Author: Karen van Zyl - Consultant at The Anger and Stress Management Centre, Pretoria 2014
Anger is a natural, normal human emotion but the way that we express it may not be serving us. If it is used to drive revenge and not meaningful change, it leads to destructive behaviours. At the Anger and Stress Management Centre we strive to help people manage their anger so that they are able to express it in a clean and healthy manner where no one is hurt physically or emotionally. Our goal is to help our client's lead happier, healthier and more balanced lives by using their anger to drive change rather than seek revenge.
One of the key areas in managing anger is to understand the process that drives our reactions. When we are triggered, adrenalin is released. This drives our survival instinct (fight or flight). We often then react in the moment, without thinking for example by shouting back, going on the defensive or in some cases even becoming violent. It's very helpful to start being able to recognise what triggers you, be aware of the physical sensations (e.g. racing heart, tight chest or throat, butterflies in tummy) and use a calming down strategy (like breathing, counting or timing out) in order to respond more calmly rather than react in an irrational manner.
A reaction is: Trigger- Anger – React irrationally.
A response is: Trigger – Anger – STOP – Calm down - Think of possibilities – Respond rationally. For most of us this takes practice as we have often reinforced some negative reactionary behaviour by doing it over and over again. It may have become a habit. For example when someone deliberately winds you up and you react negatively. Instead of realising that this is what that person wants and remaining calm, we react back negatively and give all our power to the very person that has annoyed us.
The trigger is often as a result of what we are thinking and perceiving. Then we wind ourselves up around the faulty thought or perception and react negatively. For example you may think that someone is angry with you because they were abrupt or rude, only to realise later that they had a crises in another area of their lives which had them upset before they even spoke to you. A powerful tool is the ability to watch your thoughts and perceptions and challenge them. Some challenges may be: Am I being negative? Am I taking things personally? Is what I'm thinking really correct? Is this about my expectations? Am I being judgemental? Watch out for warning phrases e.g. "It seems that", "It feels like" these are often perceptions and the sooner you can challenge them and change them the better.
The words "should" and "supposed to" often indicate an expectation that might be unrealistic. Use "could" instead. Our expectations account for many triggers, as we expect others to do as we would from our unique perspective or viewpoint e.g. He should behave the way that I would. This leads to you setting yourself up to be let down and feel disappointed, frustrated and angry. People may be doing the best they can but they are not YOU (in your ideal world) so often it will not be good enough because you would do it differently. Tolerance and empathy can diffuse this trigger..try it!
We need to recognise when we have been triggered, then stop, calm down and get thinking about an appropriate course of action and respond. Jumping in with a knee jerk reaction may have far reaching and negative consequences, which often require some sort of damage control. You don't have to catch every ball that is thrown at you!!