Working to Change our Anger Habits

Yesterday we explored the phases of anger; if our goal becomes to be able to use anger to our advantage, and stay “above the line,” the first step is in acknowledging that our anger habits are in fact habits. We learn about anger and how to process it from our experiences growing up and we often inherit learned behaviour from our caregivers. If for example, you had a parent who had a “0 to 60” temper, you might also have developed the same tendency.

It is important to note here that the following steps in processing anger are meant for alleviating the first two phases; aggression and hostility/resentment. Chronic anger and rage need deeper exploration and typically require professional help.

When you begin to feel anger rising, if you naturally move to aggression you will have an action urge; if your tendency is to suppress, you will feel that tendency to push it away (or down, hence the build up.) In either case, following these steps can help:

  1. Take some deep breaths. Research shows that deep breathing inhibits anger, anxiety and impulsivity.
  2. If you need to, remove yourself from the situation for 15 minutes. During that 15 minutes, continue to maintain some deep breathing and ask yourself the following question:
  3. “What am I really feeling? What is the emotion that I am skipping over? (remember that anger is our safe emotion so it becomes a default position for us).
  4. Before returning to the situation, ask yourself “How do I want to handle this? What can I do differently to avoid falling into my usual anger habit?” Tip: the 3 M’s help!
  5. Returning, keep in mind that the new behaviours you are choosing are the only ones you have control over. Rewarding the effort, not the outcome helps to reinforce your overall goal of moving towards healthier ways of coping anger.

Giving yourself permission to understand and accept unhealthy behaviours is the first step to growth; the work in changing habits takes time and patience. Please be gentle with yourself as you practice, practice, practice.   🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash

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