Is your emotional life pretty much like a roller coaster? You may be in extreme joy one moment but in the next, your emotion comes crashing down like a tide. You feel in lack of control and that your emotional respond is dictated by the experiences that life throws at you. If you totally immerse yourself in inner feelings of hurt and frustration and identify with any emotion associated with anger, then you are probably stuck in the “anger-treadmill”.
The nature of anger
Anger doesn’t feel very good. It’s actually pretty uncomfortable. Our stomach tightens-up, we become sweaty, we react – instead of act – in survival mode. And anger clouds our judgment causing us to respond wildly out of emotion. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, it can get so intense that we tremble passionately while feeling strong resentment towards other people. And when we cool down, we would wonder how we allowed ourselves to get in such a messed up state in the first place.
This requires a little explanation: Emotion is our body’s response to a thought, which could be triggered by an external situation. But this situation is seen through the lens of our own interpretation. Our lens is colored by the mental concepts unique to each of us; concepts like good and bad, yours, and mine, like and dislike, right and wrong. Keep in mind we all have different lenses, thus interpretation conflicts are inevitable. For example, we feel very little emotion when someone else loses their wallet. But when it is our own money, we suddenly feel pain and the desire to hoard it back to us. The moment we’ve labeled something as “mine”, we will experience mental distress when we’ve interpreted that we have ‘lost’ it or are at the risk of losing it. Whether it is my wallet, my pride, my money, my house, my car, my job, my child, my stocks, my feelings or my dog, as long as we feel that it is lost or threatened, we will experience pain in the form of anger or other strong negative emotions.
We experience pain, because we have been trained since children to believe that the things, which we have labeled as ‘mine’, are something that defines who we are. We’ve identified with it and falsely believed that if we lost it, or face losing it, we lose ourselves. Suddenly, our ego has nothing to identify itself by. Who are we? This hurts our ego tremendously.In our minds, we feel entitled to more, whether it is more money, or more respect, or a better job, or a larger house. Amongst it all, we fail to see that our mind will always want more. Greed is a highly addictive state of mind, always growing, blinding us of reality, while convincing us that we’re doing a reasonable thing. “It’s amazing how much emotion a little mental concept like ‘my’ can generate.“- Eckhart Tolle
Common ingredients of anger:
Unfairness - We believe that we have been treated unfairly. We tell ourselves that we deserve more, and we buy into this story that someone has wronged us.
Lost - We feel that we have lost something that we have identified ourselves with. E.g. Feelings, pride, money, car, job.
Blame - We blame other people or external situations for having caused our loss, for taking advantage of us unfairly. The blame often only resides in our heads and is a product of our imagination. We fail to see things from other people’s perspectives. We become deeply selfish.
Pain - We experience pain, mental distress, and anxiety. The pain causes physical responses in our body, which disturbs our natural energy flow and state of wellbeing.
Focus - We focus on the thing we don’t want, and energize it by complaining about it passionately, and repeating it to as many people who will listen. This creates a downward spiral of anger. “What we focus on expands”, this is true regardless of the emotion.
Anger as a state of mind
What is a state? A state refers to the sum of your emotional experiences at any given point in time. A state can be positive; reflecting a sense of happiness, joy and peace or it can be negative, reflecting sadness, tiredness, anger or frustration. Common states are: a state of panic, a state of boredom, a state of bliss, in a mess; and of course, a state of anger.When you are experiencing negative emotions, it is easy to incorrectly assume that this state as your whole Being. You (or more rightly, your ego) feel threatened; it now becomes a “fight for survival”. When you become so consumed with your rage and frustrations, it is possible to lose all sense and the ability to think clearly. You do not realize that You and your Ego are separate, and that to feel better, it is possible to change state.“The ego is not only the unobserved mind, the voice in the head which pretends to be you, but also the unobserved emotions that are the body’s reaction to what the voice in the head is saying.” by Eckhart TolleStates are often created by the way you perceive the world. The half-empty and half-full glass is a simple analogy of how you can perceive life differently. Going back to the anger example, you can choose not to bother with the honking of a car behind or choose to stop your car in rage, to confront its unreasonable driver.
Anger builds upon anger
Because negativity tends to breed more negativity, it is easy to go on a downward spiral when you get caught up in your emotions. At the office, you feel angry after a torrent of verbal abuse by your boss. Fearful of affecting your job security, you decide not to argue with him.Unfortunately, after going home from work, your spouse reminds you about the mounting household bills. A fight soon ensues. For some peace and quiet, you decide to escape in front of the television or computer but your anger remains unresolved. As your frustrations intensify, you feel that it is not just those around; but that the whole world is against you! Negative energy builds into an internal volcano that threatens to erupt!
Why do you need to address your anger?
Anger can cause you to make unwise decisions, say hurtful remarks, destroy relationships and take drastic actions that you may regret later. It is an emotion that blocks your way to abundance, peace and serenity.I am not suggesting that from now on, you should simply ignore your anger feelings and perceive things positively. Ignoring a problem is never the solution. Anger unresolved is often a sign of an overload. It happens when you unconsciously accumulate an internal storehouse with anger. You collect all negative energy with the common theme of unmet expectations.The key to understanding is that the anger is not really you. Rather, it refers to a state that can be altered. It is often ego-generated. With the dis-association of Self from the anger, it is then possible to become calmer. Only in calmness, can clarity arise. Only then, can you objectively evaluate these questions: Why are you feeling this anger? What is it that is making you this angry? Did it arise because your expectations are not met? Is it possible that your expectations are too high? Are there more ways of perceiving the same issue? Could you have really made a mistake about the intentions of the other party?
