Anger is a natural and healthy emotion that everyone feels from time to time. But when you find yourself being caught off guard with unexpected anger or struggling to control it, it can do serious harm to your relationships.
So, what can you do when you find yourself feeling anger unexpectedly? Below are some strategies to help you keep your calm and respond maturely.
1. Practice the Pause
When you’re caught off guard with anger, you might start to feel defensive or emotional and not immediately know why. Before you do or say anything – WAIT – buy yourself time to assess and acknowledge that you’re angry, and understand the cause of the anger. Your triggers are unique to you and are not the same for everyone. There is a reason something is bothering you (aside from the other person!) and a lot of learning that can take place by paying attention to and understanding what upsets us.
2. Breathe Deep
Once you acknowledge you’re upset, stop and take a deep, slow, long breath. Put physical distance between you and the other person by taking a couple of steps back or even some time apart. Deep breathing can help take back control of your physiology when anger arouses the body. This is SO important because it is impossible to be rational until your body cools down to a calm enough state again and (in case you haven’t noticed) continuing to be irrational will not help anyone feel better!
3. Be Curious Instead of Furious
If you have difficulty controlling your anger, it can be all too easy to jump instantly into furious mode and unleash your anger. Instead of being angry, be curious. Consider why this person is behaving this way, or saying these things. Maybe they had a bad morning or heard some upsetting news. Remain curious about your own reaction as well, as your triggers are unique to you and your experiences. (Despite what you may believe) your reaction is not all the other person’s fault.
4. It’s Not Personal
Remind yourself that the behavior of others is not personal to you. Oftentimes when people are behaving inappropriately or saying hurtful things, it’s because of things going on with them in their own lives and reminiscent of their past experiences. Practice reminding yourself that it’s not completely personal to you.
5. Use “I” Statements
When you’re upset, it might not always be appropriate to respond. Sometimes it’s best to just walk away. But if you do need to say something, focus on the behavior you find unacceptable without placing blame. Talk specifically about your feelings and the effect of the behavior on you. By communicating without placing blame, you are more likely to be understood and work toward a resolution, rather than putting the other person on defense and starting a conflict.
If you’re still feeling upset after a difficult exchange, try calling a friend to vent, writing your feelings down, or doing some kind of physical exercise. When it comes to anger, remember that in the long run it’s best for you to control it, rather than allow it to control you. I heard a saying once that has stuck with me ever since, “Feelings are good helpers, terrible masters.” Unchecked anger only leads to a very slow and sometimes irreparable erosion of trust in relationships.
If you are noticing that anger is beginning to have a significant negative impact on your life and relationships – don’t wait any longer! A licensed mental health professional specializing in anger management can help. Call my office today and we can schedule an appointment to talk.