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Embrace the Fire: Mindful Anger Management

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Welcome back to EnvisionCo Blog! Quick check in. How have you been doing with the mindfulness practices that I have introduced to you thus far? These practices are the building blocks to helping you fortify your inner resources and cultivating emotional balance. How so? Well, to start, training your mind to be in the present moment, to be nonreactive, and to pay attention enables you to identify emotional experiences as they occur in the mind and body. Using mindfulness in this way, aids you in perceiving physical sensations, thoughts, or patterns in your emotional way of being that often go unnoticed. Being able to assess your own system in this way is critical for being able to explore and heal difficult emotions like anger, the focus of today's article.

Anger Defined

The textbook definition of anger would probably go something like this: "Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong. Excessive anger can cause problems. Increased blood pressure and other physical changes associated with anger make it difficult to think straight and harm your physical and mental health," (APA, 2024). Additionally, anger is an emotion that is universal, meaning all humans have or express it at some point. Even more, anger is not just a human expression; even mammals and reptiles display this emotion. Its purpose is to remove obstacles that are blocking us from meeting our goals and needs. The energy surrounding anger is generally one of blame, striking out, punishing, and retaliation thus making it a difficult emotion to just "sit with."

It is possible for us to get angry or mad at ourselves. However, we most often direct it outward and though we can get angry at anyone, we most often are the angriest at those we're closest to. I imagine this is because the people closest to us, know the most about us. They know us most intimately and therefore they know what can hurt us the most. I also think another reason that we show the most anger towards those closest to us is because it is "safer." Here is a well-known example of this type of displaced aggression:

  1. The Boss: The man gets mad at his boss.

  2. The Wife: He comes home and takes out his anger on his wife.

  3. The Child: The wife, in turn, takes her frustration out on their child.

  4. The Dog: Finally, the child might express their anger by taking it out on the dog.

Gaining awareness of our anger can be very helpful in catching it sooner and sparing ourselves, others, and even our pets the hurt and regret that often result from acting out of anger. In order to map out and work with our anger in this way, we need to see the space between our triggers and our reactions.

Exploring Your Anger

What are your anger buttons?

List your top 5 anger reactions.

When you consider your responses, do you notice any patterns? Themes?

The purpose of the exercise above is not to elicit shame. It is simply to begin the process of raising your awareness to your anger. Now that we have it on paper, it's time to do something about it.

Welcome to all of you to "The Anger Management Game Show," where we uncover the secrets to taming the fiery beast within! Behind door number one, we have the classic strategy of "Anger Suppression." Sometimes, keeping a lid on those boiling emotions seems like the safest bet, but beware the pressure cooker effect! Door number two beckons with "Anger Expression," where contestants can unleash their feelings in a controlled, assertive manner. But watch out for those explosions! Behind door number three, we delve into the intriguing realm of "Unconscious Anger Fueling." Yes, folks, sometimes our anger is like a stealthy ninja, lurking in the shadows of our subconscious. And finally, behind door number four, lies the unconventional approach of "Befriending Anger." That's right, folks, can you believe it? We're going to cozy up to that temper tantrum and see if we can't turn it into a purring kitten! So, audience, contestants, are you ready to embark on this exhilarating journey to Anger Management Wonderland? Let's find out which door holds the key to serenity!

Door Number One: Anger Suppression

After completing the exercise above in the table, "Exploring Your Anger," most people tend to lean toward trying to figure out how to suppress their anger. Anger suppression is a coping mechanism in which a person tries control their outward expression of anger. The rationale behind this makes sense. Most of us don't want to be in a constant state of tension and conflict. We don't desire to ruin our relationships by constantly exploding with aggressive words or actions. Suppressing anger seems like a logical way of handling the anger problem. Unfortunately, there is a cost to suppressing anger; it doesn't solve anything. It only kicks the can down the road for it to be dealt with later, meanwhile the anger isn't gone it's just been quietly simmering beneath the surface wreaking havoc on our bodies. Prolonged suppression of anger has been linked to increased stress, anxiety, and even cardiovascular problems. Furthermore, suppressed anger can manifest indirectly through passive-aggressive behavior or may resurface explosively when the pressure cooker of suppression becomes unsustainable.

