Anger Management: Taming your “inner beast”
By Kathleen Taylor, Ph.D.
Imagine this: It’s a hot day, and you’re on a packed subway car after a long day at work. The person next to you keeps crowding you, bumps into you repeatedly, then spills their coffee all over your new jacket and doesn’t apologize.
What do you do?
We’ve likely all seen something similar on the subway or on the street with people who are yelling at each other, name-calling, or even throwing a punch. You don’t want to be “that person” but sometimes before you even realize it you’re making a rude comment, or getting into an argument with a co-worker or fighting with your partner again. You know you have a quick temper, but how to you get that “inner beast” under control?
What is that “inner beast?”
Our bodies and brains are designed to recognize danger and to fight to stay alive. Sometimes when emotions like fear, sadness, and disappointment arise unexpectedly we become angry as a way to protect ourselves from danger and fight back…even when we don’t know what that danger is. So we lash out, say something we later regret, or even get physical.
Taming the beast:
- Don’t let your anger get into a “danger zone.” When you start feeling your anger rise use the tips below before you reach the “red zone” where your feel out of control. Practice these tips when you’re not angry, so you can more easily use them when you feel your anger rising.
- Take a time out. Walk away if you can, or if you can’t (like on the subway) put on some music or a comedy podcast, or close your eyes and imagine your favorite spot in the world (Is it the beach? A mountain trail?)
- Take some deep breaths. Really deep breaths, so that you feel your stomach expanding. Exhale longer than you inhale, counting slowly to three or four while inhaling, and six or eight while exhaling. Notice your muscles starting to relax. Practice this when you’re not angry so that you can do this easily when you begin to feel angry.
- Drink some water, or have a small snack. o Hunger intensifies your emotional reactions. Sip some water, eat a granola bar or a few crackers. Take the time to notice the taste of your snack, the feel of it in your mouth, and the sensation as you swallow it.
- Think it through for a moment or two. Ask yourself “what am I really feeling?” Anger can cover a lot of other emotions like sadness, frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety, or disgust. Notice your emotions and ask yourself “Am I really in danger?”
- Is it fact or opinion? Coffee getting spilled on you is a fact. Thinking the other person is a big jerk is an opinion. It’s frustrating and disappointing that your jacket is ruined. Would you feel as angry if you learned that person just had an unexpected vertigo attack and can barely stand up? Focus on the facts, and let go of opinions. If you can’t change the facts, you can change your opinion. You may be sad about your jacket, but do you know the dry cleaner can’t get out the stain? If you’re on your way to a job interview, imagine what a positive impression you’ll give if you’re calm about the coffee stain when others might be really upset.
- Communicate effectively. The way we communicate with others has a big impact on how likely they are to give us what we want and need. Basic communication skills like describing your feelings calmly, not expecting the other person to take responsibility for your emotions, and asking clearly for what you want and need can help defuse many angry situations.
Remember, everyone has an “inner beast” that needs to be kept in check. Using these skills can help, and seeing a qualified therapist may help you learn to get that beast under control for good.
Kathleen Mattran Taylor, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, is a psychologist-in-training and currently holds her limited license as a psychologist. She has decades of research, teaching, and clinical experience.