I was recently listening to a Radio 4 discussion about anger and today’s society. In the discussion, which involved various professors and lecturers of anger management, it was suggested that there is more anger around today than there ever has been. It was suggested that anger is catching, so the more people who feel and express anger the more people there will be who will react in an angry fashion. The danger is that feelings of anger can escalate into aggression. If someone then responds to us in an angry or aggressive way our ‘Fight, Flight’ survival instinct kicks in and we are in danger of responding in a way which may not be in our best interests.
The Guardian, ‘Long Read,’ published on 8th December 2016, written by Pankaj Mishra, was entitled, ‘Welcome To The Age Of Anger’ and discusses just this thought. In fact, it went on to state that where people state they wished they lived in simpler times that, ‘These lamentations for simpler times …ignore the fragmented nature of our politics’. Suggesting that people should be accepting of the society as it currently is. Indeed, the article doesn’t make for very positive reading, suggesting that those of us who long for a simpler life will be unable to achieve this in today’s political arena!
So I got thinking about the role mindfulness can play in anger management. I believe it’s important to recognise that anger is a natural emotion and we shouldn’t try to stop feeling angry about situations. However, as humans we are natural storytellers and when we feel angry we can easily escalate towards feelings of aggression by dwelling on the negative of the situation, perhaps by overthinking the situation. If we allow the pain or anger to linger then we stand the chance of becoming aggressive, which in term could fuel aggression and anger in others.
Are you one of life’s natural storytellers? How often have you dwelt on a situation and made it seem much more frightening, stressful, worrying, than it actually is? This is where Mindfulness can help. It can stop the associated story.
Andrea Brandt PH.D.M.F.T. in Psychology Today (February 2015) stated a three stage approach to dealing with anger mindfully:
Stage 1 – is to recognise what your triggers are.
What things make you angry?
I like to think I’m a naturally calm person and I rarely get angry, however, I know that if I’m out driving and I come across a local fox hunt, or witness anyone being cruel to animals, I start to feel rage smouldering in me.
Stage 2 – is to notice what your ‘impulses’ are. By this Brandt means where in the body do you feel the anger. Do you feel hot, or irritable? Can you physical identify where the anger is, how it affects your body?
Stage 3 – is to give yourself space to respond, by breathing, watching and counting breathes. What she is describing is a physical pause, which allows us to think about the situation which in turn allows us to give a more measured response.
A second approach allows you to sit and meditate on a situation or event where you have felt anger in the past. This approach will allow you to explore anger in a safe environment, knowing that at any time, if it becomes overwhelming, you can end the activity:
Know that at anytime you can remove yourself from these feelings, you are in control. To bring yourself out of the meditation shift your focus on your breath. Take a minute or two to focus on your breath again before opening your eyes.
When meditating on anger in this way it can bring to the fore very uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Be gentle with yourself, don’t continue the practice if it becomes overwhelming. However, by focussing on anger in this way we can start to recognise our ‘impulses’ when angry and by ‘being’ with the anger it can give us room to pause, reflect and respond in a non-aggressive manner.
It seems slightly paradoxical that, to get from A to B, where A is anger, and B is a calm response, we actually need to be at A for a while. We need to know ourselves well enough to recognise our triggers and responses, and to pause at that place before we are able to move on.
The final Mindfulness Technique for dealing with any difficult emotion is called R.A.I.N.
Rain is an acronym:
R = Recognise emotion is present
A = Accept this emotion
I = Investigate your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations
N = Non-identification – By being with the emotion you can gain an awareness that you are not the emotion, the emotion will pass.
R.A.I.N can be used as an on-the-spot response when you are in a situation where you feel angry, or it can be used as in the second approach above, to explore anger in a safe environment.
Both R.A.I.N and Andrea Brandt’s version give the user a moment to pause. By pausing we are better able to respond in a manner which is more conducive to a peaceful resolution.
I will finish with a quotation from an article called, ‘Loosening the Knots of Anger Through Mindfulness Practice’ by Thich Nhat Hanh.
‘If you learn not to fear your knots of suffering, you can learn how to embrace them with the energy of mindfulness, and transform them.’
You can read the full article here: https://www.lionsroar.com/loosening-the-knots-of-anger/
Until next time,
With Serenity & Balance
Each month, throughout 2017, I will be posting in more detail about the topic of the month. Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like me to discuss.