Controlling anger begins with understanding the causes of anger. In order to feel angry, we must have pain, and we must perceive that someone or something is intentionally and unjustly causing us the pain.
In other words: PAIN + BLAME = ANGER.
The pain can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or simply feeling stressed out. The blame can be toward a person, organization, or even fate. Therefore, to decrease anger, we must decrease the pain and blame. So, every anger management skill involves decreasing pain and blame.
So, how can we learn to decrease blame?
Well, it begins with a choice to make letting go of blame the highest priority, which might not be easy but it is doable with practice and persistence.
So, why must we learn to let go of blame?
Because blaming leaves us powerless by telling us we can’t be happy with things we cannot control, such as other people, change.
Therefore, we must focus on what we can change, which is ourselves. Decreasing blame, however, is only the beginning because next, we must learn to focus on the pain, which will allow us to make anger an ally.
You see, many of us have used anger as a defence mechanism, like a shield, to deflect our pain by focusing on the blame. But as long as we avoid acknowledging our pain by blaming, we cannot heal or grow.
So, after letting go of the blame, we must calm ourselves down and then seek to identify our pain by asking ourselves:
“What is the pain I am feeling right now in this situation? Why am I hurting?”
Now, it may take some time and practice learning to identify the pain if our pattern has been to avoid it, but we must try. We must look inward and search for the hurt because once we can identify the pain, we then can use that knowledge to improve self-care by asking a second question: “Now that I have identified the pain, what do I need to do to take care of myself in my long-term best interests?”
Let’s look at an example: I find myself raging inside because my supervisor criticized my project proposal.
I have fantasies of punching holes in his tires even while another part of me recognizes I’m over-reacting.
But I can’t stop the feelings, and then I remember what I learned in anger management:
I need to let go of the blame and calm myself down, which I do.
Next, I must try to identify the pain that is fueling the anger. So, with some effort, I’m able to identify a deep feeling of hurt and shame.
Then with the further observation of my thoughts and emotions, I remember feeling this same way around someone who constantly put me down.
I then make the connection that my supervisor’s criticism caused me to feel like a horrible failure, just like someone did.
I now realize that my anger isn’t so much about my supervisor, but rather about my issues with someone and my feelings of inadequacy.
So, now that I have identified the pain that fueled my rage, I need to ask myself another question:
“What do I need to do in this situation to take care of myself in my long-term best interest?”
After some reflection, I decide that my supervisor’s criticism is not the issue. In fact, he was just doing his job.
The real issues are with someone else and my feelings of inadequacy, so I decide to read self-help books, seek counselling, or join a support group to help me figure out how to improve my self-esteem and resolve the issues with them.
Thus, by following the thread from anger to the pain, I discovered significant wounds within me that needed healing, which is how we make anger an ally.
If anger outbursts are a problem for you, then here is a “first aid kit” to help you not blow it by blowing up:
Step #1: When you feel anger rising, STOP!
Say and do nothing. Most importantly, do not act out your angry feelings.
Step #2: Take a mental timeout and even a physical time-out.
If necessary to avoid acting out your anger in ways that might be hurtful to yourself or others.
A mental timeout is a technique that allows you to shift the focus from blame to something more calming, such as your breathing, counting backwards from a pleasant scene.
A physical timeout removes you from the situation by walking away or hanging up the phone.
The goal of this step is to let go of blame so you can calm yourself down and then decide the best way to respond, not react, to the situation triggering your anger.
Step #3. Continue calming yourself down.
Use a relaxation exercise, such as meditative breathing, safe place visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation until you are grounded and can think more clearly.
Step #4: When you are completely calmed down, avoid returning to blaming.
Instead, focus on the pain that fueled your anger by asking yourself: “Why am I hurting? Why did this situation upset me so much?” Keep at it until you can identify the pain. For example, Her criticism made me feel like a failure, and that really hurt. Again, the important goal here is to focus on your pain rather than the blame.
Step #5: Deal with the situation
Once you have identified the pain, then ask yourself, “What do I need to do with respect to this situation to take care of myself in my long-term best interest?”
For the example above, the answers could be “I need to let her know that her comments were hurtful and ask her not to do it again,” or “I need to stay away from her because she always puts me down,” or “I need to try to be less defensive when she gives me criticism because I know she’s just trying to help me.” The main goal of this step is to let your pain guide you into doing what is best for you in order to take care of yourself.
Step #6: Take care of your anger and yourself
Now that you know what you need to do to take care of yourself, do it!
Because by choosing to focus on the pain and self-care, you will decrease both pain and blame and, thus, be less angry and more clear-headed in how you respond to difficult situations, which is how you make anger an ally.
Step #7: Practice
Practice, practice, practice because learning to let go of blame, focus on the pain, and then take care of yourself may not be easy at first, but with practice, it will significantly improve your anger management skills and the quality of your relationships.