Powerful Mindfulness Hack to Keep a Lid on Anger That Could Otherwise Explode into Behavior You Later Regret

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Image by Achim Hering

Image by Achim Hering

by Paul Garrigan

Anger is Not the Enemy

It is natural to experience anger from time to time. This emotion can be expressed skilfully when we wish to emphasize an issue that is important to us (e.g. you are late again!). Anger can also be a powerful source of motivation (e.g. I won’t allow this to beat me) and can inspire us to fight injustice in the world.

The problem isn’t feeling angry or even expressing anger. The difficulties arise when we attempt to deny, escape, or suppress this natural emotion. This leads to a situation where the anger boils over – instead of us using the anger, the anger ends up using us.

Choosing to Be Angry

There are times when expressing anger is a useful tactic – although there are usually much more effective ways to get what we need. If you do make a tactical decision to become openly angry though, it may turn out to be the wrong choice, but at least it was your choice. The fact that it was your decision makes it much easier to live with any consequences.

The real danger is when instead choosing to be angry we just snap. In this type of situation, even if we end up getting what we want, we are still likely to feel bad about losing control. Of course, the reality is that most often when anger boils over like this, it makes our situation far worse.

Anger Does Not Need to Be Rational

It is usually the perception that our boundaries have been violated in some way that causes us to experience anger. It isn’t so much what other people say or do that makes us feel angry, but how we perceive what they are doing – e.g. somebody might say to you, ‘your hair looks nice’, and for some reason you could decide this person is being sarcastic.

One mistake we make when dealing with anger is to believe that it needs to have a rational cause. It is this belief that causes us to deny or suppress the emotion. If we feel angry about something, it makes no difference if we then decide ‘that is just silly’. The anger is there, and it needs to be dealt with at the time or else it will just accumulate until eventually we explode – usually over something relatively trivial.

Anger Leads to Obsessive Thinking Loops

Anger becomes most dangerous when it leads to obsessive thinking loops – this is we keep going over and over what has happened. The more we get caught up in the story of the incident, the angrier we feel until eventually it consumes us completely. By this stage, our ability to think rationally might as well be stored in a different universe because we just can’t access it, and we are highly likely to do something we later deeply regret.

Mindfulness Mind Hack to Keep the Lid on Anger

The key to preventing our anger from boiling over into constructive behavior is to divert our attention away from the thinking. It is important to understand that we are not trying to stop the thoughts as this is likely to just lead to more thinking. Instead, we move our attention to the physical body – focusing on the rising and falling of the breath in the abdomen can be an effective way of doing this.

By diverting our attention away from our racing thoughts about has happened, we begin to create some space for rational thinking to return. Depending on the seriousness of the event, we may need to keep on returning to physical sensation (e.g. abdominal breathing) until eventually things calm down. Once we have escaped the obsessive thinking loops, we can then make a rational decision about how best to react to what has happened.