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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Moderating the Anger Response Through Training

Most people think that anger is an instinctive response, and that some people were just born with the temperament to get angrier faster than others. That statement is half right. Anger is an instinctive response. We respond to an affront with anger essentially instantaneously - much too quickly for conscious thought to be called upon. But the instinct of the anger response can be trained through conscious repetition, visualization, and coaching. Visualization is seeing the event we desire to master in our mind's eye.

During his training, a baseball player strives to make each swing better than the last. The repetition of a faulty swing would be worse than useless. It would ingrain bad habits. The same is true of emotional responses. If we allow ourselves to continue to have the same angry responses, we just entrench our anger habit. But if we strive - through consciousness, visualization, and coaching - to moderate our anger response over time, we can train ourselves to respond to events as we choose, without anger. You can't magically be free from anger tomorrow, but you can put yourself on a training program that will reduce the frequency and intensity of your anger response day by day, year by year.

My training advice for moderating the anger response is:

1. Consciously practice responding with a little less anger each time a situation provokes you.

2. Practice visualizing aggravating situations and rehearse the response you choose to make to such events.

3. Have patience. It took you years to get so angry. It may take years to reduce anger down to a minor twinge.

4. Understand that you can never completely eliminate the anger response. Minimizing anger requires lifelong conscious practice.

The preceding advice is intended for those who are quick to anger, and who display their anger outwardly. But what about people who don't appear to anger? Some people who don't show anger have trained themselves to moderate their anger response, but many others internalize their anger rather than expressing it. While withheld anger may save family and friends from having to endure an outburst, unexpressed anger is even more damaging to its owner than is anger that is verbalized and acted upon.

For those who suffer from repressed anger, there must be an intermediate stop along the path from anger to freedom. First the anger must be expressed. While I believe that most people can significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of their anger responses through the training steps above, overcoming repressed anger is usually not a do-it-yourself proposition. Professional counseling - often including the physical expression of anger in a controlled environment - can reveal and heal the childhood traumas which triggered the lifelong habit of repressing intense anger and hostility. Once a person has become able to express their anger, it becomes imperative to immediately begin moderating that response, with the goal of feeling no anger, either repressed or outward.

The view that there are benefits to anger has become common, but I believe that statements such as, "When anger is channeled and controlled, it can be a catalyst for much positive change," represent a distorted view toward the anger response. The argument goes that if we didn't get angry, we would become pushovers, but the assumption that we can have values and stand up for those values only by getting angry is faulty.

The other view toward anger, with which I totally concur is, "Anger is now known to be quite detrimental to us physically and psychologically." We don't need anger to be assertive any more than we need a stiff drink in order to stand up for our beliefs. As a example, if someone doesn't repay a loan to me, I can be assertive in demanding the repayment, or I can bring legal action to recover the money, at least as well if I am not angry. And more important, I will be far healthier, both physically and emotionally.

Anger is a destructive emotion that becomes instinctive over the years. Through conscious training, the anger response - whether in the form of outbursts or repressed - can be moderated over time, until it is virtually eliminated.

4 comments:

  1. Sometimes anger springs when we feel helpless or when forgiving others for their ignorance and wrong doing is hard to do. One day I have been actually listening to the words of the "Our Father" prayer and realized what it said: "and forgive my trespasses against you as I forgive those who trespass against me" (I dont' exactly remember the wording, I am translating this from Polish as this is how I learned this prayer first) but the point being, is if I never forgive those who in their ignorance do me wrong, I should not expect to be forgiven for my ignorance and wrong doing. Yes, you are right, it takes a lot of effort and practice to be aware of your anger, to tame it, to calm it, to revert it. Yet I find it liberating once conquered, as if I walked through a new door into my soul. I am not sure why the Bible gives us a story about "take an eye for an eye"... perhaps I don't understand its meaning completely, but if we want to change the world, we have to be able to start "giving and eye for an eye taken...Jolanta

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  2. I agree we can practice consciously responding in a more constructive way to our anger (something I myself have been practicing for a few years now). However, I don't believe eliminating our anger is either necessary or particularly realistic and in fact is a setup for being disappointed. I heard from someone that "the only way around it is through it." When I feel enraged, I recognize and acknowledge the feeling, as opposed to trying to rid myself of it. I find a way to release it that does not in any way harm others (emotionally and physically). I punch my couch as hard as I can for a physical release of the rage, but I still honor the anger and what it is trying to tell me. I do my best to get in touch with it or even dialog with it. The rage is a part of myself, even though it may be a so-called form of "dark energy" and I want to exorcise it...Dan

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  3. Actually, an eye for an eye has been distorted over the millennium, and at the moment I don't want to misquote the teaching on that in the idiom and culture of that time and what is intended by it...but I do know that it would behoove us all to do more than scratch the surface and to study things that are meant as life lessons much more deeply,and not take anyone's word for it because we do not know if they study either what and how they should.
    There are too many agendas thank you..

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  4. Just remember Jesus gave the other side of his face, as well as He also got angry at the merchants in the temple, anger is sometimes necessary, it is the way you show and act on it that may require some work, for me it has been a life time of trying and not understanding why the control is lost, when the situation arises, I am aware of it , my body language my tone of voice the volume in which I speak is just not me, it sometimes feels like another person takes over when I am angry. Prayers lots of prayers serenity prayers

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