that make you want to fight. Think how would you prefer things would have been… in a perfect life. Now, after you have learned to listen to your anger, you should have the answers to all of these questions.
So, next time something unsettling happens, before you get angry, do your best to express your situation as clearly and as truthfully as you can. Also, try to be as patient as possible when others express how they feel. Even if it isn’t real, even if it sounds stupid, and even if you feel like they’re talking nonsense. Emotions are energy in motion, and that energy must be expressed. You have the power to choose how to express them!
Next time you feel that you’re getting angry, instead of acting angry, try saying “I AM ANGRY!” Then continue with the reason, as stupid as it may sound, you have to say it.
“I am angry because I feel you don’t care about me” 🙁
I know, expressing vulnerability like this is not as easy as it sounds. In my personal experience, I would sometimes rather explode for a whole month just to avoid saying these words. I bet you do too.
But if something is really important to you, vulnerability and honest communication are significantly more successful tools to get your needs met in the modern world. To get what you want, you are going to have to learn how to use them. So try it out. Worst case you’ll end up crying.
Main photo by Jamie Coupaud on Unsplash