I read something the other day, anger and anger expression. It struck me, because they really are two different things. Being angry is one thing, and how we express that anger is something else entirely.
Anger is a secondary emotion, it may be frustration amplified. Sometimes it is fear masked. Unfortunately though whatever emotion it is hiding doesn't have much of a chance to surface and be handled appropriately. In fact the primary emotion loses all effectiveness when anger surfaces. Despite beliefs that "getting the anger out" releases the flood gates and the real emotion is then ready to be addressed, expressing anger or suppressing anger have the same eventuality. A total mental corruption. Yes, anger can be that devastating. Keeping things into perspective will help out a lot.
First, let's explore anger a bit. Anger can be driven from a deep feeling of disgust, some resentment, contempt, hatred or hostility. It may even be the product of a lot of torment. Often times anger is preceded by a the loss of power or authority. Loss of respect or status. Perhaps you've been insulted. Another prompt for anger, which is very likely for most of you out there, is the experience or the threat of an experience of emotional pain.
Once anger is on board, we keep cooking it, stirring the pot so-to-speak. The mere expectation of pain is keeping the anger alive, feelings of unfair treatment, believing that things "SHOULD" be this way or that. Here is one, this one is my best friend, rumination. Ruminating about past events or the current event that is striking the hot iron of anger.
But what exactly does anger feel like? In DBT the skill of identifying body sensations is very important. What we can do to be more skilled at identifying body sensations is mindfulness. Our mindfulness exercises that we should all be practicing daily, will help you to start to recognize what your body really is going through. What helps to strip away the confusion that usually ensues when anger is provoked inside, some have found it helpful to make a list of what you think might be happening inside. Add to your list what others say they have felt, ask around what your friends and family notice about themselves. Because honestly, no one is perfect and every one of us has felt anger from time to time. Once you have a completed list, post it somewhere you will be able to look at it when you next experience anger. Read down the list and see if you can identify with any of the body sensations. Like, feeling your face flush or get hot, maybe clenching your teeth, a tightness or rigidity to your body. Maybe tingling in your arms or hands. Reading through this list of what you think might be going on will help you, A) delay in acting upon your anger and B) you will be able to definitively say what it is that your body goes through when anger begins to boil.
Once you have a better idea of the body sensations that will likely occur while anger is building, you will be able to have alarm bells going off in advance to your total out-of-control anger enveloping you.
While you are working on the body sensations there is much work to be done by analyzing the way in which you express your anger. Yes, an expression of anger is withdrawing or "stuffing". Take note of what you physically do, outwardly, when you are expressing your anger, make a list of this as well. Do you grit your teeth, verbally attack or criticize, curse, scream, yell, clench your hands, make threatening gestures, stomp, slam doors, or physically attack? Write the ones down that you personally do, if you feel you have a safe support system and that you can ask them what they notice when you are angry. Be cautioned however, if this inquiry is not done with care, you run the risk of triggering yourself. So if you plan on asking loved ones what they notice, be sure you are in a pleasant mood, all of your vulnerabilities that you are aware of have been met, and remind your loved one that you are working hard at making changes so for them to be honest and brief would be helpful. Ask them to gently answer your question, don't sugar coat it, but certainly ask them to weigh their words. And remember, you are asking for the information, not to remind yourself of how "bad" you are, but rather because you want to get better. When that is complete, next to each expression of anger write down why this expression needs to change.
This list will come in handy in two places, 1- when you start to notice your body sensations, or your body amping up to anger, you can review these actions that you see when you are expressing that anger, and it may help to reduce the climbing emotion, because you can see the negative results in advance to you acting on your anger and 2- once you have acted on your anger, and you are picking up the pieces, making apologies where you need to, repairing what you can; take this list out and review it. Make a note of the ones you used again, but also make note of the ones that you know you use and didn't this time. Praise yourself for that.
Education is our most valuable tool. This tool can work wonders if we learn how to use it. Educate ourselves, not only in view of what mental illness we have or the impact of that illness on our lives, but also educate yourself on your own patterns. Without knowing what you experience how can you possible change it? How will you know what to do differently and when to do it?
So make these lists, review them. Incorporate them into your mindfulness exercise. If you know that your hands start to get numb when anger is setting in, then let that be your que to do a mindfulness exercise. Talk your body down, take a 5 minute break, close your eyes. Breath deeply 5 times, then start regular breaths. In your mind tell your body parts to slow down, calm down, and eventually to go to sleep, start with the opposite side of your body that you are noticing the sensations start in. In the case of the tingling hands, start at your toes. Tell your toes that it is quiet time, that they are to slow down and rest. "toes, it is time now to sleep." go onto your ankles, knees, thighs, stomach, heart, arms, neck, hands. . . you get the idea. Once you are done, chances are you have staved off the rapidly approaching anger. Which is a success! Now you will be ready to face whatever distressing situation you were having and this time with a clear mind. Review your list of body sensations so that you will be keenly aware if anger starts its way back up, review your list of anger expressions and why they are harmful. This will give you fresh ammunition to fight against the rising anger.
Just getting through a situation that anger usually takes over will be gratifying for you and give you a huge sense of accomplishment, don't be afraid to agree to disagree with the situation, you do not have to solve it in that moment. Relish the moment of pulling away from anger. If your anger is being triggered by something in your environment that is not another person, ask yourself if you can walk away. Take a "time-out" from it. Give enough time since you were able to push the anger away, not down, before you revisit it. If the anger was triggered with another person involved, use an exit graceful line, tell that person that you care about them, that it is important to you to handle the situation with effectiveness and that you would like to revisit the situation in "place a specific time frame on when you will revisit it" . Seriously challenge your interpretation if you feel that whatever is triggering your anger has to be dealt with right now. Chances are you only feel that way because the emotion is in the driver seat and you are not. In these rare occasions however, that something does need to be handled in that moment, say out loud, that you are struggling with anger emotions, you do not want to express them in this way (be specific as to how you do not want them to be expressed) and then proceed. Keep repeating yourself as many times as you need whenever you feel the anger surfacing again.
The aftereffects of anger will be overturn by analyzing your pattern of behavior. Instead of attending to only the situation that made you angry, you will be able to explore the communication break down that you had with an individual. The ruminating thoughts will be turned into pleasant validation. The common dread, shame, fear and hopelessness that follows will not be. There will be room for praise, satisfaction, problem solving and successes!