Managing Our Anger and Taming The Tiger
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Jenifer Higgins
23rd September, 2011
Anger is a powerful emotion and is part of our primitive survival systems along with our need for safety, food and sex. We pay a high price for anger used destructively in terms of violence, imprisonment, broken relationships, low self-esteem, health problems & depression.(7) Anger used responsibly rewards us with energy to defend ourselves when we are in danger or being mistreated, change unwanted behaviour and be more understanding of others. Buddhists call the process of managing our emotions “Taming the Tiger” (our Mind). (1)
How we perceive & interpret events determines how we react. Our goal is to use our anger assertively instead of aggressively or passively. Being assertive means asking for your needs to be met without hurting anyone. Acknowledging our right to feel angry e.g. when cheated or manipulated, helps us to feel we matter. (5)
As we explore our reactions to outside events we can learn to spot what triggers our angry outbursts or stops us from defending ourselves appropriately. We view the world according to our own personal filters based on our family of origin and our experiences. Finding out what our personal filters are and how anger was expressed or withheld as we were growing up gives us clues as to why we behave as we do. (2) (4) (8) Some medical conditions (e.g. PTSD or stroke), stressful situations or pain can make it more difficult for us to manage our emotions. A counsellor will work alongside you to explore your life and how you behave.
As well as getting to know why we get angry and how we respond, we learn to recognise the physical signs of anger and use calming skills (taking a step back, grounding, releasing physical tension, doing deep breathing) to avoid exploding with rage. These tactics gives us time to evaluate the situation and choose how to respond. (5) (10) We may need to take evasive action or defend ourselves.
When we are angry we are using our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) or fight/flight response which gives us energy to either fight or run from danger. So at the first sign of trouble, our fear triggers hormones to ready the body for action – our heart beats faster, our breathing increases, our muscles tense, our face flushes, our digestion stops, etc Dangers today are not in the shape of sabre tooth tigers but wars, redundancy, accidents, floods, over-crowding etc. Our bodies still respond in the same primitive way as our Stone Age forefathers. The good news is that we have an inbuilt compensatory system – the rest/digest response – governed by the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), that switches off this emergency reaction and returns the body to a state of relaxation and balance. We can consciously access and switch on this rest/digest response by regulating our breathing and releasing muscle tension.
It is important to note that there is a hidden payoff from being angry. Because we feel more powerful when we are angry, we may be tempted to use our power to control others. Bullies need to first recognise they have a problem and take responsibility for their anger instead of blaming others. Let us all learn to ‘tame the beast’ so we can be safe and well.
1 Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche “Taming the Tiger: Tibetan Teaching for Improving Daily Life”, Rider, 1994
2 Bradshaw, John “Homecoming: Reclaiming and championing your inner child”, Piatkus 1990
3. Jeffers, Susan “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, Arrow, 1987
4. Lerner, Harriet Goldhor, “The Dance of Anger”, Thorsons, 1990
5. Lindenfield, Gael “Managing Anger Simple Steps to Dealing with Frustration & Threat”, Thorsons, 2000
6. Litvinoff, Sarah “The Relate Guide to Better Relationships”, Ebury Press, 1991
7. Rowe, Dorothy “Depression – the way out of your prison”, Fontana, 1963
8. Skynner, Robin & Cleese, John “Families and How to Survive Them”, Methuen, 1983
9. Williams, Mark, Teasdale, John, Segal, Zindel and Kabat-Zinn, Jon “The Mindful Way through Depression”, The Guilford Press, 2007
10. Wilson, Paul “Calm at Work”, Penguin, 1998
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