Mindfulness and Anger: Perhaps no emotion is seen as needing to be controlled as does anger. We are taught that anger is an emotion that needs to be conquered, managed and controlled. And yet, the news is dominated by wars, mass killings, terrorism and many other violent expressions of anger. So perhaps it is time to rethink our approach to anger. Clearly, our management and containment strategies are proving ineffective. It is the contention of my book, that in fact we need to “Lose Control” of Anger. In fact, it is our very attempts to control anger than contribute to the acting out of anger. When one is acting out angrily, it takes on many dissociative characteristics which implies people are in a sense outside of their mind. We even have phrases like “I lost my mind”, “I was besides myself”, “I saw red” and so on. So the idea, is to stay inside of our selves, to be fully present, mindful and awake to our present emotional reality.
The first point to recognize is that there is a difference between the experience of anger, expressing anger and acting out anger. These three phenomenon are often confused as being one and the same. All beings experience anger. Babies have anger, animals show anger, spiritually enlightened humans experience anger. A variety of bio-genetic, cultural, and individual conditioning factors determine how we react to and display the emotion of anger. For some, anger is characteristically held inside. such individuals may be disposed towards depression or the somatization of affect (internal physiological arousal) which can manifest through a variety of physical symptoms. Others may quickly boil over and overtly discharge their anger. Still others might slowly come to a boil but harbor anger for longer periods of time. Others may demonstrate anger through a variety of passive aggressive behaviors such as pouting, becoming sullen and withdrawn, slamming doors and so on.
It is critically important to not allow one’s self to bury, repress or otherwise control anger. What we must do is learn to be present and mindful with the experience of anger. There are many reasons why we learn to attempt to control anger. Their are culturally mediated and individually conditioned factors that feed into this, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this post. F0or the time being, suffice it to say, that when we are truly present with anger, the likelihood of acting out angrily will drop precipitously. So one of the best ways to accomplish this, is to internally label the experience of anger. So if you are cut off in traffic, rather than “flipping the bird” or screaming to yourself, say to yourself…”I am angry”, or better yet, ‘there is anger”. This later comment provides more objective distance from your awareness and the experience. Over time, mindfulness teaches us that we are not defined by the transient thoughts or feelings that cross our minds. Over time we can develop the capacity to watch our mental events and not be so easily buffeted about by them. So, keep labeling anger, frustration, disappointment, and so on. And actually, with intentional focus, bring your mind fully to bear into the emotions as they arise. Take notice of where in your body the various feelings resonate. You will notice that feelings ebb and flow an pass by like the tides or clouds in the sky.
I know I make this sound easy. It is actually rather difficult since we are so conditioned to react whenever we feel emotional discomfort. It is like an itch that we cannot resist scratching. But if we learn to at least resist the itch for a brief period, and mindfully pay attention, you may find the itch passes of its own accord. Over time, we are less likely to reflexively act out upon every itch.
The next post will explore another technique to help keep us awake during difficult emotional experiences.
Please add your own thoughts, comments, anecdotes, experiences. And from all of us here at MindfulExposureBook.com (me), have a very fulfilling New Year!