Coping with anger
According to Jung,
‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious’.
In other words, the route to self-knowledge and enlightenment is by exploring the bad stuff. Such as anger.
Anger is a misunderstood emotion
It has negative connotations and is seen as less important and less helpful than other emotions such as joy, happiness or fear. Yet all your emotions are a compass for life and help you respond to challenging external stimuli (such as someone crossing a personal boundary).
Anger can be seen as an energy that you are able to harness to try and change the external world. It can assist you to get something you need, or to protect you against threat. The first step toward addressing anger is to take a non-judgemental view of it. It is more useful to take a compassionate and curious approach.
People tend to suppress anger, which leads to only experiencing the extremes of anger in the form of emotional explosions or numbness. Neither of these is healthy but both are extremely common.
The work of therapy aims to improve your ability to sense different levels of anger and give you a choice about how to deal with your emotion before being overcome by it. These choices include expressing your anger, or deciding to park it. When enough choices become apparent to you, you will find a better balance and can choose among a variety of strategies according to the nuance of the situation.
How do you know that you are not coping with your anger?
Many people experience guilty regret after an explosion or loss of control. Others may suppress their anger and feel powerless and stuck (the other extreme of not connecting with your anger). This can make you feel on edge: lots of pent up energy but unable to take the next step.
Another warning sign that you are not coping with anger is alcohol misuse. This performs the function of suppressing your unwanted feelings. The craving for a drink after a tense situation such as an argument with your partner may be an early indicator that you are not addressing your anger.
As a psychotherapist I like to be creative and often use exercises for coping with anger.
At times of extreme distress your rational brain doesn’t work anymore. If you have already got to the point of feeling overwhelmed, it might already be too late. Therefore, the exercises need to be learned and practised in a calm place, so they are easily accessible when things get difficult.
Exercises to try
A starter exercise might be grounding: finding a way to tell your body rather than your mind to calm down. This is done with breathing exercises, and also physical connection to your inner strength: i.e. connecting with the musculature that you would recruit to ‘stand your ground’ (and not ‘attack’).
A second exercise might be a body scan: it is important for you to recognise early physical symptoms of your anger. People often desensitise their body to their own sensations as a coping strategy to avoid dealing with anger (as stated above, alcohol misuse is a common strategy for this). So by doing a body scan, you are aware of the nuances of your feelings, and have a choice when the sensation starts rather than allowing the anger to build up to the point of no return (fight, flight, fright).
If you have any concerns or would like to talk to a professional, get in touch using the form below or calling us on 020 7735 6813.
This weeks post is written by Tiago Brandao