The three parts of anger
"Anger," says Eleanor, "feels like I have acid burning in my veins. It makes my head feel like it’s about to explode. It builds up and up. I get obsessed with what’s making me angry, and I tend to take it out on other people who don’t deserve it. My thoughts go round and round so I can’t sleep and I can’t eat. Sometimes I shake with rage. The least thing will set me off. I want to hurt the person who’s upset me but I know that’s wrong so I keep quiet and then, when I’m on my own, I get so frustrated and cross with myself for being a wimp that I smash things at home and wish I hadn’t."
You’ll see from this that anger has three components: feeling, thinking and behaving. Eleanor feels bad so she thinks bad things about herself and does things she later regrets. Let’s look at constructive things we can do first of all.
Ways To Cope With Anger
you can do when you’re angry
Your body and your mind work on a linked system. When your mind feels stress it makes you breathe faster and more shallowly, so extra oxygen is sent to your muscles and brain (hence the tingling and spaced-out feeling) and less goes to your digestive system (hence the weirdness in your tummy). The increased heart-rate is so that this oxygen can help you respond quicker to danger. If you break the cycle at any point things can get back to normal. So gently making your breathing slower and deeper will help stop the panic, calm your heart-rate and slow the whole shebang down to normal.
Ways of dealing with your feelings
1. When you are angry and you’re in the situation, it can help to defuse your anger before dealing with what’s happening. It can be useful to take a couple of deep, calming breaths, count to ten, or say, "I’ll get back to you (in a minute)." In personal matters, you can leave the room for a while, perhaps to make you and the other person a soothing cup of tea, perhaps under the pretext of going to the loo. This can give you the chance to work out an Emotional Literacy style response.
2. When you don’t know why something minor is upsetting you so much, it helps to take the time to work out what you’re really angry about. It may be something you can deal with fairly readily, as above, or it may be that the event has hooked into some underlying problem. Sometimes writing it all down helps you to discover what’s actually going on for you. For some people it can be more useful to draw pictures, perhaps with stick-figures.
3. The physical effects of anger on your system are caused by a surge of adrenaline, so some physical activity will help to burn it off. Scrubbing the floor, chopping down weeds, going for a walk, a run, or a session at the gym if you’re fit enough for that, can help.
4. Expressing your anger safely can be very beneficial. For example, when Serena’s brutal ex-husband got married while Serena was still sadly on her own, she knew she would never actually hurt him, so she drew a cartoon of his face on a piece of paper, tied that around a cushion with elastic bands, and shouted all her hurt at his paper face. Then she hit and trampled the cartoon face, ripped it to shreds and put it on a bonfire in the garden.
Another way of expressing your anger safely is to write a poison pen letter that you will never send. You can make it as angry and abusive as you like, secure in the knowledge that no-one else will ever see it. You may then find you need to work off the physical anger, but after that you can reward yourself for your courage, perhaps by giving yourself a soothing hot bath. A few days later you can write a calmer version, still one that you are going to destroy rather than send, and a few days after that, if you still need to, you can write an Emotional Literacy style letter to the person, asking for what you want. Make sure you destroy all angry versions of your letter. By the way, even if the person is dead, or you will never see them again for some other reason, just getting your feelings out on paper is a release. In any case, you may find you no longer want to send the letter because the sting has gone out of it all.
How to think positively while you’re angry
Oddly enough, a lot of the hurt that comes from feeling angry is down to what we think about ourselves. We can think the situation is "proof" for damaging beliefs like the ones listed below. They’re beliefs first about ourselves, secondly about other people, and thirdly about the world. Do you recognise them? Do you have others?
Knocking out these painful false beliefs is worth the effort. Here’s how you can do it:
First write down the first of your hurtful false beliefs, with the "evidence" you think proves it. Say you believe you’re a failure. You might write like Martine did:
Finish with your worst possible fantasy of what might happen to you. Martine put: I’ll die a lonely old woman and be buried in a pauper’s grave. Now you know what that shapeless grey horror looks like, you can find all the evidence that makes it fade away. Martine put:
Pete fancies me. Dave’s been my friend for years. I never go long between boyfriends so I’m good at attracting men.
I was the one who packed Howie in. Marie is still on her own. I’m getting better at relationships because they last longer.
Anway, Jason was horrible half the time. My relationships with my brother and my female friends have lasted ages.
I’m earning some money and I’m paying off my debts. Now I’m not out clubbing to be with Jason I won’t spend so much.
I don’t starve and I don’t like cooking anyway. I did a nice roast last weekend. I can always get a cookbook from the Oxfam.
My curries are OK. I can do a good fried breakfast. I can always go up the chippie. Anyway, I have other skills.
When I’m shy I find it hard to talk, but once I know someone I’m usually fine. I have a good laugh with Claire and Marie and Dave and Mike and my aunt.
Some people like me: Claire, Mike, Dave, Marie, my brother, my aunt.
My mum’s horrible to everyone these days, not just me. But she did give us nice Christmases, holidays and birthdays. She means well, and she says she loves me. She’s just not good at showing it because she’s so bitter. I don’t have to be like her.
