Since anger is the most dangerous emotion, anger management techniques are important.
Since they evolved, emotions are at least sometimes valuable when it comes to surviving and reproducing. One of their important functions is to narrow our focus, which minimizes distractions when confronted with a problem. The price we pay for this is automatically filtering out information inconsistent with the emotion we are experiencing and that information can be important.
The word ‘anger’ actually denotes a family of related experiences. They differ not only in strength (from very mild annoyance to rage) but in other ways as well. Their target may be inner-directed or outer-directed. They may be active (revenge) or passive (sulking). Unless they are directed at oneself, they usually have a self-righteous or moral edge.
Anger can be useful in that it can motivate action. For example, you might attempt to right a wrong, to cure an injustice. Even if the behavior is violent it may stimulate beneficial change.
Anger accelerates heart rate and increases blood pressure. It stimulates the familiar “fight or flight” response, and that response could fuel behavior that saves your life.
Furthermore, anger can defend us against other emotions such as agony and fear. In fact, while many people find anger toxic, some hostile people actually enjoy being angry.
Nevertheless, mastering effective anger management techniques is important. Being angry does not really feel good. Typically, you feel tension, pressure, and heat. There is a tendency to bite down hard, thrust your chin forward, and move toward the target in order to punish or harm it.
Worse, being angry can create more suffering than it diminishes. This is the most important reason why anger management techniques are important.
For example, any violence directed at the target may be misplaced. That person or agent may not be responsible. Furthermore, even if an act of violence would be normal or socially approved, it may not be instrumental and may be disproportionate.
Though they occasionally get angry, sages never indulge in anger; instead, they practice forbearance.
Assuming that you are angry and do not want to be, what should you do? The best, most effective anger management techniques are these:
- Accept responsibility for your situation. Effective anger management techniques begin with your attitude.
In EMOTIONS REVEALED, Paul Ekman argues that there are 9 different types of causes of emotions. Some triggers we all share, but those that are culture-specific and individual-specific are learned. Repeated experiences generate habits that he calls “automatic appraising mechanisms.”
These have evolutionary value. For example, when your welfare is at stake, they enable you to respond quickly without having to think about what to do. You learned at a very early age that, if you were thwarted by someone interfering with what you really wanted to do, you could sometimes get what you want by moving toward, threatening, or even attacking the person who was interfering with you. You learned how to be angry at others and, eventually, internalized that learning.
Your evolutionary heritage made this kind of emotional learning possible. Obviously, it can be adaptive when it comes to your surviving or reproducing.
Still, it is all about you! It is all about you getting what you want. It is wholly self-centered. It depends upon separating what is valuable for you for what is valuable for someone else.
Separation is the cause of suffering. Even though it has survival value, emotional separation creates suffering. There is no free lunch; increased suffering is the price we pay for being emotional creatures. This is why we all need to learn effective anger management techniques.
Notice the structure of the experience I just described. You were pursuing some goal or other when someone thwarted that pursuit. You thought something like, “Someone stopped me from doing what I want to do.” That judgment was immediately followed by an egocentric evaluation: “This is bad for me.” That resulted in a set of feelings or sensations. That state of anger motivated your behavior that, in this case let us imagine, was successful because it removed the interference.
Notice that there would have been no anger without the self-centered evaluation that “This is bad for me.” That is the evaluation that is important to own. Nobody else created the anger: you did. The world did not make you angry. Something happened, and you reacted by becoming angry.