Most of us have experienced explosive anger— from others and within ourselves. You were minding your own business and made a casual remark that sent your friend into orbit. What happened? You were involved in a conversation with your spouse, and a minor disagreement ensued. You became disproportionately enraged. Again, what happened? Some of our anger is justified. Much of it is not but is a reaction to a trigger deep within us from an experience in the past.
Let’s look at some real-life examples:
Explosive Anger Observed
As Road Rage
I was driving along, minding my own business, when the man in the pickup in the next lane started honking, waving his hand and giving me that middle finger salute. He pulled in front of me and continued gesturing for the whole block before I made my turn. I had absolutely no idea what I did that sent him into such an explosive rage, and I was really grateful that he didn’t follow me when I turned.
At the Mall
The next day I was in a department store waiting for my turn with the cashier. All of a sudden the woman in front of me started yelling about the long wait. At the top of her voice, she berated the cashier, the store, the merchandise, and the other customers. She got in line just before I did and we had waited all of three minutes. Her fuse had become very short, and someone unknowingly lit it.
In the Grocery Store
Not long after that, I watched a mother and her small son in the grocery store. I noticed how cute and well behaved he was and was enjoying his excitement. Then I saw him point at some cereal and ask his mom if he could have it. She reached down, jerked him around, gave him a swat on the arm and yelled at him for asking. Her voice became shrill, her face red and angry, and she looked embarrassed when she saw me watching. She reached down and gave him a loving pat and put the cereal in the cart. Something of an overreaction? Probably.
Each was out of control. They each seemed to have passed the breaking point, and each lashed out at the person closest to them at the moment. These are not uncommon scenes.
Defusing Explosive Anger
So what’s going on? Many people are over-committed, overwhelmed and overstressed and have few coping skills to help them deal with it. Their self-esteem may be at an all-time low. They are working harder and longer hours to make ends meet, and their spouse is probably doing the same. As money gets tighter and hours get longer, we grow more tired, and esteem gets lower. As the fuse grows shorter and shorter, an explosion or a series of explosions will likely ensue.
I know this. I used to be there. As I reflect on what changed between then and now I am aware of some things I learned and did that made the change. There are many approaches to anger management, Here are a few of mine:
I began to meditate some years ago. Over time, I began to see the benefits. As I asked myself the hard questions such as “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “What do I believe?” I began to get more clarity about my own life. When I would explode in anger (yes, I did this) I would sit with it. ” What triggered the anger” was my question. I would search for what was deep down, underneath, festering and then erupting in response to a minor incident. Sometimes the healing seemed to be in recognizing the trigger and what it represented. At other times I had to work with it.
Gradually, some of those old traumas began to heal, and the explosions became less and less. I wish I could say they were completely gone, but I am still a work in progress. However, my fuse is much longer, and I recover more quickly. Meditation helped me with the self-awareness I needed to gain control.
(Also, through meditation, I learned to be comfortable in the silence. This is an excellent gift.)
In his book, Body Intelligence, Dr. Joseph Cardillo states, “…through the mind-body connection, you can begin to regulate the physical, mental, and spiritual energy that is influencing you at any given moment in order to achieve a wide range of specific daily effects. ”
I am still learning to manage my own energy better. This includes taking care of my body through good nutrition, adequate exercise, fresh air and sunshine, good water and restful sleep. All of these affect our energy levels. I have learned to manage energy drains such as negativity (negative people, negative news, negative TV programs, etc.). Avoiding them as much as possible is my strategy and it works well.
I studied and learned to work with my energy centers (Chakras). For more on energy drains click here and click here. Working with energy is a study in itself. You might read the work of Barbara Brennon and Anodea Judith for starters.
My significant action was filing for divorce. After 25 years of marriage, it was clear to me that it was over. This is not a recommended anger management tool. Many of my stresses came from an unhappy marriage and once that ended, even though new and different stresses emerged, I was much more able to cope with them. You need to find your biggest challenge and deal with it.
After 25 years of being belittled, I had a job to do with myself. I seemed to have the self-esteem of a gnat. I knew deep down that I was competent, educated and acceptable. But I also knew I had some issues to deal with because I had become afraid to make decisions and to take risks. It took time. I did a lot of work with me. This work included hypnosis, meditation (I give meditation a lot of credit in all my progress), brainwave entrainment and a great deal of support from counselors, family, and friends. This is not an overnight thing and there is no “quick fix.” But building self-esteem can be done and is critical in anger management. When you begin to like yourself and feel safe and comfortable in your own skin, it gets easier and easier to deal with things that are upsetting.
Those four things—meditation, energy management, taking action in an unhappy and stressful situation, and re-building my self-esteem defused the bomb within me that was ready to explode at any given moment with little provocation. When you think you are finished, you may be surprised at a new fuse that gets triggered. Just keep on working on it. After all, you are a human.
Each of us is different and the way to calm the demons and defuse the bomb is, therefore, different. The starting place is with self-awareness and that comes with inner work and learning why you reacted to the triggers they way you did. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with this and don’t be afraid of what you’ll find. It’s an adventure, and it’s a journey that moves you from the explosive anger to joy, peace, and all those other lovely descriptions of the life you desire.