Benefits: Recognize what your anger is trying to tell you.
So That You Can: Learn to control it and use anger to your advantage.
Go From Inspiration to Action With the Worksheet Below!
The Subtle Art Of Using Anger To Your Advantage
Anger is your friend. Not the cheery, let’s go have a beer kind of friend. Anger is your friend who will flat out tell you when your new haircut looks horrible. Or, when you’re being super obnoxious because you had too many beers with that cheery friend ?.
Once you realize this, you can use anger to your advantage. It can steer you out of harm’s way, just as that matter-of-fact friend can. But, before you become BFF’s with your anger, you need to establish some firm boundaries, just as you would need to do with your blunt friend. Otherwise, your well-meaning friend could quickly turn into an aggressive, red flag friend who bulldozes over your wants and needs.
Not sure what I mean by red flag friend — click here to find out.
So today, we’re going to figure out how to extend an olive branch to our anger and establish some much needed boundaries by:
- Recognizing what our anger is trying to tell us and the most common reactions we have when we feel anger.
- Discussing the harmful effects of not using anger to our advantage.
- Learning a few mindfulness techniques we can use to control our anger.
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Think of Anger as Your Check Engine Light
Anger’s job is to let you know when something about the situation you’re in isn’t quite right, so you can identify the problem and fix it before too much damage is done. And, just like the check engine light in your car, chances are pretty good that you’re going to ignore it the first time you notice it, in the hopes that it will magically go away.
But then, sure enough, the next time you start your car, there it is again. Eventually, you’ll break down and take your car to the mechanic with your fingers crossed, hoping that you didn’t ignore that light for too long.
Anger is no different. It will keep showing up when you’re in that not-quite-right situation, or a similar one, until you decide to face your anger, control it, and use it to your advantage.
What Kind of Problems Does Anger Alert You To?
According to Juna Mustad, a life and relationship coach, there are three things your anger could be trying to tell you:
- You have an unresolved trauma, and it’s being triggered by the situation that’s stirring up your anger.
- You are in denial about something, and your anger is urging you to see the situation clearly.
- Someone is trying to overstep your boundaries. But what does that even mean? What are boundaries? It’s a commonly-used word — I’ve used it twice already — but I’m not sure it’s a well-understood word. I like this definition from Z. Hereford at Essential Life Skills.net:
Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.
2 Common Reactions We Have
Again, according to Juna Mustad, there are two common reactions we have to our feelings of anger.
- We erupt — meaning, we let anger hijack the rational part of our brain. We become aggressive, place blame, and maybe even become violent. Or,
- We stuff — meaning, we deny our anger. We don’t want to rock the boat or be seen as the bad person — we don’t want our Shadow to be seen — so we suppress our anger.
These reactions are a sign that you’re ignoring your check engine light. And, both are signs that you haven’t embraced your Shadow. (You can learn about embracing your Shadow here.)
Although the erupters are showing their Shadow, their reaction is a subconscious one. Meaning, they have not integrated their Shadow into their consciousness so that they can accept and control it.
On the other hand, the stuffers deem anger an unacceptable trait that is part of their Shadow. They are doing their best to hide that part of themselves.
My point is, if you really want to use anger to your advantage, you’ll also have to work on embracing your Shadow. I know; I know. It’s a lot of work, but it will be worth it!
What Happens if You Keep Reacting in These Ways?
Ultimately, you will never be able to realize your full potential. But why?
If you’re an erupter, you are constantly telling yourself that you are at the mercy of your environment and have no control over your thoughts and feelings. So why even bother trying to learn and grow? No matter what you do, someone or something is going to come along and screw it up.
If you’re a stuffer, you are constantly telling yourself that you are more committed to pleasing others than to your personal development. Plus, after you’re done trying to bend to everyone else’s wants and needs, you won’t have any energy left in the tank to work on meeting your own needs.
Furthermore, unchecked anger can cause some serious health consequences. Here are seven from Everyday Health. (I’m not going to expand on each one, but there’s a link to the full article at the end of this post.)
- Both erupters and stuffers have an increased risk of experiencing a heart attack or heart disease.
