Action: Defuse the anger triggers
Keep it in or let it out?
Some experts believe it is better to express anger rather than bottle it up. They point out that suppressing anger can dangerously affect physical health and is frequently linked with heart disease. Other experts say that expressing anger makes things worse because it exacerbates the difficult situation and can have unpleasant consequences for your relationships, your career, and even your personal liberty.
Their conflicting advice does not seem to offer us much choice. Expressing anger is easier on the heart but you could end up lonely or in prison. Suppress anger and people will like you but you may damage your health.
Fortunately these are not our only choices. There is a third option – not to get angry in the first place. That is what this issue of Active Mind-Body Health is about.
The best way of dealing with the anger habit is to prevent it occurring in the first place. This means getting to know the triggers that evoke angry feelings and systematically defusing each trigger situation’s ability to affect you.
Action Step 1: Remind yourself of a few facts
Action Step 2: Find your anger-triggers
First find the triggers. Triggers are your signals that it is time to get angry and they are important because once one has been activated the feelings occur automatically and inevitably. So, from moment to moment, pay attention to what irritates you. So spend the next week or two building a list of these anger-triggers. Do it on a card or scrap of paper that you keep with you throughout the day.
Action Step 3: Rate the triggers on a Red Scale of 1-10
When you’ve got a sizeable list go through it and give a 10 score to triggers that evoke uncontrollable fury and 1 to those evoking very mild irritation. Get a sheet of paper, draw a line down the centre and on the left hand side re-write your ‘Red Scale’ triggers beginning with the highest scorers. On the opposite side write *all * the meanings (the mind-reading interpretations) that you tend to attach to each event. For example: lets’ say being overtaken while driving is a trigger. Opposite this you might write ‘they think they’re better than me’, or ‘they’re trying to look down on me because I have an old car’ or ‘because I’m younger/older than they’, etc.
Once the triggers are on paper some of these meanings will appear silly to you. Great! You are on your way to feeling in control of your moods. But most will still be active triggers – as with phobias, an anger-response is an emotional and not a rational activity.
Action Step 4: Create a Trigger of the Week Card
Begin by selecting a moderate trigger – say one that scores four or five on your Red Scale. Make this your ‘Trigger of the Week’. Write it on a sealed envelope or a 3 x 5 index card so you have a reminder with you at all times.
Beneath it write the significances or interpretations that you normally give such situations and which provoke your anger. Then list the *costs * of being a victim to this type of situation. For example, consider what it costs you when you get angry because the kids didn’t clean their rooms? Your peace of mind is undermined for hours after the argument. They sulk for hours – days if they are teenagers. Perhaps you and your spouse argue over the importance of it at all. And so the list goes on.
Next, on the other side of your card list some *Better Ways * than becoming angry of getting what you want. What is a better way than shouting at kids of getting them to come home on time? What is a better way of getting respect from colleagues, friends or strangers. (In some cases there may be no way of doing this so accept that.) When you want your life-partner to understand you are there better ways than banging doors or shouting at them? Remind yourself, too, that you can’t always get what you want – so accept that and get on with your life.
Action Step 5: Use the card when a trigger is activated
Every time your Trigger of the Week gets activated think to yourself, in the moment, ‘here we go again – my trigger has been activated and I’m reacting like a puppet whose strings are being pulled – and this is no longer acceptable to me’.
Take a few relaxing breaths and then reflect on the implications of being a helpless victim to that trigger. Don’t get angry with yourself, though, there’s no point in that – it’s just wired-in button. Simply decide you’ve had enough of it and that you are now learning to respond more appropriately. Use your Better Ways list and visualise how you could have responded.
Your investment in peace of mind
Work your way through all the anger-triggers on your list. Leave the highest scoring ones till last when you will have built up skill and confidence in neutralising triggers. These steps will require a few minutes a week but when you consider how long have you been at the mercy of your anger moods you may well decide that this is a good investment of your time and attention.
Watch out for Secondary Gain…
Secondary gain is a psychological term for the pay-off you get from having a problem. So what do you get from becoming angry? Does it give you a feeling of power, as for example when you notice that it intimidates others? Does it give you a feeling of being hard-done-by? Is anger the only way you currently have of protecting yourself from others who might otherwise control or overwhelm you?
This secondary gain will undermine your anger-resolving process unless you get it really clear in your mind that you no longer want such a pay-off. Or that you now have better ways of attaining it.
Last point – not all anger is unhealthy
Bear in mind that not all anger is unhealthy. Sometimes anger is quite appropriate – it can be our final defence against allowing other people to manipulate or dominate us. And it can motivate us to take action against injustice.
Anger is healthy when it is not on-going but is usefully channeled into appropriate action