Harnessing and Transforming Aggressive Anger

Filed under [ Emotional Universe, Self ]

If you read the last blog then you should have a pretty good idea as to which style of anger expression is yours.  By the way, you may have a combination of anger expressions with different people and different situations.  For example, you may be more aggressive at work and more passive-aggressive at home, etc.  But usually you will have one predominate way of expressing anger in most areas of your life.

All three styles of expressing anger – aggressive, passive aggressive or passive – cause great harm to you and people around you.  Very few people express anger constructively or assertively.  In order to express it in a healthy way, you first need to accept that anger is a natural feeling which arises in us when we are feeling threatened or fearful.  It is part of our defense mechanism and its original intent was to protect us.  Its underlying cause is usually obscured by the various feelings I mentioned in yesterday’s email, such as feeling betrayed, disappointed, frustrated, violated, abused, hurt, controlled, neglected, or disrespected.

Different cultures have different rules for expressing anger.  Some cultures suppress and forbid it, others release it without any regard to its potential toxicity.  However, no culture seems to accept anger as a natural reaction to threat and teaches its young how to express it constructively.  Hence the different unhealthy expressions that exist.

There are several tools for teaching children how to express anger which I will discuss in a future blog.

Here, I am going to focus on first harnessing, then transforming the expression of aggressive anger.  Individuals with an aggressive style tend to release their anger toward others indiscriminately and in a way that is destructive.  The wave of heat that arises in them is released forcefully and prevents them from being able to control what they say or do.  They usually feel justified in their reaction and blame others for bringing them to that point.  The reality is that this is the only way they know how to release it.  It is wired into their brain from early childhood and cannot just be turned off or on at will.

Rewiring the brain to constructively respond to anger is a three stage process:

1. Like with any other issue, it begins with becoming aware.  In this case, awareness that you are expressing your anger aggressively and how it affects you and the people around you.

2. Accepting that this is a part of you and choosing to learn how to harness your anger so that you can rewire this reaction.

3. Developing some kind of a practice to catch yourself either before or during an outburst and replace it with a more constructive response.

Since this reaction has become part of your unconscious way of being, it will be very difficult for you to catch yourself during an outburst.  The best thing you can do is begin to listen to your body before it reaches the out of control anger point.  Look for some of the signs of anger arising in you when you are in the midst of a disagreement with someone or some other kind of situation which is upsetting to you.

  • As soon as you begin to feel the heat in your body, or your heart pounding faster, see if you can stop whatever is going on and excuse yourself from the situation.  Remind yourself that you are committed to rewiring your anger reaction which means intercepting it before it escalates to a point where you lose control.
  • Go to another room, take a walk or a run and breath deeply from your belly to help your body calm down.
  • Whatever you do, don’t continue to engage because that will reinforce your current wiring for aggressive anger.

If you are not able to prevent the escalation of your anger and you find yourself in the midst of it, see if you can plant a seed that will remind you that you are not being constructive right now and it is best for you to end it as soon as you can.  If you can intercept yourself, then remove yourself from the situation and breathe deeply to return your body back to a calm state.  Some people when in the middle of the forceful angry state like to punch something, perhaps a pillow or a punching bag.  You may also go to the gym or play ball or dance.  Anything you can do to release the energy without hurting yourself or another.

If you are not able to intercept yourself, then as soon as you have calmed down, you need to recognize that you just lost control and you need to go clean it up.  That means going to the other person and explaining to them that you lost control and that you need help intercepting the anger in the future.  Perhaps you can come up with some code word or hand or facial expression that the person you argue with the most (significant other, parent, child) can signal you while in the midst.  Remember, the goal is to rewire this reaction.  That means being able to intercept it as often as possible and replace it with a constructive response.

The constructive response includes learning to perceive situations as less threatening.  Prevention is the key. Most reactions come from misunderstanding and/or distortions of what is really going on.  Learning to not jump to conclusions or to seek clarification before reacting can eliminate much of what makes us angry.   You have to begin by assuming that people don’t want to hurt or threaten you.  If you operate from this premise, then when you hear something threatening coming at you, you may want to assume that you have misheard or misunderstood and ask for clarification.  As soon as you begin to feel some heat arising, intercept it by repeating to the person what you thought you heard them say and asking them if that is correct.  Almost always what we thought we heard is not what was said.  This is not easy to do, but when you do this, you will be able to transform your angry reactions to constructive dialog that brings clarity to the situation for all involved.  As you practice, over time you will find yourself becoming more peaceful, trusting, and open.

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