After the sales frog left, Dharma pulled up a chair and, as I was beginning to pour the tea, quietly said, "Irwin, if a frog is patient in one moment of anger, he will escape a hundred days of sorrow." And so began my lesson for the week. Dharma reminded me about karma...another way of saying "what goes around, comes around," or "what you sow, so shall you reap." I knew that one of these days, I'd live to regret being ugly to that frog. Soon, someone would be ugly to me for no good reason and I will feel terrible...just like I'm sure that little sales frog felt as he left my pad this morning. But, like so many of us do, I acted out in haste...without thinking of the consequences.
Anger, as we know, is a strong emotion that arouses the nervous system and has effects on every part of the body; we see it in the person's face and their body language becomes very tense. Anger is rarely subtle. We don't wonder whether or not someone is angry. We can tell without a doubt. Sometimes we're told to "let off the steam" that keeping it bottled up isn't healthy. But we're now learning that blowing off steam, isn't necessarily better for us. Anger doesn't automatically dissipate when its unleashed. Venting words, or actions, won't make anger easier to manage. It only serves to increase the intensity of the feelings. Anger feeds on itself. Furthering aggressive behavior can bring irreversible damage to those in our immediate vicinity, Men, more than women, mistakenly believe that anger is one of the emotions it's acceptable to display. Interestingly enough, they don't usually respond well when someone else displays anger towards them. Women, on the other hand, are taught in many cultures to suppress their anger. Often, they do such a good job of hiding it that they don't even recognize it in themselves. Anger, whether it's expressed or it's suppressed, can have profound negative physical and psychological effects on humans. (Frogs, too, of course!)
The sad upshot of this is that no one learns to manage their anger appropriately, myself included. Everybody gets angry, I dare say. So it's important to learn how to manage this often-volatile emotion in a way that doesn't cause injury to us or to others. Dharma tells me that anger can be positive. It is a great motivator for change. It encourages us to speak up about the things that are bothering us. The trick is all in how we do it.
After finishing his breakfast, Dharma gave me some pointers on how to best manage my anger. I'd like to share them with you.
- Take three deep breaths When your angry, your body becomes tense. Breathing deeply with ease the tension and help lower your internal anger meter.
- Change your environment. The quickest way to uncouple yourself from an ongoing source of anger is to take a five-minute walk to get some fresh air. Stuck in traffic? Take a mental escape by turning up the radio and singing at the top of your lungs.
- Know why you feel angry. Track down the clues about the kinds of things, situation, people and events that trigger your anger. Anger often masks our deepest fears. In an angry-making situation, ask yourself what deep fears it might be stirring in you.
- Let go of what is beyond your control. You can change only yourself and your responses to others, not what others do to you. Getting angry doesn't fix the situation and makes you feel worse. If someone constantly arouses your anger, focus on the troublesome situation and brainstorm solutions.
- Express yourself. Be sure to think first and use measured tones and words that are not emotionally loaded. In a nonconfrontational way state that you are angry and identify the situation that makes you angry and why it ticks you off.
- Be cautious. There are situations in which expressing your anger holds danger. Having a jealous or abusive partner is one. Vent to a friend instead of the person who wronged you; you may wind up with some solutions you never imagined.
- Be assertive, not aggressive, in expressing yourself. Assertiveness requires speaking in an effective, nonviolent way towards a constructive goal. It may help if you rehearse your response before delivering it. And, finally,
- Make positive statements. Memorize a few positive statements to say to yourself when your anger is triggered. They will remind you that you can choose your behavior instead of reacting in a knee-jerk way. For example, you might say: "I can take care of my own needs" or "His needs are just as important as mine" or "I am able to make good choices."