Discovering the Center of the Struggle

Anger ManagementYou’ve know the struggle that lies within your anger and the costs of your anger.

You’ve made attempts to manage and control anger thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Then you’ve realized the difficult truth that nothing has really worked.

No matter how hard you tried, no strategy to manage anger has ever helped long term.

The costs are still there.

The healthiest response is to give up the struggle with anger, to surrender. By surrendering you will experience – perhaps for the first time – what your struggle with anger has really been about.

It seems like you’ve been fighting a tug-of-war, with the anger monster pulling at one end of the rope and you pulling at the other end. Yet no matter how hard you’ve pulled to defeat the anger monster, it has always come back stronger, pulling harder at the other end.

While you were engaged in this endless and exhausting fight, with both your hands firmly clenching the rope, it probably never occurred to you that you don’t need to win this fight. What would happen if you decided to stop fighting? You could simply surrender and end the fight by dropping the rope.

The anger monster would still be around, throwing the rope at you, trying to get you back in to the fight. But it’s your choice whether to pick up the rope again and continue the battle, or to keep your hands free so that you can start doing the things you really care about.

Dropping the rope and ending the struggle creates a doorway. If you aren’t consumed with the effort to control anger, there may be an opening to see and experience something deeper, something that the struggle has masked.

You may be wondering how you can actually drop the rope. The first thing you would do is give up being a manager of anger. You can stop fighting against the feeling and the waves of pain.

When you give up being a manager of anger, you can start becoming an observer of the anger process. You can watch your thoughts, feelings, and impulses.

The Anger Process:

There are five components to the anger process. Each one can offer vital information about what lies at the center of the struggle.

Pre-Anger Feelings:

The first component is your pre-anger feelings. These are emotions, as well as the physiological sensations, that come before the anger.

Pre-anger emotions are usually painful and something you want to avoid. Shame and guilt are examples as both of these feelings attack your basic sense of self-worth.

They create a feeling that you are bad or wrong at the core. Anger is a classic way to avoid these feelings. Instead of you being wrong, anger turns the tables and makes it the other person’s fault.

Another pre-anger emotion is hopelessness. A lot of male depression, which has hopelessness at its root, shows up in relationships as anger. The experience of hopelessness is somewhat covered up by the high-energy emotion of anger or disgust.

Other pre-anger feelings include hurt and anxiety. Both create alarm reactions. With hurt, you feel the sudden risk of abandonment; with anxiety, you have a feeling of an imminent danger. Anger converts alarm into a drive for action and the fear goes away – at least for a while.

Bodily sensations can also play a role in your pre-anger experience. Tension in your abdomen, shoulders, or jaw can be an indication of anger. Feelings of heat or heaviness, agitation, headache, shakiness, and the like are frequently mentioned precursors to outbursts of anger. Angry behavior can mask all of these unpleasant sensations.

Trigger Thoughts:

The second component of the anger process is trigger thoughts. These include painful memories and images brought on by the provoking incident. Memories of past hurts, failures, losses, and so on can become unpleasant to the point where you just desperately want to avoid them.

Trigger thoughts also tend to be good or bad, right or wrong judgments about yourself or other people and their behavior. In fact, anger is essentially impossible unless your mind comes up with some type of judgment.

Trigger thoughts usually paint you as a victim and blame someone else for your pain. They often contain broad labels such as stupid, incompetent, selfish, crazy, lazy, wrong, jerk, and so on.

Anger Feeling:

The third component is the anger feeling itself. It can show up as either a gradual or sudden surge of arousal. This arousal typically consists of autonomic nervous system responses, such as a pounding, rapid heartbeat, fast breathing (hyperventilation), trembling hands or legs, clenched jaws, muscle tension, and feeling hot or flushed.

Impulse to Act:

The arrival of the anger feeling usually generates a fourth component of the experience – an impulse to act. This impulse often feels indistinguishable from the trigger thoughts and anger feeling; but if you watch carefully, you can see them as distinct stages of the process.

The high energy generated by escalating anger gets more unpleasant as it grows, and there’s a natural pressure to discharge this anger physically. You want to do something – now – and so you begin to file through a short list of responses learned during past angry feelings.

Anger Behavior:
Up until this moment, you haven’t actually done anything. To be sure, you have experienced quite a few changes on the inside, but nothing much has happened on the outside.

Yet the pressure is mounting. Now it seems that this pressure will lead naturally to the last and most destructive component of the process, which is often some form of aggressive behavior.

At the dramatic end, this includes shouting, finger pointing, run away, hitting, breaking things, and the like. Sometimes anger behavior is more subtle such as:

  • Rolled eyes
  • A look of disgust
  • Crossing your arms and looking away
  • A deep contemptuous sigh
  • Cutting comments
  • Sarcasm
  • Gossip
  • Emotional and physical withdrawal

Go through these five anger stages again and again during a single anger episode, and likely see this playing out multiple times over the course of a day.



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