Anger is the origin of unforgiveness. When we are offended we can become overwhelmed with emotions, but it is anger that leads us into unforgiveness. Hurt may surround our hearts but anger leads the battle cry to defend and protect through unforgiveness. If we are going to “get out of the car” and return home, the journey starts with letting go of anger. This process doesn’t happen immediately – it’s not a quick prayer you can pray or a simple choice to make. There are specific steps to take to help get rid of anger.
Anger produces energy. The first step to getting rid of anger is to drain that energy. This is about managing the physiology of our anger. When we get angry, there’s a lot of chemicals and reactions that happen in our brain and in our body. If you’re interested in all the science-y processes, you can check out this short video here. The short version is that when we get angry, our blood pressure goes up, our heart rate increases, and our muscles tighten. The part of our brain that allows us to be rational shuts down. This prepares our body to fight or flee. The angrier we are, the higher these responses are. We are no longer able to process information rationally or logically because all our energy is going to the body parts needed to fight or flee.
This is a state that marriage experts John and Julie Gottman refer to as “flooding”. When we get flooded, we either become physical or shut down. We fight or flee. If we let the angry energy run loose, we fight, and we fight to win at all costs. If we choose to contain the angry energy, we flee emotionally. We shut down, stop talking and glaze over. We emotionally disengage. Knowing what we are capable of, we exert enough self-control to imprison the beast within. But it takes everything we’ve got. If we cannot control the beast within or the opposing “monster” seems too big, we run. We physically disengage with the “monster” that is attacking us, slamming doors and hiding behind icy silence.
Draining the Anger
When we find ourselves flooded, we need to take a time out and walk away. We need a safe and productive way to get rid of the energy produced by anger. There are many ways to do this and the choice may depend on the situation or personal preference. We can do something physical to expend the energy, such as:
- clean the house
- go for a walk
- go for a drive
- do yard work
I have one friend that likes to take a carton of eggs into the woods and throw them as hard as she can against the trees. The cost is minimal, and they are biodegradable, so there is no need to clean up. Whatever you choose, make sure that your actions are not damaging or destructive to any one or any thing of value.
Another alternative is to do something relaxing to dial down the angry energy. We can:
- read a book or magazine
- listen to calming music
- do some deep breathing. Putting one hand on your chest and one hand on your diaphragm, inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, can quickly clear your mind and relax your body.
The Wind Down Phase
The period after being flooded is called the wind down phase. It can take as little as 20 minutes or several hours or even days to completely wind down from anger. During this phase, it is easy to get angry again. Venting to a friend may seem like a good idea to help reduce the anger. It feels good to tell the story to a compassionate ear. However, this often increases our anger as we retell the tale. The point is to distract away from the anger in order for the body to calm down. Being conscious about bringing down the physiological response can help your anger dissipate faster, helping you to think more logically and analytically. So, before trying to solve your anger, get rid of the energy first. Then your analysis of your anger will be more productive.