Door Number Two: Anger Expression

Healthy anger expression, like assertive communication, involves the healthy expression of our feelings, boundaries, and needs while also respecting the rights of others. But this is not what we are referring to here. We are talking about the uncontrolled, aggressive expression of anger. Now, I will be the first to admit that, depending on the situation, really letting someone have it can be satisfying in the moment. The adrenaline rush that comes with that outburst can be addictive. We feel energized. We feel stronger. We feel bigger. The problem is that anger affects our thoughts and feelings and when unleashed in an uncontrolled manner, it can be quite damaging to relationships and lead to harmful consequences (destruction of property, assaults, murders, arrests, legal issues, financial issues, etc.).

Anger responses can cause a ripple effect throughout the body: from the cardiovascular system to your nervous system. According to Psychology Today article, What Causes Anger and How It Affects the Body,

"Anger creates energy surges, and when energy surges occur, chemicals such as adrenaline enter your bloodstream, your heart rate increases, your blood flow increases, and your muscles tense. Losing your temper affects your cardiac health. It can shorten your life when it is sustained. Anger also compromises your immune system. Everyone gets angry sometimes; handling anger well, though, can help you to stay healthy."

If you’re already living with conditions that affect the cardiovascular system such as high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms or high cholesterol, moments of extreme anger may leave you more vulnerable to a sudden heart attack. This is enough to make us think twice about letting go and letting loose the storm that is our anger.

Door Number Three: Fueling the Flame

In times past, therapist would advise their clients to act out their anger (punching pillows, shouting loudly in an empty room, etc.). We don't do that so much anymore. Brain science has taught us some interesting things about the brain and its wiring. What we are now learning is whatever fires together wires together. Each time anger is expressed, it not only gets rehearsed, but it also gets strengthened. You may discharge the anger for a short time, but it will return. This same thing happens when we stop and tell any and everyone who will listen about how some other person wronged us. Each time we retell the story the themes of blame and victimization reinforce our anger habit because we are unconsciously feeding the anger mind state.

Door Number Four: Befriending Anger

Anger is normal. It is the nature of humans. (Heck its the nature of other mammals and reptiles too). What we have to do is learn to relate skillfully to our anger. We don't suppress it. We don't haphazardly express it. We don't flame the fires by re-blaming and re-victimizing. Door number four requires that we befriend our anger. To befriend anger, we must embrace anger as a natural part of our experience. It requires that we don't judge our anger and we don't resist it. Instead, we embody a compassionate and curious stance towards it. Yes of course, in the heat of the moment you may need to temporarily suppress the urge to lash out. Excuse yourself to an alone place. But then, really turn towards the anger and explore its message that it is trying to communicate with you. For us of the human persuasion, anger holds wisdom. Anger signals our unmet needs, boundaries, or values. By befriending anger, we can harness its energy as a catalyst for our personal growth, healing, and positive change. We'll speak to some strategies on how to do this next week.

Our exploration of anger management has revealed various approaches, each with its own merits and pitfalls. While suppressing anger (door number one) may seem like a quick fix, it often leads to long-term harm. Uncontrolled anger expression (door number two) can also be damaging, perpetuating cycles of conflict. Unconscious anger fueling (door number three) further complicates matters, reinforcing reactive patterns. However, befriending anger offers a promising alternative, allowing us to embrace our emotions with compassion and curiosity. By cultivating a mindful relationship with anger, we can harness its transformative power for personal growth and healing. As we conclude this article, let us carry forth these insights, armed with resilience and empathy on the path to emotional well-being. But please remember, no matter where you are on this wellness journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading!

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"Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves." ~William Hazlitt


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Love the title and this post is very informative, anger management is important we need to improve it.

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Thank you for the feedback. 🩷

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