Guy Shares Two Questions to Help
You Control Your Anger
A question that often comes up in my conversations and training sessions regarding conflict resolution is this:
How do I control my anger?
Great question. Sadly, it's often the wrong question.
Anger is not really a primary emotion. It does not come first. It may come quickly. It just doesn't come first. Anger is generally the result of something else.
If you imagine at your emotional container like a bottle filled with a carbonated beverage and sealed with a stopper, you can develop a simple model for understanding what happens when you get angry so that you can attack the anger at it's source rather than trying to control it after it happens.
So, we have our emotional container represented by a bottle filled with a carbonated beverage. Now, we shake it up, and we get an explosion of foam. The foam represents anger.
Have you ever had a sink full of foam when you were trying to wash your dishes? If you have, you realize just how difficult it is to get rid of the foam. Well, anger is the same way. Once it blows out of us, it is really difficult to reign in and clean-up. It would be better to stop the foam (anger) before the explosion.
One tactic for controlling anger at its source is to recognize that by removing what came before the foam, we never have to deal with it at all. Since anger is a secondary emotion, we can dig past it to the primary emotion behind it and deal with that rather than trying to deal with the anger.
In many cases, the primary emotion triggered by an event in our lives will be one of two things:
- Fear, or
- Hurt/Pain (either physical or emotional)
If we can learn to identify which of these is at work in us when we start to feel “angry,” we can deal with the primary emotion in a way that can remove or reduce it. When we do that effectively, we get our anger under control by never letting it get ramped-up in the first place.
Several months ago, I read the results of a study that said a key predictor of domestic violence was the inability to clearly articulate emotions. The strategy I am proposing here aims at improving your skills in the area of expressing what is really inside rather than letting it build to the point of explosion. When we back-up the chain of emotional responses to the key, underlying, primary emotion, we can often express our fear or hurt more clearly so that it never escalates to full-blown anger.
How do you apply this approach?
When you feel anger welling up inside you, stop and ask yourself these questions:
- What do I fear?, and
- What is causing my pain?
If you can find an answer to these questions and then express the emotion in a healthy way, you just might avoid the need to clean-up the foam of your anger.
(I don't mean to suggest that getting angry is always a bad thing. It's just often a bad thing, if you want to preserve relationships. I'm also not suggesting that this is the only way to get your anger under control. It's just one way to do it. If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.)