Quite often I have clients come to me with problems dealing with anger. When we explore anger together I ask that they carefully examine the thoughts and feelings that immediately preceded their angry outburst. What stories were coming up for them when they became angry? What feelings in the body? Anger can arise when there is a feeling that one is wronged or someone else they care about is wronged. Sometimes the anger is directed at oneself because of what we’ve done or who we believe we are. Upon closer examination beneath the feeling of anger there usually is a feeling of being hurt or wounded in some way. This can take the form of feeling belittled, demeaned or taken advantage of for instance. Anger arises as a way of prompting defensive action in order not to feel this feeling of being hurt, misunderstood, or diminished.
From both a Buddhist and cognitive behavioral perspective, it’s important to be mindful of when we get swept into these elaborate stories that the mind creates and not react to them in harmful ways that create further suffering for ourselves and others. If we avoid reacting to our internal stories we can let these feelings arise and pass away, and we can then work from a much calmer, less emotionally reactive and less volatile perspective.
If, however, we get caught up in these stories by ruminating on them and even elaborating on the stories about how wronged we have been our anger can grow out of control. The situation is analogous to adding kindling to a small fire that can eventually burn the whole forest down. Basic meditation practices like focusing one attention on one’s breath for several minutes at a time can help cool these flames of anger down.
W.C. Ark, PsyD
*As always if you’re struggling with anger or other psychological issues without success, please seek professional help.