Are you angry? What does your anger feel like? Are you in control of it, or do you allow it to control you?
Or perhaps, a better question: What is anger?
Anger, simply put, is an emotion. It is something we feel that can result from an experience we find ourselves in, just as we feel happy at times, or sad, or excited. But feelings don’t hurt others, behaviors do.
Our angry feelings belong to us, not another, and therefore only we can detect them before others take note of our resulting behaviors. And because they are ours, we can take ownership of them — choosing how and when to express them.
But even beneath this, we are not angry people — we only may feel angry at times. Surely we don’t feel angry all the time, but only during certain circumstances or after various experiences. And because we are not inheritably angry people, we can recover from the unhealthy, angry behaviors we express.
In life, there are two general possibilities for change: we can control the situations in which we find ourselves or we can control the person we choose to exhibit therein. Too often, we find ourselves within situations we cannot control.
Perhaps we hit a rusty nail on the highway, puncture our tire and have to wait for what seems to be hours until the mechanic comes. Or perhaps we confuse the dates of our child’s dentist appointment and schlep him or her all the way there only to find out that the appointment was actually yesterday.
We don’t plan to get a flat tire each time we take the highway. Nor do we plan to confuse dates each time we schedule an appointment. So, the other option left for us to control is how we act or don’t act within each of these situations (or any other situation in which we experience aggravation, frustration and the like).
I am a fan of attempting to alter our emotions through meditation, mindfulness, and other cognitive practices and rituals, but for most of us in society, hours upon hours of meditation doesn’t sit well when forming a treatment plan. So, if we’re not going to change our emotions in the immediate future, why even bother with anger management?
After all, anger is an emotion and management is an attempt to control that emotion. The two don’t seem to jive.
Perhaps we ought to shift the healing paradigm and focus more on behavior-management. We’re going to feel what we feel, regardless of the situations we find ourselves in, but we don’t necessarily also need to behave the way we do.
Emotions don’t abuse people, behaviors do. (Abuse can take many forms.) And even if we utilize therapy sessions to try uncovering the root of our angry selves, we still haven’t solved the issue of its resulting abuse onto others in the present.
When clients tell me that they’re angry. I usually puzzle them by responding, “So what?” That doesn’t mean that I don’t think they are faced with a challenge they need to overcome, or that I don’t want to work with them at all. But rather, I’m more interested in exploring with them: “What behaviors did you use?”; “What choices did you make to take ownership of those behaviors?”; and “Why did you choose to behave differently now as opposed to when you were elsewhere?”
In shifting the focal point of our anger sessions from emotional to behavioral, we begin seeing how the issue isn’t wholly about their emotional anger, but more so that they acted on their anger in a distasteful way — usually distasteful to themselves (if they’re the one coming for help) or distasteful to others they have abused (whether minor or more severe types of abuse).
So, the next time you find yourself angry, instead of taking the time to analyze your anger, try looking at whether you’re standing up to the behaviors you wish others to see you display. If your soon-to-be behaviors don’t correspond with what you value, choose not to act — or act in a different way.
Your anger will come and it will pass, but the abusive behaviors you exhibit will leave much more lasting impressions on the other than your internal emotions. And internal emotions are OK; we can all find moments here and there to meditate and work on our character as we develop throughout the lifespan.