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Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. 

October Newsletter from Pyxis Counselling Services
October greetings from Pyxis Counselling Services!  The fall weather is definitely upon us, and with it a lot less sunshine and warm days.  Here is a link to an article about Seasonal Affective Disorder that I posted on my Facebook page a few weeks back.  It provides an overview of S.A.D. and reminders of how best to cope at this time of year. This month's article deals with the emotion of anger, with some ideas for gaining insight into anger.  

Anger Insight - Use It, Don't Lose It!
Biting someone's head off. Jumping down someone's throat. Blowing a gasket. Flying off the handle. Losing your sh*t.  Ah, anger. It is the troublesome yet necessary emotion that may be more challenging to manage than any other feeling.  As far as I know, no one has committed crimes in a "fit of sadness". 

Why is anger necessary?
Anger has a bad rap, mostly because of the ways that it can potentially be destructive. But the emotion itself is necessary to our well-being. Think of a recent experience where you felt angry. Probably you felt like your rights were being violated or a boundary was being crossed. Anger is a signal that we feel the need to defend ourselves. Anything from someone cutting in front of us in traffic to a family member criticizing us can trigger a feeling of anger. The anger is a red flag that says "Hey, that's not fair", or "I don't agree with that!"  

If I am not getting angry at all, then there's a good chance I'm not standing up for myself or others. Maybe I've convinced myself that "I don't get angry", and meanwhile my blood pressure is sky high and I'm grinding my teeth down to stubs in my sleep.  In other words I'm stuffing or suppressing my anger and it's arising in some other form. The point is that even the most peaceful amongst us must get angry at times, as it is part of being human and a natural response when we perceive an attack or injustice of some sort.  

When is anger a problem?
Anger can be a problem when we are experiencing it frequently, or expressing it in ways that are hurtful to ourselves or others.
1. Angry all the time. At times it may feel like our partner or co-workers or the universe in general is out to get us and "make us mad", but in fact if I'm getting angry often and in all sorts of situations, the common denominator is me, not the circumstances.  It is possible that people may say or do things that trigger my anger, but it may be my perception that is off, not how others are treating me.  

For example, if at home my partner innocently asks "Where did you put the extra paper towel?" and I have a recent hurt in mind, then I might hear this as an accusation and get angry and snap back, "where I usually put it, where do you think?" or some other unkind retort.  Feeling angry does NOT automatically mean that the other person is doing something wrong. Perception is everything, and it's easy to be in error with assuming a hurtful motive behind someone's words or actions.

2. Anger becoming harmful. There are a bunch of physiological changes that happen when anger escalates, and once past a certain point we are more likely to do and say things that we will later regret.  Any violence to ourselves, someone else (verbally or physically), or property (i.e. slamming doors, throwing things) indicates that we are this red zone, and needless to say this is not the time to try and work things out.  

In fact we go into "flight, fight or freeze" mode and our bodies make the appropriate changes. Our heart rate is up, stress hormones are being released, blood is flowing to the center of our core muscle groups, our peripheral vision is lessening, and the more evolved, rational part of our brain is going offline. The part of our brain that does keep functioning is only concerned with whether to attack, run away, or play dead in the face of what we see as our "attacker".  All of this is super helpful if we are confronted with a wild animal, but these changes make it next to impossible to stay connected, calm, and rational in order to address and resolve conflict with another person, or whatever it is that triggered the anger.

How could anger look then?
Accept. Acknowledge the feeling of anger. Be curious about it rather than trying to get rid of it quickly or pretend it's not there. The more aware we are of when and how we are getting angry, the better chance we have of addressing it in a healthy way, rather than getting to a point of "losing it". 
Notice. Where is my anger on a scale of 1 to 10? If mild irritation or frustration is a 3 out of 10 on the anger scale, there's a good chance I can address the situation right then and there.  Noticing what's happening in my body can help me to know if I'm approaching "fight, flight or freeze".  If I'm enraged and have gotten to a 7 or 8 out of 10, then I need to take a "time-out" and calm down enough to think more clearly before responding.
Give grace. For the most part, other people are NOT out to "make us mad", annoy us, thwart us and get under our skin. Same goes for the inanimate objects in our lives. My computer does not have it in for me even if it feels like it sometimes. We are all just going about our lives trying to get our needs met in the best way we know how. With other people, getting beyond the black and white thinking of "I'm right, they're wrong" will help. Stand in the other person's shoes, look at the situation from their point of view, wonder out loud how might they be feeling threatened, hurt, or afraid.
Expectations. Adjust them. Life doesn't always go the way we want it to, in the day to day details or the bigger picture. If I find myself responding in anger to challenging situations, maybe I have the mistaken belief that "things should always be easy", and it's my belief that needs to change, not the circumstances. 
Resolution and release. As the quote on the left points out, holding onto anger will only end up harming me in the long run.  Taking whatever steps are necessary to resolve the anger and release that energy will bring things back to a peaceful equilibrium. Think of anger in a pot on the stove, am I letting it simmer on a back burner and giving it a stir now and again, or have I taken it off the burner? Am I keeping it alive or can I let it go and move on?

Being able to acknowledge and express anger in a healthy way is no small feat.  There are lots of opportunities for it to go sideways, to lash out instead of taking a time out, to bury the frustration instead of addressing it.  At these times there are other strategies that we can put to use. Apologize. Make amends. Learn from mistakes. Give others and ourselves another chance. And another. And another.

All the best with gaining insight into anger, and I look forward to connecting with you again next month.  Please let me know if you have any comments or questions, I am always open to feedback.

Susie Merz MC, RCC


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