How do I work on my anger?

Vaibhav, I get angry when I am stressed… I get angry when I don’t get what I deserve even after putting in hard work….I get irritated when I am angry!  How do I work on my anger?

Dear Sumana,
At the end of the day, Anger is pure energy. It is a powerful response to a life situation that is either threatening or deserves forceful response. It can also arise when our choices aren’t respected and it feels like we are being marginalized. Anger can also be learned from childhood. If we have one or both angry parents, anger becomes a normal response to everyday situations. Its only as we grow older that we may realise that this isn’t a normal, necessary or even healthy response to most situations. And excessive anger should be reserved for only the rare occasions when our integrity or safety is genuinely threated.

Anger itself doesn’t know whether it is good or bad, it only arises in response to a situation. It arises on the command of its master, You. As we age and get a history the You build its own stories about who it is, what it wants, what it fears and what it is worth and deserves etc. When the people around do not respect these stories of self-worth or justice, the anger mechanism is triggered. As life moves on and we don’t effectively manage our mind and its stories, the anger mechanism can get triggered more and more frequently even in situations where such a powerful response isnt needed.
Anger is also a very common tool to use to cover up our mind’s feeling of weakness and also the genuine feeling of vulnerability. Situations of stress and threat, trigger something in us called the fight or flight response. Some people may choose to respond anxiously in these situations and run while others may choose to get angry and fight. Both cases increases the stress in the body and cause illness and suffering. Also, we are vulnerable beings and need to respect and devote time to this aspect of ourselves, as you are beginning to do in your sessions with Rashmitha. This is important to preserve and develop the soft, creative, humble and loving aspect of ourselves.

So, now we have a situation where Sumana has learned a lot of responses to situations. Internal responses which trigger different chemicals in the body when different situations arise. Maybe lot of adrenaline and cortisol are being released by the body because her mind is deciding too frequently that she is in a state of threat of danger.

She has also developed a number of stories on who she is and what she is worth. Now the world outside, doesnt seem to be agreeing with Sumana’s stories because it has its own stories and rules. What is fair and right to Sumana does not match with what is fair and right to some of the people in her life. Maybe they have their own internal stories which are different from Sumanas’! And so there is conflict and stress.
Lets look at anger management in 3 steps;

  1. Damage Control
  2. Understanding Anger
  3. Accepting and Giving Space for Anger

Damage Control – Anger moves very quickly. It is probably the fastest emotional response in my experience. Before we know it, we are angry and out of control. So how do we start to minimise the damage caused by anger to ourselves and to others?

By now, you have enough experience to know what kinds of situations and people trigger your internal anger response. Be very very clear about this …. they are NOT the problem. Your mind’s response to the situation is. You are responsible 100% for your anger. Be absolutely certain of this. I can tell you from personal experience that if you dont believe this at the very core of your being and if you are still blaming the world for your anger, you will not move beyond the uncontrolled and inappropriate expression of anger.
So… you are about to enter into a potentially stressful or anger inducing situation. Ask yourself, do I really need to enter this situation? Is it essential to my life as it is today? So now, you decide it is or may be propelled forward by your mind despite knowing that you dont need to face the situation. Our awareness has increased. Very often we make bad choices out of habit rather than necessity.

If we are entering a situation which will trigger anger, we can first roleplay in meditation what will happen. We can see ourselves as a third party and run through the situation in our mind since we have done it so many times in the past. We can see how we are triggering negative responses in others and how they are triggering negative responses in us. We can then avoid triggering them and learn to manage ourselves when they trigger us.
In order to manage ourselves when we are triggered, the first thing to do is to leave the situation. Simply make some excuse and leave. This prevents a) exploding b) suppressing… both damaging in their own ways. Once we have left we can use techniques such as counting the breath, doing exercise, using ice packs etc. One app I found to be very helpful in this is called Woebot. Woebot is like a pocket AI therapist that provides tools for damage control and also helps us identify distorted thinking patterns that trigger negative responses from us in situations where negativity may not be the right response. I encourage you to download woebot and use it on a daily basis both for understanding your patterns as well as for damage control.

Understanding Anger – We have talked a lot about the nature of anger already. Now that you have context, you need to take this into your meditation/contemplation sessions. Don’t think only of the people and situations that are triggering you, but play close attention to the mind stories that are being triggered. For example, ” I get angry when I don’t get what I deserve even after putting in hard work”. Whos benchmark of hard work? What is hard work to you may not be hard work for the person who appraises your work. How do you know the results you have produced deserve recognition? It is very likely, that the person may feel that they are giving you more recognition than you deserve. Their standards may be different from yours. Most importantly, you only have control over the work you put in. You have no control over the rewards and recognition it can get. (There is a famous saying in the bhagvad gita about this which you probably are familiar with)…. surrender the results of your work to the Divine. Please google and study this saying at your leisure.

As you set aside time everyday to process these things, you will get great insight into how your mind works. when you get insight into how your mind works, you will get insight into anger. As you get insight into anger, you will learn to manage your anger. As you learn to manage, your anger you will learn to accept this part of you for what it is.

Accepting and Giving Space for Anger –  Through the process of understanding anger, we have now understood our mind much more than before. Because we understand ourselves better, we automatically have more understanding of others. We are all very similar after all. (Otherwise how would my words reach you at all). Since you have understood your and others minds more, your communications skills will improve. You will be able to communicate your expectations and needs more clearly and in advance to putting in effort for others. Since you are doing this better, you will enter situations that wont trigger anger more often.
However, life will continue to happen. Situations that trigger anger will continue to rise. But by now, if we have done the hard work, we wont be upset by anger. Anger will arise more and more appropriately. It will also transform itself into its positive dimension Passion and release passionate energy in a more controlled and balanced stream of energy. As more passion arise, more alignment towards our soul calling spontaneously arises.

When anger does arise, there is more internal space for it. Meaning we can hold anger in our awareness while continuing to function effectively. We will show only so much anger that is appropriate for the situation. For example, haggling with the vegetable vendor who is trying to cheat you becomes a joy. A simple adult mind game in which you can use anger cleverly to gain a position of respect from the other.

The natural play of life.

May wisdom increasingly arise!

Much love.