How you view anger matters
If you struggle with anger you might feel helpless when it comes to changing it, and with reason – it happens so quickly, and is such a strong reaction, it feels like there’s nothing else you can do. You might come to see anger as uncontrollable, unpredictable.
This doesn’t leave you much to work with, and you get stuck in a vicious circle – becoming more and more someone who you don’t want to be…
There is hope though.
Anger as a wave
Charlie Laurel and the wonderful team who wrote the book “ACT on Life not on Anger” (listed in part one) suggest a surfing metaphor, with anger as the wave, and you, the surfer. This gives you a way to tame anger and slow it down, putting you back in charge. So that you can be more of the person you want to be, even while you’re feeling angry.
And anger really is a wave, of physical sensations, thoughts, and impulses moving through you. With a little training and patience, you can learn how to surf this wave 😎
Charlie has kindly given me permission to share his diagram of the anger wave here,
The surfing metaphor
So surfers will know that at a certain time of the year, the waves at Boomer Beach are especially good. They spot a wave starting to build long before the average beach-goer does, and they move skilfully towards it. If the surfer isn’t on the lookout for the wave, or hits out at it, battles with it or tries to avoid it, they’ll be tumbled into the sand and sea. Instead they are watchful, glide up the wave, the wave move on, and they continue.
In the same way, we might be curious about which circumstances trigger our anger. We can learn to spot the earliest signs of anger within ourselves, and practice making space for that wave to roll through – all the while, doing whatever is best to do, in line with our values.
We are sure to take a tumble if we try unnecessarily to push the anger down, avoid it or act it out with aggression – plus the message of the anger goes unheard.
- it may help to have a reminder to “stop” or “breathe deep” where you will see it, eg on a playroom wall or on your car’s dashboard).
- it might feel vulnerable to do this, but it can be useful to ask someone who knows you well about how they experience your anger – how do they know when you are becoming angry, what do they notice about you? This can help you identify those early warning sings that there is an anger wave approaching.
- journaling may be useful to explore triggers, patterns and other layers of emotion that may lie beneath the anger, such as grief, shame, fear or anxiety.
- anger can be triggered by organic factors such as medications, hormones, blood-sugar imbalances, some types of contraception, anaemia. Perhaps get these checked if you notice yourself getting angry without an obvious reason.
Do let me know how it goes for you, and again, don’t give up… I am guessing, if you struggle with anger, that there is stuff you need to do in your life, and people who matter to you very much, that brings this endeavour close to your heart and so worthwhile.
- What Selling 3 Million Copies Of ‘The Dance Of Anger’ Has Taught Renowned Psychologist Harriet Lerner
- The right way to get angry by Todd Kashdan & Robert Biswas-Diener
- Five important new insights about why we get angry by Todd Kashdan
- On holding our feelings gently by Rachel Collis
- The dance of anger by Harriet Lerner
- ACT on life not on anger by Eifert, McKay & Forsyth
- The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Managing Your Anger: using compassion-focused therapy to calm your rage and heal your relationships by Russel L. Kolts