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Lengthening your fuse: a simple guide to anger management

“Anyone can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not within everyone's power and that is not easy.” - Aristotle
Aristotle presents us with a difficult challenge. Of course, we all become angry at one time or another, indeed anger is a part of being human and at times is an appropriate and functional response. However, there can be times when our tempers get the better of us when our anger is ignited too quickly, and our explosions can cause damage that we later regret.

If we are able to 'lengthen our fuse' a little, thus delaying the anger explosion it may give us time to assess the situation and see if we can meet Aristotle's challenge.

Lengthening our fuses and keeping our cool

So, how do we go about lengthening our anger fuses? Well, there are three stages in total, the first starting even before the fuse is lit.

  • Don't strike the match
    This stage involves us recognising our 'triggers' and doing our best to avoid them if possible. Anger triggers tend to be events or experiences that we perceive as being threats to ourselves or our property (being pushed or bumped on public transport), our self-image or esteem (being called a liar) or getting our needs met (people not listening). If we are aware of the types of things that 'strike our match', we can do our best to avoid them and reduce the chance of an explosion.
  • Lengthening our fuse
    It is not always possible to completely avoid our anger triggers. Sometimes, our match will be struck. It is at these times when we need to use alternative ways to react to our trigger. This involves looking at what we are thinking about the trigger, allowing us to lengthen our fuse and give us more time to react.

    For example, if someone steps on your foot on a bus and you think 'they did that on purpose, they want to pick a fight.' The resultant feeling may well be anger. However if in the same situation, you think 'they must have lost their balance, someone may have bumped into them' the resultant feeling may not be anger, but sympathy or simply indifference. If we can spend time questioning our perception of our trigger, we give ourselves more time to pick an appropriate and helpful response.
  • Dampening our fuse
    This involves employing strategies to reduce our levels of physical arousal when our matches are struck. These may include walking away from the incident, taking deep breathes, clenching and relaxing muscles, anything that can slow our heart rate and induce a physical sense of calm.

These simple techniques can be an effective path to feeling more in control of our anger. The more we practice, the more in control we are likely to feel.

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