really important aspect of anger management is catching it early.
Anger is always felt in the body first, unless – do you know what the unless is? – we talked about it earlier in this series – anger is always felt in the body first, unless a defense mechanism is preventing us from feeling it. Remember, all emotions have three parts: awareness – “I’m angry” – a sensation – “I can feel it in my shoulders, or my fists, or my jaw, or wherever” – and then an impulse – “I want to sock him in the face.” It’s very important to be able to tell we’re getting angry – before we get out of control – to know where we feel it in our body first, then we can usually head it off – at least, most of us can. If we can’t find it in our body, then we need to get past the defense that’s preventing us from feeling it. In my experience, that usually requires help from somebody that knows how to do it. But, if we do catch it earlier enough, then we’re able to use other tools, like breathing and counting. Now, if you’re already in a full-blown tantrum, breathing and counting probably isn’t an option anymore. And even if you could do it, it probably wouldn’t help that much.
What is breathing and counting? Well, we talked about that earlier as well. Breathe in for a certain count – like 5 or 6 – and then out for the same count, and then hold your breath for the same count. And you keep doing that until you start to feel out of breath a little bit. You don’t want to feel out of breath too much, because that makes you anxious. So you drop the number. Now you’re down to 6 or 5, and then 4, and then 3, and so on.
Okay, another one – that would be the third one – the first one being, catch it early, second one being, breathing and counting – and then, no one makes us angry but ourselves. That old saying, “He made me mad?” No way – no truth to it. Your amygdala produces emotions appropriate to the kinds of thoughts you’re thinking. When we get angry, it’s because of the way we’re thinking. We all have negative life themes that frequently contribute to that – ways of thinking about ourselves and others. “Always the victim,” one of my clients said about himself. So, he always felt like he was getting picked on, and mistreated, and life wasn’t fair, people weren’t fair, people were taking advantage of him, manipulating him, treating him unfairly. No wonder he was angry all the time!
What do you catch yourself thinking when you’re angry? I probably need to do a presentation on the thinking piece. We haven’t talked too much about that yet. That part can often be corrected without much direct effort, aside from therapy. So, you can think about, “How do I always think about difficult things.”
The fourth and final thing that I wanted to bring up is – and we talked about this already, too – dealing with triggered anger. In the family, children tend to bring up our childhood wounds and the anger that goes with them. So, if we have unresolved wounds from our childhood, our children’s trying behavior can bring up the old anger from the past.