Mind Over Madder: Mindfulness as an Antidote to the Anger ‘Story’

Person wearing loose sweater crosses palms over chest. Face is cropped outBeing mindful to anger opens our consciousness to the emotion, metaphorically illuminating it with soft light and helping us to gently, honestly, and compassionately experience and investigate it. By being aware of anger, we can avoid it taking over our emotional lives and influencing our behaviors in a negative way.

Anger ferments a ruminative story in the mind, creating tunnel vision and a limited perspective of the world. This, in turn, drives our attitudes and reactions. This story seems so real to us—solid and powerful. But it moves us away from what is happening in the present while keeping us stuck in the past.

The narrative we tell ourselves has the capacity to take hold of our mind, to pull us in and make us feel angry. We replay habitual negative thoughts, past problematic incidents, and imaginary vengeances—any number of situations that might make us forget how anger can limit and even hurt our mental and physical health.

If we pause and attend to the present moment—be awake and aware rather than lose ourselves in our stories or the cascade of our mental stream—we can gain a better capacity to engage our anger wisely and be more attuned with the world around us.

When we are mindful, allowing ourselves to experience the present, we can recognize the narrative that has captured our mind. We are then better able to release our attention back into the moment and break the destructive story that not only leads to anger, but amplifies it.

The more we practice mindfulness, the less likely we are to be negatively impacted by anger. The power of the “unreal” story diminishes as we move away from the sticky and messy narratives anger forces upon us. When we redirect our attention and stop ruminating on the stories of anger, we are on our way to freeing ourselves from its destructive force. The key idea of rumination control is to become aware of thinking patterns and catch them early. The sooner we do that, the easier it is to channel our attention to a positive space.

During mindful experiences, we become the “observer” and look “at” our stories from the outside rather than looking “from” our stories; that is, enmeshed within them. Rather than becoming entrenched and fused with our stories, we detach ourselves to separate the reality we sense from the outside world from the models we have in our mind.

When the “observer” is activated, the mind itself becomes the object of attention. We can sense and see how anger colors our experience: the mental manifestations as well as the physiological sensations in the body.

The moment we observe our anger symptoms, we shift our focus to a more constructive line of thinking. As we continue to work with anger mindfully, we digest it in a healthy way, transforming it into positive energy. We use mindfulness as an agent of transformation, healing, and growth.

The moment we observe our anger symptoms, we shift our focus to a more constructive line of thinking. As we continue to work with anger mindfully, we digest it in a healthy way, transforming it into positive energy. We use mindfulness as an agent of transformation, healing, and growth.

In the mindful state, we become aware of whatever arises in the mind without judgment. At that moment, the mind is not happy, not sad, not worried, not angry. It just experiences in a neutral, peaceful, and accepting manner. We allow whatever comes up in the mind to stay as long as it takes and then let it go on its own accord. The process is embraced as a natural way of the mind, without fighting.

With practice, we improve. The next time a similar experience arises, a familiarity with mindfulness may help us to quickly recognize we are caught in anger. It may give us the opportunity to remove ourselves from anger and externalize it while dealing with it compassionately and constructively.

Like any skill, the practice of mindfulness needs to be strengthened. At first, it might feel like you have plugged in a weak light bulb. Yet, with increased effort and attention, the power of the light bulb will intensify, becoming stronger and brighter. The powerful light of mindfulness is unique: not only does it allow us to see further, it allows us to see wider. We can grasp a greater piece of reality when being mindful.

While mindfulness is constant work, it improves our awareness of how we are getting stuck in the destructive loop of anger. Once we become aware of the process of being stuck, the natural process is to get unstuck.

Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of the mental process of anger. As we go deeper into our mind, we can examine our internal knot which prevents the easy flow of anger and energy. As we accept the knot for what it is without judgment, it begins to loosen up. Over time, with continual practice, we are able to untie the knots, allowing the healthy movement of anger and energy. When this happens, anger is no longer a challenge and the energy of life flows through us in a freer way.

Conclusion

Mindfulness is a powerful tool that allows us to deal with and overcome anger. While mindfulness may seem simple, it is in fact a difficult practice that requires patience and commitment. Yet, it is worth the effort. So when you find yourself upset or angry, use mindfulness as part of your practice to transform anger to a positive force toward personal and spiritual growth. If you want help using mindfulness to control your anger, contact a licensed therapist.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Moshe Ratson, MBA, MS, LMFT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Observer

    May 12th, 2017 at 12:23 AM

    I find that anger has important information to tell me concerning boundaries, justice, and danger. I don’t feel particularly judgemental about the form it takes, I’m more interested in what it tells me about myself, and any actions I might need to take to restore equilibrium, according to my values.
    The “stories” of our intersubjective lives, individual and collective, are not irrelevant, and there are no negative emotions, imo. The fact that the world itself is on the precipice of climatic, ecological, and geo-political destruction should be a wake-up call to the fact that warning signals do need to be attended to, weighed-up and, where important, responded to.

  • jules

    May 12th, 2017 at 12:39 PM

    When I was growing up in a pretty volatile home I always held in check my own anger because I didn’t want to instigate that of someone else in the home. Everyone always seemed to be on the verge of losing their temper so I never wanted to add to that.

    As a result I still have a hard time voicing any displeasure or unhappiness because I am the kind who really does hate to rock the boat. The smoother that I can make things the better off I am, except I don’t think that I do a good job of processing my own feelings, mainly spend more time swallowing my words just to keep everything smooth.

  • Gina

    May 13th, 2017 at 8:49 AM

    For me I always used my anger as a wall against letting someone in. I used that as a way to deflect attention from myself that I didn’t want, and if you act like you are mad enough, eventually people will stop trying. I don’t want that now, I have learned to want more for myself, but I have gone through long stretches where this was what felt the most comfortable to me.

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