Something has snapped! Your blood pressure increases dramatically and your breathing becomes rapid. For a few moments it feels that all logic and reasoning is lost on your brain as you fight to gain control. Your eyes widen and your nose flares. All this happens in a fraction of a second and before you gain awareness of what is happening you have either raised your voice, spewed sarcasm, flung whatever was in your hand, stormed away, become tearful, or perhaps exhibited a combination of these. Why? Well, you got angry…
Numerous phrases and expressions refer to this fascinating and potentially most destructive emotion: ‘I saw red”, “I lost my temper”, “I am short-tempered”, “I blew up”, “I lost my cool”, “I was fuming”, “I was mad” and so on. Being a ‘hot-tempered’ person myself, I have always wondered what adaptive purpose anger serves as it is usually associated with hurt, violence, sadness and guilt, which are certainly not the best ingredients to build and maintain human relationships! Then why are we created with anger? Why is it that some of us can ‘flare up’ at the slightest provocation?
It is possible that from an evolutionary viewpoint, anger served to ensure survival. When faced with a threatening situation, the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism kicks in and we either flee in fear or muster the courage to attack in self-defence. In moments of rage, we are capable of a great deal of strength (sometimes surprising even ourselves!) and bravado, which was perhaps essential to live in the wild. In today’s world, whenever our ‘self’ feels threatened (being insulted, ignored, discriminated against, suppressed, offended, etc.), our automatic reaction is to feel furious…
It is not wrong to get angry, but we can go horribly wrong in the way that we deal with the situation while we are ‘wild’ and also the aftermath. From personal experience, the traditional advice of “counting slowly from 1 to 10” does not really help, as one scarcely can think when angry, let alone remember to count! So what should those of us who have a reputation for ‘raging at the drop of a hat’ do?
The first step is to prevent inflicting harm, either by volume of voice, choice of words or physical objects. Therefore if you are unable to bite your tongue or keep your hands (and legs) to yourself, it is better you distance yourself from the provoking situation and person as soon as you can. It is always easier and faster to ‘make up’ if you are spared from the guilt of saying something you should not have said or causing injury.
Additionally, make a note of situations, topics and people that trigger your anger. Such self-awareness would help you avoid placing yourself in an easily-provoked position. Moreover, if you know you are going to get angry, it helps you handle the situation better as anger would not take you by surprise then, making it easier to control.
Step two is perhaps not as easy as the first and that is to focus on calming yourself instead of infuriating yourself further. In this stage it is common to continue reliving the wrong that has happened to you in an attempt to justify your anger and feel in need of an apology. With the passage of time, you would return to homeostasis, but it benefits no-one to constantly remind yourself (and others) how you had been wronged. Letting go and trying to think from the other person’s perspective (difficult as it may be) is the best way to mend bridges and reconcile. For example, try to think about what made that person behave in that manner or say those things.
Finally, gracefully accept the apologies given and be willing to swallow some pride and apologise in turn if your reaction was unwarranted. It does not hurt to say sorry, and a meaningful apology can do wonders in healing.
We are told to ‘forgive and forget’ and this is the key. After the problem has been settled, it is never a good idea to remind yourself or the other about what happened as it would only lead to bitterness and resentment. Let bygones be bygones. Let go of what happened and face tomorrow with optimism!
P.S: For those of you who are at the receiving end of anger outbursts, my next post is for you…!