How to deal with anger
Buddhism also teaches helpful meditation techniques so we are not swept away by the force of conflicting emotions like anger. These techniques allow us to take advantage of the brief gap in the mind between impulse and action. Through the practice of mindfulness, we become aware of impulses arising and allow a space in which we can consider whether and how we want to act. We, not our emotions, are in control. –Melvin McLeod
For me, anger and a sense of injustice are a motivating force. –Chelsea Clinton, the Clinton Foundation
I believe that anger can be sacred. Anger is meant to lead us to protect ourselves by saying a clear and decisive No to those who would otherwise use or abuse us. Anger is meant to help us create clear and helpful boundaries. Anger is meant to lead us to defend the weak and helpless, and to seek justice and truth-telling. These are all very good things.
I want to mention the upside of anger right up front, because anger is often perceived and talked about negatively–no doubt due to its profane side, which is itself abusive. Learning the difference between sacred and profane anger can be quite difficult for anyone who, like me, has had extensive exposure to inappropriate anger.
I’ve written before about the moment I decided I was tired of being as angry as I was, and that something needed to change. With the work I’ve been doing on grounding over the past month or so, all these many years later I feel like I have finally gathered a complete set of tools to transform my relationship with anger, and so I wanted to write about the topic again.
This past week I read the Readers Write section of the July issue of The Sun magazine. The theme is Never Again. Many of the entries are heartbreaking–particularly one written by a mother who is the child of an angry parent, has now become one herself, and doesn’t know how to change. This, for me, has been the path to that change I decided absolutely had to happen. For me it has been the work of many years, but I don’t see any reason why the process couldn’t move along a bit faster! If you experience anger as a force that seems like it’s controlling you rather than the other way around, I recommend the following …
- Cultivate a sense of humor. I wouldn’t say I’ve had every advantage in life, but I have had some important ones. I consider having a strong sense of humor to be at least one of my top five, if not higher. There are definitely things worth getting angry about, but there are a lot more that are well worth laughing about. There’s nothing like a sense of the ridiculous to help you keep your perspective, and appreciate life here on Earth.
- Let go of the past. If you’re getting disproportionately angry about little things all the time, in my experience it’s because you’re actually angry about something quite large that you haven’t dealt with. First you have to deal with the elephant in the room. For me, this step was about releasing bitterness about the big things that were bothering me. Once I did this, it became unusual for me to blow up over nothing.
- Years later, I started to meditate. If you don’t already meditate, I hope you’ll begin today. People have given me lots of “reasons” why they don’t meditate–but they sounded an awful lot like excuses. If you’ve been making excuses–I can’t meditate because my apartment complex is too noisy; my dog won’t let me meditate; I have no talent for meditation (all actual “reasons” I’ve heard)–I hope you’ll recognize them for what they are, take a page out of the Nike handbook, and Just do it. What’s so important about meditation, you may be asking? Why do people talk about what is, after all, doing nothing like it’s the second coming? I’ve always known I became calmer as a result of meditating, but I’m not sure I could have explained why as well the quote above from the Shambhala Sun, which really illuminated for me the value of meditation as it relates to anger. The much-talked-about “gap” really does make a huge difference in everyday life.
- Recognize the ego for what it is. When you recognize your own ego–as well as others’, they’re all pretty much alike, after all–and you no longer have to be right all the time, you suddenly have a lot less to be angry about. You really get it that there’s so much that happens that you no longer “need” to respond to.
- The last step (so far!) has been the work I’ve recently been doing on grounding. My (Donna Eden) energy medicine practitioner realized that a) relatively slight stress, like recalling an unpleasant meeting, could cause me to become ungrounded, and b) even when I was grounded, it wasn’t a stable state. When I asked what could cause these issues, she mentioned trauma, and reminded me, “You didn’t have the best childhood, you know.” Well yes–there was that. Using the same meridians as Traditional Chinese Medicine, she determined where my trigger points were, and devised an exercise for me to do three times a day. (It took a bit more than 10 minutes at first, and now it takes a bit less.) As I understand it, this exercise allowed me to ground myself, break up unhelpful patterns, challenge my grounding, and then immediately re-ground myself. She suggested doing it for two weeks, and ideally 21 days. I scheduled an appointment after about a month, doing the exercise faithfully during the past month. My colleagues were so good as to challenge my grounding quite thoroughly just before my appointment. Whereas before I’d likely have responded appropriately, but felt (and probably also looked and sounded) rattled, after doing this work I was able to be calm both inside and out. My breathing changed, I was definitely irritated, but I stayed grounded throughout. I was able to express my viewpoint calmly and logically, and when I came in the next day, I found the person who’d been trying to weasel out of work in the meeting was actually doing some of it. I considered it a victory all the way around.
This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I started making in January and finished today called, So you think I have an anger problem. In January, my mood shifted before I could figure out how to make the card successful, and I ended up making a card for Courage instead.
If you’re interested in seeing a Donna Eden energy medicine practitioner yourself, here’s a directory.