When I was out with my mates a couple of weeks ago I didn’t think the world was awful. My friends are nice. The places I’ve been on holiday are nice.
Sometimes the world is OK.
I don’t know what the future holds. I’ve not always been lonely in the past and I’ve got some good friends, so why should I always be lonely? My friends, my brother and my aunt don’t reject me. They welcome me and I feel accepted with them.
Martine went on to visualise the best possible fantasy where she had everyone and everything she wanted.
See how it works? Martine was lucky because she does have quite a few positive experiences to draw on. If you don’t, you can imagine some out in great detail, seeing yourself laughing and accepted and successful, surrounded by the kinds of people you want in your life, and in the kinds of places you want to be. The more you see yourself in happy, positive situations, the more your hopes and dreams will come true.
Martine went on to realise that she could do certain things differently so that she has a better chance of getting what she wants. Her positive decisions included:
not clinging onto a lot of unsatisfying relationships in the hope the boy would change
not spending all her money to be with someone who wasn’t good to her
spending time with people who offer her nourishing and supportive friendships
realising she is OK on her own
having her mates round to dinner to practice her cooking on them
taking a training course to improve her job prospects
By the way, on her training course she made some new friends, and one of them introduced her to her new fiancé. She’s very happy and financially solvent. She realised she is often successful and no longer thinks bad things about herself.
How Can I Relax?
Taking up Yoga will help you achieve true relaxation. You can get teach yourself books about it or join a class.
Try this Countdown for success:
Practicing this exercise makes it easier and learning to focus your mind helps, so that when you feel stressed you can "head off" a panic attack before it develops, or make it shorter and less intense.
Dealing With Anger
Sometimes anger makes people uncomfortable. Without it we can be mousy and timid, a doormat and a victim. With it we may be scared we’ll "see red" and blow up like a volcano, or provoke someone else to a terrifying rage. We might think it will end in disaster, so we deny we’re even annoyed.
But it doesn't’t have to be this way.
Few of us have had training in managing anger, so here’s a crash course. If you’d like to know how to use your anger constructively to get more of what you want, please read on.
Anger gives us the strength to defend ourselves. It lets us concentrate on what’s threatening us so that we can deal effectively with it. But there are some pretty weird views about this useful and productive tool. Do you recognise any of them?
False belief 1: Anger is an independent force.
Some people are scared their anger will take them over and "make" them do things they don’t want to do, things that they’ll regret later. They seem to think the anger isn’t part of them. Sometimes they say stuff like,
"If it happens again I won’t be responsible for my actions."
This is not true. We’re always responsible for our actions, just as other people are always responsible for theirs - unless they’re very young, or they’re brain-damaged. Whatever the provocation, people can choose how to respond. A little further on, you’ll find ways of choosing appropriate, non-damaging responses.
False belief 2: It’s not nice to be angry.
Sometimes we grow up believing "nice" people don’t get angry. It can seem like being angry is ugly, bad manners, or will get you rejected.
Sadly, more women than men think like this.
In fact, managed properly, anger is a useful tool for men and women alike. To give just one example, righteous anger has outlawed slavery in the western world.
False belief 3: Anger is always evil.
Some people have grown up thinking that suffering is noble and good for the soul. They believe that being a martyr somehow makes them better than other people. They think it would be wrong for them to complain and that they should forgive, no matter what.
But think about it. If someone were to go on a killing spree, should everyone turn the other cheek so that the killer can happily go on slaughtering others? Forgiveness is fine - within limits. Even Jesus set a limit: "Forgive 70 x 7". That’s 490, not a million!
False belief 4: I’m not allowed to be angry.
Mostly if people believe this it’s way down in their subconscious where they never have to face it. All the same they somehow believe it’s wrong for them to feel angry and they don’t allow themselves to say what they feel or change things that are uncomfortable for them. If you feel like you’re always a victim, could it be that you’re not allowing your anger to work for you? Perhaps not even feeling it? You’ll find more about this further on.
False belief 5: I can’t show my anger to others
Sometimes people don’t feel able to show their anger to others. Instead they turn it in on themselves, perhaps by becoming ill, by smashing their own possessions, by sabotaging themselves in some way, or by physically hurting themselves.
In fact, handled with the techniques below, you can start to learn how not to direct your anger at the wrong target.
False belief 6: Getting angry won’t help
People sometimes think that anger serves no useful purpose. They can’t imagine the situation ever changing, and they’re afraid that if it did change, things would be worse for them. It’s true that often losing your temper will only make things worse, but managing anger is not the same as losing your temper. Managing anger makes it work productively for you.
False belief 7: Anger is the same as violence
It can seem like anger always ends in violence, or that hurting someone is the only way to get your point across. This is not true. Violence is always a last resort and should be avoided if at all possible.
Warning: Your safety comes first. If there is a real threat of violence or abuse, it can be dangerous to show your anger right then. You have the right to go to the police. Various organisations offer you protection until you have a safe place of your own to go to. One of these is Women’s Aid, whose central phone number is 0117-977-1888. There is also Childline on 0800 -1111.