We often find ourselves perplexed by our anger. It comes out of nowhere, messes with our otherwise wonderful disposition, and leaves (eventually) with us no more aware of what started the whole ruckus in the first place. Left to our own devices, we tend to zero in on hunting down the cause of the anger. Something I ate? Something she said? Something she ate? The list could be endless and normally feels as such.
Getting overly worked up about knowing the cause of our emotions can block us from working with what we do know. This article is a crash course in reverse-engineering your anger.
- A quiet place to think and feel. Don’t underestimate the need for a private place to introspect.
- Brutal honesty. I say “brutal” and mean “honest no matter what it reveals about yourself.”
- A chronic point of frustration. This could be anything, big or small.
Before we begin, I’ll explain what the goal of our little endeavor. First, this process emphasizes a big, often overlooked truth about emotional health. We can erode our peace through over-thinking, especially when we over-think about emotions. This process is fueled by gentle curiosity. If you lose that gentleness or genuine curiosity, your session is over for the time being. (No fooling! Stop the process and go do something else.)
Second, this process will show you that you do NOT need to know the cause of an emotion in order to have a positive, healthy impact on it. Although I do stress the need to eventually work on dismantling the belief that keeps generating the emotion in question, it’s important to know that temporary relief from an uncomfortable emotion is a perfectly healthy goal to strive for.
Finally, the process is a cumulative affair. Over time, you’ll get better and better at this process. With patience and determination, you will uncover patterns that previously stayed hidden from your awareness. Understanding and accepting these patterns increases your chances for healthier decisions in the future. Let’s begin.
- Feel: Usually the last thing on the list, if it even makes it, is to fully feel the emotion existing in the present moment. Rather than continuing to think (over-think and judge), stop and connect with your body. Feel the tension, tightness, heaviness, heat, etc. Fully feeling emotions without thinking about them allows them to fully discharge. It allows for greater access to our natural ability to find healthy alternatives and behaviors.
- Ask: Here, we ask ourselves what it is we’re really wanting. If we’ve successfully done step No. 1, we’ll be in a better place to find the answer. Now, it’s important to ask this question correctly. Rather than ask what we want from the outside (her to shut up, him to kiss me, etc.), we ask ourselves what it is we want experientially. If she shuts up, I’ll have peace. If he kisses me, I’ll get confirmation that I’m attractive. It’s important to recognize that what we’re always looking for is a particular emotional, internal experience that supports who we think we are. When we ask this question correctly, we focus on what we can control rather than what we cannot.
- Do: Now is the time to act. Notice that there were two whole steps prior to acting. Often, anger leads to either impulsive behaviors or has us shut down to do nothing whatsoever. Having fully felt our emotions and then asked ourselves what we want experientially, we’re able to act in accordance with our desires. This type of doing may or may not have us continue engaging with the situation that originally influenced our anger’s appearance. Often, it leads us to recognize that we can’t get our desire from that situation. Knowing it’s the internal experience we’re shooting for rather than some specific external outcome ignites our exploratory skills. We’re on the hunt for the right fit externally to our internal desires; we stop trying to manipulate the external world.
Reverse-engineering our anger has the strange but lovely tendency to supply us with awareness about the cause of our anger. Typically, the cause of our anger is an attempt to control and manipulate what is out of our control to change. Instead, we focus inwardly, directing our attention toward a goal of self-care and, eventually, self-advocacy.
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