The effects of anger
Though anger is a natural feeling experienced by all human, the effects are always unpleasant. You may think that you are expressing anger in normal ways and it will not affect the people around you. But if you ask your spouse, friend, children or colleague about the effects of your anger, you will be surprised to learn how they feel about your anger. Any anger either expressed harshly or politely has its effects and it often leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Your spouse may be reluctant to involve you or confront you in practical or personal matters out of fear of your reaction. And your friends and colleagues might feel uncomfortable with expressing their opinions or different beliefs, sensing the rage and uneasiness it builds in you.
More importantly children are affected by anger. Mainly teenagers feel hurt when the parents or teachers express anger. As they are in between child hood and grown up age they will look for guidance and role models in how to deal with difficult or challenging situations in their daily life. By mainly showing them angry behavior they will learn to respond accordingly and the pattern of unhappiness is passed on to the next generation.
Anger may not only affect other people around you, anger also clouds our judgment and we become consumed with problems and pain. Instead of cutting ourselves loose, free from the self-inflicted pain; we make irrational, unreasonable, regretful and hurtful decisions.
Apart from the psychological effects there are some physical effects also. Emotional stress and anger trigger the release of stress hormone cortisol in the body. Small releases of cortisol can give the body a quick burst of energy. However, higher and more prolonged increases can cause the body to host a lot of negative effects.
It can create a blood sugar imbalance; it can decrease bone density, suppress the body's immune response and make it susceptible to chronic inflammation; it can suppress thyroid function, slowing down the body's metabolism; it can impair the brain's thinking ability and increase blood pressure.
Anger can raise your heart rate to 180 beats a minute. It can raise your blood pressure from 120 over 80 to 220 over 130, perhaps even higher. Your breathing becomes rapid as you try to get more oxygen into your body. Your body tenses and and your muscles become tight.
When you become stressed, your mind is in survival mode and your body releases chemicals to clot the blood, creating a potentially dangerous situation: a clot can travel through the blood vessels the brain or heart, resulting in a stroke or heart attack.
Anger also impedes circulation. Lack of oxygen can cause severe chest pains. Uncontrollable anger can trigger the bursting of a brain artery resulting in a stroke.Tight neck and head muscles can cause tension headaches, migraines or lead to insomnia. Anger may also affect the skin. If any one has got anger they may often suffer from rashes, acne and other skin problems.Even your metabolism is at risk. Anger is blocked energy that can slow down your body`s metabolism. Stress and anger can trigger eating disorders and result in obesity and weight gain. Anger stimulates the release of acids in the stomach causing acid reflux and gastric ulcers. Anger can also compromise lung function.If you bottle up anger it can even lead to depression, addiction to drugs, alcohol and sleeping problems which will effect various fundamental areas of your life in general.
The fundamentals of change
Notice how quickly we can fall into a negative state of being? A split second, maybe. By the same reasoning it should take the same amount of time to shift into a resourceful state of being. The challenge here is that we have been conditioned from a very young age to remain in an un-resourceful state. Nobody gave us the tools to shift our state into a positive one. Often, our parents didn’t know how, and still do not know how.That doesn't mean anger should become the driving emotion in your life. Below are four coping techniques that will help you to live longer, without toxic anger.
1. Release your anger
Anger is energy; the trick is to use that energy in a positive way. Expressing anger by lashing out only causes more tension in your body. It feels good temporarily but in reality only ads to the problem. Physical exercise is a healthy and effective way to release the energy and tension from anger. Take up jogging, do some aerobics or kick boxing. Go for a long walk in the forest or along the beach or even do some gardening, connecting with nature is an excellent way of diverting the focus of your energy. If exercise isn't possible try relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or meditation anything that brings awareness to your body instead of your mind.
2. Adjust your expectations
You have to adjust and learn to live with the hand you are dealt and move on with your life. You can live with situations that you feel are unacceptable without letting the anger you feel take over your life. We all expect certain things when it comes to the behaviour of other people. The truth is though; we have no control over their behaviour, only over how we react to it.
3. Live in the present
Don't look too far back and too far ahead. Constantly looking back at what you had means not paying attention to, today and what you have now that is of value. If you use all your emotional energy thinking about how things used to be, you will have no energy left for today. The same goes for looking ahead and worrying about situations in the future that have not even occurred jet. Staying stuck in the past or worrying about the future takes away our ability to live today with awareness.
4. Replace Anger with empathy
Understanding the motivation behind someone else's actions can and will help alleviate some anger toward that person. You may not agree with what they are doing but delving into their reasons for doing it and understanding their emotional frame of mind helps you replace some of your feelings of anger with empathy. Your spouse may be as angry as you are, or their actions may be motivated by fear. Walking a mile in the other guy's shoes can give us great perspective and emotional release.
Remember, you can't eliminate anger—and it wouldn't be a good idea if you could. In spite of all your efforts, things will happen that will cause you anger; and sometimes it will be justifiable anger. Life will be filled with frustration, pain, loss, and the unpredictable actions of others. You can't change that; but you can change the way you let such events affect you. Controlling your angry responses can keep them from making you even more unhappy in the long run.