Anger is a natural and normal emotion. It’s also a valuable one. It lets us know when our boundaries have been crossed in all areas of our lives.
However, anger also can distract us. We may become lost in our anger, blind to the blessings around us.
Anger can isolate us from others. And it can distort how we see others and even ourselves, according to Jeffrey Brantley, MD, a founding faculty member of Duke Integrative Medicine, in his book Calming Your Angry Mind: How Mindfulness & Compassion Can Free You From Anger & Bring Peace to Your Life.
Underneath our anger, we may be experiencing fear and holding fixed beliefs. In the book Dr. Brantley gives an example of someone asking you the question: “Why did you let that person take advantage of you like that?”
Beneath the anger you feel tightness in your body and your teeth clenching. You might think, “Maybe something is wrong with me.” Beneath the fear may be the fixed belief, “I know I don’t have what it takes to stand up for myself.”
He also notes that we may turn anger inward, leaving little room for self-compassion or self-care. We may feel disconnected from our own bodies. Mindfulness can help with these distortions and disconnection.
In Calming Your Angry Mind, Brantley gives readers a comprehensive understanding of anger and delves into how we can use mindfulness to healthfully navigate our anger, including being in the present moment, using compassion and realizing the impermanence of anger.
He approaches anger in this way:
“Anger is not you but is a temporary condition that depends on many other conditions, much like a rainbow or a cloud depends on other conditions in order to appear. Anger does not actually come from ‘out there’ but arises when a stimulus or situation that you meet triggers a complex set of conditions that live in you — conditions such as beliefs, fears, perceptions, and physical reactions.”
Here are three meditative practices from Brantley’s book to help you address anger’s distortions.
When You Feel Distracted by Anger
When you feel angry, pause and name what’s happening, according to Brantley. For instance, you might say, “This is anger. It is in me now.” Bring your attention to this moment. Practice mindful breathing, which simply means focusing your attention on your breath. Or practice mindful walking, which means being aware of each step you take.
Listen to your angry thoughts without judging them or blaming yourself or anyone else. Pay closer attention to the sensations in your body (and your thoughts). Don’t try to eliminate your anger or fix it.
“Practice patience with yourself.” (This may mean recognizing that you feel impatient and turning your attention to these feelings, and watching them.)
Also, practice self-compassion at the end of your meditation with these phrases: “May I take care of my anger with compassion” and “May I find resources to remain present and open in this moment.”
When You Feel Alone & Isolated
Brantley suggests using the following meditation when you’re feeling isolated, unworthy, alone or any similar emotions. As soon as you notice these feelings, breathe or walk mindfully for several breaths or steps.
Bring your attention back to your body. Bring your attention to the world around you. “[L]et any beauty in nature you see remind you of the beauty in yourself and your good deeds. Let this beauty support you.”
Practice self-compassion with these phrases: “May I be protected from inner and outer harm” and “May I notice beauty around me and remember the goodness in me.” Again, you can focus on the surrounding beauty, and remind yourself of a good deed you’ve done for someone else.
Brantley suggests concluding your meditation by “noticing how the feelings of anger and isolation can change, how they are not a permanent condition or identity, and how you cannot fall out of the universe, despite what your inner thoughts tell you.”
When You Feel Disconnected from Yourself
According to Brantley, this meditation is helpful when you’re having a hard time feeling anything, such as the sensations in your body.
Again, don’t try to fix your anger or change it. Focus instead on not judging yourself, on being patient and being in the present moment. Begin by noticing any sounds. “Let them come to you, flow over you, and flow out of the present moment.” If thoughts about the sounds arise, let them be or let them go, and refocus on the sounds.
Shift your attention to your body, and notice any feelings, such as a feeling of heaviness or clothing touching your skin. “Trust yourself to notice what you can, and let that be good enough for this meditation.”
Practicing mindfulness helps us calm our anger, and understand it. When you’re aware of your angry thoughts and feelings, you’re able to gain insight into yourself — and avoid using your anger destructively.