Dealing with Anger
I don’t need anger management, I need people to stop pissing me off.
Have you seen that quote floating around on FaceBook or Pinterest? Unfortunately, there’s a whole laundry list of ways that anger has a negative effect on your life and on the lives of those around you.
Even if you try, you can’t deny or suppress this powerful emotion for long- it is wired into you as a response to threat. Anger is an emotion that is necessary to protect you. The key is to understand what your anger is really all about.
Anger is the fight part of the age-old fight-or-flight response to threat. Anger stimulates adrenaline. In more primitive days, the things that angered us were threats to our survival like food, shelter and water. Today the things that threaten us are centered around our principles, beliefs, and psychological needs.
We learn to conceal our fears from others and to protect ourselves from feeling weak, ashamed and embarrassed. We are so good at this that we attribute our anger to something outside of us so we can justify our behavior.
Dr. Deborah Khoshaba identified six basic "masks of anger." The first mask is one that I struggle with - mistaking anger for hurt. I often don't even realize I'm hurt - I just feel mad. Even when I am aware of it, it feels less threatening to show anger than to show weakness in hurt feelings.
Anger also works well to cover up a fear of emotional intimacy. Being hostile may feel like a safe way to express needs and wants without being vulnerable. I don't like conflict so I don't tend to do this, but understanding this is very helpful for me in dealing with other people who tend to be hostile to get what they want.
Strangely, anger is also a safe way for some people to attach to others romantically. People who have difficulty asserting and negotiating their wants and needs often feel unsafe relating to their romantic partners. They are particularly vulnerable to using anger as their main way of expressing themselves.
I don't like feeling angry - I am a control freak and being angry feels out of control - but some people use anger to self-soothe inner tension. Being angry actually makes some people feel better, at least temporarily.
One of the most common masks of anger is covering up sadness and grief. Have you ever disclosed something painful and the other person responded by getting upset instead of empathizing? What appears as anger may actually be an attempt to go to battle for you. The person getting angry on your behalf feels as if they are protecting you.
Anger can act as a smokescreen for self-consciousness. Do you know people who always get irritated or frequently ask confrontational questions? It appears that they are always mad, but they may be extremely self-conscious. The fight or flight response kicks in and the come off as mad when in reality they are meek and afraid.
If you identified with any of the masks of anger you are now aware that these are all various forms of self protection. Earlier in January I talked about our "Immunity to Change" and how we often want to change our behavior but seem helpless to do so. I provided a worksheet you could use to find out what is really driving your behavior. That same worksheet is great for uncovering what is driving your anger. (See my post on January 5th entitled, "Unlock Your Capacity to Change.")
Similar to the "Immunity to Change," is a process developed by Byron Katie. Katie believes that we have negative emotions and habits that we can't change because there are some benefits to keeping those behaviors. Katie has a little different method which she calls, "The Work."
The first step in "The Work" is to write down your judgments about something that often makes you feel angry. For thousands of years, we have been taught not to judge— but let’s face it, we still do it all the time. The truth is that we all have judgments running in our heads. Through "The Work" you can use Katie's method to be honest and say what you are really thinking.
If you are like me, most of your anger is attached to some kind of resentment. Even if you have forgiven that person 99 percent, you are not free until the forgiveness is complete. The 1 percent you haven’t forgiven them is the very place where you are stuck in all your other relationships (including your relationship with yourself.)
Katie found that if you begin by pointing the finger of blame outward, then the focus isn’t on you. You can just let loose and be uncensored. After all, we know what other people need to do and how they should live. We have 20/20 vision about other people, but not about ourselves.
"The Work," helps you see who you are by seeing who you think other people are. You start to see that everything outside you is a reflection of your own thinking. Katie believes that we are constantly trying to change other people so WE can be happy. (I don’t need anger management, I need people to stop pissing me off...) I would agree with her.
Think about what makes you angry and write it as a statement. Then ask yourself these four questions:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
Here is an example using the four questions. Let's say you are upset with Paul because he does not understand you. Your statement would be "Paul should understand me."
- Is it true? Is it true that Paul should understand you? Be still. Wait for the heart’s response.
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Ultimately, can you really know what Paul should or shouldn’t understand? Can you absolutely know what is in his best interest to understand?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens when you believe “Paul should understand me” and he doesn’t? Do you experience anger, stress, or frustration? How do you treat Paul? Do you give him “the look”? Do you try to change him in any way? How do these reactions feel? How do you treat yourself? Does that thought bring stress or peace into your life? Be still as you listen.
- Who would you be without the thought? Close your eyes. Picture yourself in the presence of Paul in this situation. Now imagine looking at Paul, just for a moment, without the thought “Paul should understand me.” What do you see? What would your life look like without that thought?
The next step is what Katie calls "turnarounds." A statement can be turned around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. For example, Paul should understand me turns around to: • I should understand me. (to the self) • I should understand Paul. (to the other) • Paul shouldn’t understand me. (to the opposite).
Katie encourages us to fully experience the turnarounds. For each one, find at least three specific, genuine examples where the turnaround is true for you in this situation. This is not about blaming yourself or feeling guilty. It’s about discovering alternatives that can bring you peace.
I know, this seems weird - but let me tell you it works! It is a very effective tool for examining why we do what we do, especially when it comes to being angry.
My favorite example of Katie's method is not an example based on anger, but it is eye opening. I will leave you with this dialog to help you understand exactly how powerful this process can be.
This is an excerpt from Byron Katie's guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show. She was doing "The Work" with author Caitlin Flanagan, who had been diagnosed with metastatic recurrence of breast cancer. This is Caitlin's word for word account of her experience with Byron Katie.
"Your children need you. Is that true?” I looked at her like she was out of her freaking mind. "Yes!"They're 9 years old! They're little boys! They just finished fourth grade!
"Uh-huh. Your children need you—is that true?" Now I was getting angry. I wanted to walk out of there, but I said, "Yes, it's true! My children obviously need me"—you freaky kook lady! And she said, just as calmly as if she were asking where I'd bought my sweater, ..
"Where are they right now?” "They're with their dad," I said. "My husband." Then she said, just as placid as could be, "Is he good with the boys?" Of course, I took it hook, line, and sinker: "Oh, yeah, he is the best dad in the world, and he does so much with them, and the three of them have a great relationship—you cannot imagine. He should get dad of the year." And just as matter-of-fact as ever, she said,
"Your children need you. Is that true?" I just sat there and sat there and sat there— and then kaboom in my mind like you cannot believe: I realized that she had nailed it.
It wasn't the cancer, or the chemo, or the baldness that was keeping me in hell— It was the terror of thinking that if I didn't make it, my boys wouldn't either. If, in fact, I didn't make it, my boys would be okay. Their dad would take care of them. And all our relatives. And everyone at church. They'd be fine. They could and would make it without me if they had to.
"That's right, sweetheart," Katie said simply when I blurted all of this out. How narcissistic to think they couldn't live if you didn't live."
To read more on this go to: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Testing-the-Work-of-Byron-Katie#ixzz3LNdtI2O
For more information on the work go to: http://thework.com/sites/thework/downloads/worksheets/instructions_for_the