- One study found that erupters are 3 times as likely to have a stroke after an angry outburst.
- Unprocessed anger can weaken your immune system.
- Anger can exacerbate the symptoms of generalized anxiety.
- Numerous studies have linked depression and anger.
- Angry, hostile people tend to have significantly worse lung capacity.
- Repressing your anger can shorten your life span.
How Do You Control Your Anger in the Moment?
That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? Anger is so difficult to control because, when you’re in the moment, your ego takes over, and your logical brain shuts down. I’ve been both an erupter and a stuffer in my day, and I know the consequences of both — broken doors and broken hearts.
We’ll talk about ways to befriend your anger so that you can use it to your advantage, but first, let’s discuss a couple baby steps you can take the next time your anger is trying to tell you something.
First, acknowledge the feeling. Accept the fact that you are angry, and that anger is a perfectly acceptable emotion, as long as you don’t let it take control.
Then, slow your breathing. Breathing is the first thing we forget to do when we are threatened, and anger is a threat response. I know, it’s so simple, but it really can help. Deep, controlled breaths will slow your mind down for a minute so you can think clearly and regain control.
And, relax your muscles — unclench your fists, loosen your shoulders, and untighten your jaw. All of these physical responses tell your brain that you are being threatened and will keep you in fight or flight mode.
How Do You Befriend Your Anger?
Once you’ve practiced controlling your anger in the moment and have perfected it, you can move on to befriending your anger. In other words, you can start listening to what it’s trying to tell.
I’m going to cite Juna Mustad one more time and three action steps that she suggests:
- Name the emotion you’re feeling – For whatever reason, recognizing what you are feeling and then actually naming that emotion slows your threat responses down. Maybe you’re actually feeling sad, lonely, or embarrassed and that feeling is manifesting itself as anger. Whatever the underlying emotion is, practice exposing and naming it.
- Change your reaction – Now that you recognize when you’re about to erupt or stuff, you can control how you react to your anger. Mustad suggests that you try feeling compassion toward yourself by thinking something like, “I’m hurting right now. How can I be kinder to myself and others around me?” The key here is that you are acknowledging that you’re feeling an acceptable emotion, and, rather than berate yourself, you’re trying to help yourself find your way out of it.
- Inquire – Or, as I would say, Stay Curious! It’s time to listen to what your anger is trying to tell you with genuine curiosity. Ask it, “What do I need to see right now? What have I been unwilling to face?” But, to truly befriend your anger, you then have to take the action it is nudging you toward.
Another quick tip: To befriend your anger, you’ll need to spend some time alone to process your thoughts and feelings. This post can help you focus that time on your personal growth, How to Use Your Alone Time for Personal Growth.
It’s Time to Use Anger to Your Advantage
It’s time to figure out what your anger is trying to tell you. Then, use that information to your advantage by taking action, whether it be setting firm boundaries, healing unresolved trauma, or accepting the fact that you need to make a change in your life. And remember, anger is actually your friend; it’s trying to help you live the fulfilling life you were meant to live.
I put a worksheet together for you that summarizes this post and will help you go from inspiration to action, so be sure to check that out.
Click here for more posts with a “personal growth” theme.
If you’re ready to Stop Settling & Start Living! check out our home page to learn more about what The Expectation Gaps has to offer.
And until next time . . . STAY CURIOUS!
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Full article listing detailing health consequences of unchecked anger: 7 Ways Anger Is Ruining Your Health, Debbie Strong, Everyday Health, 5.29.15
Anger Is Your Ally: A Mindful Approach to Anger | Juna Mustad | TEDxWabashCollege, posted to YouTube by TEDx Talks on 5.02.19
Jordan Peterson – Don’t repress your aggression! Use it for the good, posted to YouTube by Pragmatic Entertainment on 3.11.18
How to Process Your Emotions posted to YouTube by The School of Life on 9.07.17
Anger Management Techniques posted to YouTube by watchwellcast on 9.26.12
Healthy Personal Boundaries & How to Establish Them, Z. Hereford, Essential Life Skills.net