For years, I was hooked on to anger. I was addicted to the rush it gave me, and I loved the sense of power and strength that came along with it. But after each episode of rage there was always wreckage.
My life was filled with broken plates, damaged relationships, and most of all, shame. When I think back on all those moments of anger the first word that comes to my mind is regret. Yet, despite the pain that anger caused, it took me years to realise that I had a problem and even longer to get it under control.
The anger ideal
Anger is often idealised in the modern world. It is at the heart of daytime talk shows and reality TV; it’s even glorified in sports like football, boxing, and mixed martial arts.
The idealisation of anger made me think that rage was an acceptable—even desirable—way of being. I was often tempted by the passion that rage invoked, but eventually I saw that anger offers a false promise.
Anger doesn’t just harm those it’s directed at; it also harms the person caught in its grasp. It has taken me years to come to terms with the things I’ve said and done when caught in fits of anger. But all of this taught me that I can’t allow anger to rule my life. So, I spent several years learning to tame this fearsome beast.
When I realised the damage that anger was causing in my life, I knew I had to make a change, but I didn’t know where to start. It was a tricky feeling to conquer.
Rage can feel random and unpredictable, and when it does occur, it happens so fast it can be hard to stop. So, instead of trying to stop rage, I decided to watch it. What I discovered not only revealed the secrets of rage, but also taught me to conquer it in a dramatic way.
1. Noticing rage
Rage doesn’t come on suddenly, so the first step is to notice it during its early stages.
I did my best to notice anything that made me irritated or angry. Then I would pause and say aloud “I feel angry” or “I feel irritated.” This simple practice not only revealed what bothered me, it also gave me space to feel these emotions. Many times I found that simply admitting my anger enabled me to let it go.
2. Looking for patterns
Once I was able to recognise anger, I began to see patterns emerge. Things like lack of sleep, hunger, and high levels of stress made me more susceptible to rage.
Of course, these may seem obvious, but watching how these conditions affected my mood taught me to notice and counteract these risk factors. I learned that eating regular meals and getting enough rest were two of the easiest ways for me to keep a cool head.
3. Looking underneath rage
Of course, in many cases my anger wasn’t connected to hunger or fatigue, so in these cases I searched for another cause.
I discovered that often anger arose to cover up an unpleasant feeling. When a driver cut me off in traffic, I felt angry because it hid my fear. When a friend cancelled plans, I felt angry because it hid my sadness. Anger was easier to feel than fear or sadness, because it was more masculine and powerful. When I realised what was beneath my anger and made space for those feelings, the anger would often vanish.
4. Seeking out the roots of anger
After noticing my emotions, I began to look into the thoughts that came up around anger. I noticed that the first thoughts were always about other people. But just past those were an array of thoughts and beliefs about myself.
Some examples are:
I’ll never be as successful as my siblings.
I’m such a screw up. I never do anything right.
I’ll never make my parents proud.
All these thoughts revealed a series of deeply held beliefs about the world and my ability to live in it. Once I saw these beliefs, I was able to examine them more closely.
Now, when I discover these beliefs, I state them to myself aloud. For example if a friend cancels plans, I might say: “I feel afraid that this friend does not like me because part of me believes I am not likeable.”
By noticing these beliefs and admitting them to myself I have found that they hold less power over me.
5. Digging up the roots of anger
Once I knew about these hidden beliefs I began to break them apart.
I’ll ask myself, “Is this belief true?” Often this question will reveal that my belief isn’t based on reality, but on an old fear.
In the example above, I might ask “Is it true that I am not likeable?” Then I reflect: I have many friends and most of them seem to enjoy my company. So my belief that I am not likeable probably isn’t true.
Over time, I have used this technique to see through many of these deeply-held beliefs. And each time I see through them, they lose a bit of their strength. This doesn’t mean I never encounter these beliefs, but it does mean that they no longer control my life.
Does rage have an end?
One question I get a lot after I explain these steps is, do you still get angry? And the answer I always give is, “Yes!” My goal has never been to stop my feelings. I don’t strive to become an emotionless zombie. Instead, my intention is to not let my emotions control me. I want to be able to wield my emotions carefully.
Now instead of anger being an enemy, I have turned it into an ally. I now see anger as a sign that there is something I have been neglecting.
But I no longer let myself remain in anger. Still, there have been a few rare instances when I have flown off the handle. Each time I have made the effort to forgive myself, and learn from the experience.
The key in my continued work with anger is to always be patient and curious. I find that when I’m willing to slow down and look at what is going on, a solution presents itself.
However, no matter where you are on the spectrum of anger, it’s important that you don’t give up. You don’t have to live your life in fear of your own emotions. If you can learn to be more open and kinder to yourself, you can tame even the most fearsome demon within your heart.
This was first published in the February 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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