Many people feel trapped by their anger, unable to retreat or withdraw once their anger feelings are triggered.
Itâ€™s like being launched on autopilot into a tight space where there doesnâ€™t seem to be any room for other choices or other ways of responding.
Although recognition is an important start, it is not sufficient enough to get you out of the anger trap.
You will also need to learn a new way of responding to your anger; approaching it and the feelings underlying it, with acceptance and compassion.
Practicing acceptance is an act of kindness toward yourself that allows you to heal and move on with your life.
The Four Steps of Acceptance
By using acceptance, youâ€™re going to meet the fire that fuels anger with active compassion and kindness.
To get there involves a commitment to learning four interrelated steps: acknowledging your anger; accepting the situation as it is; identifying the hurt, fear, and judgment; and responding with forgiveness and compassion.
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Anger
First you need to learn to acknowledge that you are angry when youâ€™re feeling angry. If you donâ€™t recognize or acknowledge anger, youâ€™ll never find out what is fueling it.
And, if you donâ€™t know what is fueling your anger, you will have no way to learn new ways of relating to the source of anger within you.
The next time you sense anger coming – when you feel the emotions surging and the evaluative mind in high gear – just acknowledge, â€œThere it is. There is anger. Iâ€™m angry and I need to take care of it.â€
Taking care of your angry feeling does not mean acting on it. At this point, itâ€™s only important to acknowledge that you are angry and that you stay with that feeling. Donâ€™t try to pull away from it or make it go away.
Step 2: Accept the Situation as it is
Learn to acknowledge that the situation is what it is. Your mind may not accept the reality of whatever is happening; it may tell you that things shouldnâ€™t be the way they are.
If you keep insisting â€œBut things should be differentâ€ or â€œBut people should treat me with more respect,â€ youâ€™ll get stuck waiting for someone else to fix the problem. You need to accept the situation as is and take full responsibility.
To do so, youâ€™ll have to recognize your mind machine at work. You can recognize it more easily if you label what itâ€™s doing. â€œThere is my mind, judging,â€ â€œThere is my mind, blaming,â€ â€œThere is my mind, scheming to get even.â€ Remember, your mind is good at creating anger.
Itâ€™s important for you to learn not to believe or do what our mind is telling you, or what your body appears to be telling you when you feel like youâ€™re about to explode.
The awkward and cumbersome labeling and language habits will help you recognize thoughts as thoughts and feelings as feelings. They help you create some space between yourself and your anger thoughts and feelings so you can start becoming responsible and changing what you can change.
Step 3: Identify the Hurt, Fear, and Judgment
This step is about identifying what is fueling the flames of anger; the hurt and judgment that underlie it; so that you can start the process of letting go of them.
Itâ€™s particularly important to notice what evaluative statements your mind is coming up with about you, the people in your life, and the current situation.
Look at the experience of Justin, a thirty-five-year-old engineer working for a construction company. Justin made several important discoveries about his struggle with anger.
Iâ€™ve always had anger, but lately Iâ€™ve come to see it as a problem. I get angry about everything, and I fixate on whatever got me angry. Itâ€™s the little things that tick me off.
It seems like not one day can go by without me being angry at something. I feel like I really hurt the people around me with my blowups. And doing that makes me feel bad about myself. Iâ€™ve always disliked angry people.
And it seems like everything I donâ€™t like, I am. I donâ€™t want people to avoid me or think of me as being mean because I canâ€™t control my anger.
Iâ€™ve put so much effort into dealing with my doubts and insecurities about myself. For the last six years, life has felt like a chore. I canâ€™t get through a day without feeling sick or scared.
My life feels like a job because Iâ€™m always working so hard at it. Iâ€™m angry because I donâ€™t know where all these bad feelings come from. Iâ€™m angry because I donâ€™t know how to fix them.
Iâ€™m also mad because I thought they would be gone by now, given how much Iâ€™ve worked on them. Now Iâ€™m scared that Iâ€™ll always have these feelings about myself. When will I be free?
This sad story may relate to the experiences of many people who struggle with problem anger. However, Justin is ahead of the game in one important respect: he discovered that being angry is very much about him rather than other people.
Being angry has to do with his negative feelings about himself and his tendency to beat himself up for having those feelings and not being able to resolve his anger.
The following exercise is about helping you recognize what fuels your anger so you can learn to accept the sources of your anger and start taking better care of them.
Be mindful that the quality of pain and hurt can change from anger episode to anger episode, from situation to situation, and from person to person.
This exercise will take a bit longer than the previous ones. Since you canâ€™t read and close your eyes at the same time, read through the following script a few times first. Then close your eyes and follow the instructions.
Exercise: The Anger Armor
Begin by getting in a comfortable position in your chair. Sit upright with your feet flat on the floor, your arms and legs uncrossed, and your hands resting in your lap. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Relax. Allow your body to rest without drifting off to sleep.
