How to Reverse-Engineer Your Anger

Business man with eyes shutWe 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.

Tools Needed

  • 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.

The Intention

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.

The Process

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Joshua Nash, LPC-S, therapist in Austin, Texas

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.

  • 6 comments
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  • Mae

    Mae

    October 6th, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    What I have learned over the years is that if I simply take a moment to walk away from the situation at hand then there is a much greater chance that I will handle it in a different way then I would if I automatically say or do the first things that I think or feel.

    I know that there are those times where you can’t adequately do that and you have to face the situation in the heat of the moment. However if it is a possibility to step back for a little while I think that you will be much more pleased with your reaction and how you have handled it than you will be if you say or do something that you are certain to regret later on.

  • Neely

    Neely

    October 6th, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    I have to ask if there will be those who disagree with this method and who think that unless you have fully processed that emotion, you have not fully dealt with it?

  • chet

    chet

    October 7th, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    This is a great process for anyone to try to intentionally try to hide from their feelings and makes it a point to bury their emotions rather than dealing with them outright. I know that doing this can be scary… it feels like you are meeting the angry green monster head on and you don’t know what to do. That is true- there is some fear there, but without meeting all of that head on you will never come to the resolution that you need to be truly happy. I believe that with all of my heart and the steps listed above can be a great way to start this process for you if you are fully willing to commit to the process and learn and grow as you go.

  • Anne A

    Anne A

    October 7th, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Can anyone tell me why it is that anger is the primary emotion for so many people? Whereas this is not the case for me, I kno so many people who fly off the handle just like that, and I think that they regret it after the fact, but anger seems to be their go to emotion whenever anything unpleasant happens in their life.

  • jana

    jana

    October 8th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    We don’t realize and understand the numerous detrimental effects that holding on to so much anger can have on us. It can cause you not only mental harm but can hurt your physical health as well. This is nothing to sneeze at. If you can relearn a new way to cope with your anger and really how to allow other emotions to come first before hitting the roof, I think that you could be in a much better state of mind.

  • Anthony

    Anthony

    October 8th, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Let’s just face facts and note that there will always be those days where nothing is going to go right and your anger and frustration can boil over faster than you can control it. I get that, we all have times when it feels like we are just ramming our heads into a wall. What is important to know though is that if you practice your efforts at reversing your anger, it might not work every single time, but I think that you will discover that the enxt time a situation comes up that leads you straight to being so mad and agry you will have a better handle on it and maybe even choose to handle it a little differently if you had not been practicing being more mindful and aware of your triggers.

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