Our anger can be not only powerful, but scary. Not just to others but also to ourselves. None of us enjoy anger but we often find it difficult to let it go. In the last post, Anger – Getting Rid of It Part 1,the first step to getting rid of anger is to drain the energy of our anger when we are flooded. This step involves finding a way to release anger’s energy and detach from it. This gives time to allow the chemicals in our brain that put us in fight or flight mode to dissipate. Once our body has calmed down, we can look at our emotions more objectively.
Anger is a safety mechanism. It is a response to an attack , which gives us the power to protect and/or retaliate. But what if we aren’t actually being attacked? What if it is our perception but not reality? Step 2 is identifying the culprit of our anger. Who and what caused us to be angry?
When we are no longer flooded, we can engage our prefrontal cortex. That is the part of the brain responsible for assessments and making decisions. Our prefrontal cortex is available to rightly assess the situation based on reality, rather than a perception of danger. We can logically analyze things like miscommunication, unrealistic expectations or accidental happenings. Using our prefrontal cortex helps us to not take those things personally and let go of angry emotions faster. Upon analysis, we might recognize that the situation that initially got us angry was not as bad as we first perceived. We might come to the conclusion that the event in question had nothing to do with us, but triggered something from our past. Or we see that the offense is real and personal.
This step of identifying the culprit is essential in avoiding displaced anger. Displaced anger is shifting your anger to someone who seems safer. For example, you might be angry with your boss for criticizing you in front of others, but you take it out on your spouse. Expressing anger to our boss can result in reprimand, loss of pay or even being fired. Expressing anger to our spouse seems safer because we feel confident that there will not be any long term consequences. Another example is getting angry at the slow driver in front of us when really, we are angry at ourselves for running late. It feels better to shift the blame, making it someone else’s fault, instead of owning our shortcomings.
Identifying the culprit means taking the time to analyze when and where the anger began and who we really are angry at. Asking these questions can help unmask the offender:
These questions help us to identify the “what” and the “who.” What am I angry about? Who am I angry at? The “what” includes what happened to make us angry. Was it the last interaction you had or was it one you had three hours ago? Or three years ago? Was it something that was said or something that was done? We may find that the source happened 15 minutes ago or 15 years ago. The “who” may be the person in front of you, someone in authority over you, or a ghost from your past. Often the events of the present, which are perceived as offensive, are only triggers of unresolved hurt from something in the past. When we have identified the source of our anger, we are ready for Step 3.