To get started, re-create a real image of yourself being angry. Think of a recent example when someone pushed your buttons and you got angry. Think of the moment. Notice the anger coming and all the surging bodily changes.
Notice the trigger thoughts your evaluative mind comes up with. Enter into the whole image as best as you can. Watch as the feeling grows and notice how quickly it is there in full force.
Notice how quickly you want to do something about the angry feeling, and what it makes you want to do. For example, do you have any impulses to speak out or act on your anger? Be aware of the evaluative thoughts youâ€™re having about the event or yourself.
Hold those thoughts clearly in your mind, put them into sentences, and watch them as if you were watching them in a mirror. Keep focusing on what youâ€™re feeling. Notice how your body and mind harden, consumed by anger. Itâ€™s everywhere.
Now imagine for a moment that all these harsh, judgmental thoughts, intense anger feelings, and strong impulses are connected.
They form one big piece of armorâ€”the kind of heavy armor that knights used to wear to protect their whole body. Youâ€™re in it. Feel how heavy it is and how hard it is for you to move.
Anger is like wearing heavy armor. The armor masks the pain and vulnerability we all have by simple virtue of being human.
Behind the pain, there may be something youâ€™re attached to, something youâ€™re holding on to. What is it in your case? See whether you can identify what youâ€™re trying to protect or defend with your anger armor.
There might be feelings of guilt, shame, hurt, fear, loss, helplessness, rejection, inadequacy, or unworthiness. Or perhaps itâ€™s your reputation, image, the approval of others, rules, beliefs, past mistakes, missed opportunities, or decisions that did not go right.
It could also be that you fear losing a person, or a possession, or place, or money. See if you can identify what exactly fuels your anger.
Every time the pain and hurt touch the inside of the armor, they corrode it. Your armor begins to weaken and rust from the inside. And as it rusts, you begin to feel vulnerable.
To keep yourself protected and safe, youâ€™ve been fixing the rusty parts and holes that start to show through by welding new patches of metal onto the old ones, so the armor gets heavier and heavier.
It weighs on you, dragging you down physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. You donâ€™t seem to be able to do much except clank around in your armor.
Next, imagine yourself stepping out of the armor and putting it right next to you. Imagine yourself standing there just looking at your anger armor. If it helps, try to visualize looking at yourself and the armor in a mirror.
You and anyone around you can finally see who you are. Youâ€™re standing there with your naked emotions and imperfections for everyone to see. Youâ€™re exposed and vulnerable. See whether you can stay with this feeling.
Notice how much lighter you feel now. Without the armor, youâ€™re no longer tied down by all that weigh. You can move more easily and more quickly than before.
Your hands, arms, and feet are free. By stepping out of the armor and just observing it, you have gained flexibility and freedom of movement.
The lightness that comes from acceptance wonâ€™t develop overnight. Itâ€™s like learning to ride a bike – sometimes you will fall. You will occasionally reach again for the armor and spend your time patching and repairing it, because it makes you feel safe when pain shows up.
As you learn acceptance, your need to hide from pain and hurt inside the anger armor will gradually decrease.
Accepting yourself and being patient with all your flaws, weaknesses, strengths, and talents involves taking many small steps in that general direction. Youâ€™re on the right track as long as you keep practicing and stay committed to that path.
Step 4: Respond with Forgiveness and Compassion
Acceptance is about opening up to the pain inside you with kindness, love, patience, and compassion. Because of this, we need to address the pains and hurts – what anger is helping you protect.
Weâ€™re not going after your pain with cheap fixes or more patches. Instead, weâ€™re going to expose it for what it is and meet it with acceptance, compassion, and patience.
Accepting yourself is the most important and often the most difficult step. Itâ€™s useful to acknowledge having feelings of anger, worthlessness, and failure, but putting yourself down for them only leads to more resentment and self-hatred.
Expert Jeffrey Brantley says that we often donâ€™t recognized what our minds do to us. Our evaluative minds provide us with a constant supply of judgments and self-critical statements.
It may seem as if youâ€™ve always had these thoughts. Most of the time you may not even notice them, at least not until the feelings or the comments become exceptionally harsh.
Until you pay attention to them, you may not know where they come from. But when you start believing those comments and acting on them, you become your own worst stressor.
If you want to break the vicious cycle of anger and aggression, you must recognize that your mind is at work here. When you catch and observe the mind doing its judging,
Youâ€™ve taken the first step toward being kinder to yourself and to others. Recognizing judgments for what they are will help you let go of judging and blaming yourself as you are, with your flaws and all that has happened to you.
Remember, you cannot stop your mind from dishing up evaluative statements. What you can learn is to see them for what they are and relate to them in a different way.