What to do with the hot rock of anger

Tam Johnston


the huffington post

As seen in the Huffington Post

It’s anger awareness week 

Anger has become ‘taboo’ in society. It’s considered a sign of someone being out of control, labelled as a ‘disturbing social problem’ and as a consequence, we are often taught to suppress it. However, if we never learn how to recognise it as it is arising, and deal with what is lying beneath the ‘response’ of anger, we simply develop an unhelpful strategy of seeing red and lash out verbally or physically. It’s not so much the ‘anger’ that needs ‘managing’, it’s the source.

Why do we feel anger?

First things first, anger is a natural human response that comes about because we feel threatened or violated in some way; or the situation or person conflicts with our own moral code. We all experience it at some point in our lives. Anger is part of the human fight or flight emotion to make us approach a situation as a way of defending ourselves. Yet in modern society we rarely need to ‘fight’, we need to resolve. Its nature’s way of telling ourselves we’re not happy with the situation we are experiencing, yet if we suppress it or just focus on the anger response itself without resolving the underlying cause(s) of the anger; we simply add more fuel to the fire.

So what happens if we suppress arising anger? If you put the lid on a boiling saucepan without turning the gas down, you’ve got your answer!


The secret is – don’t keep the feeling of anger alive for any longer than you have to

Granted, there are going to be times where anger is an immediate natural response, so we need the well-known ways to simmer ourselves down if we are at boiling point. Deep breathing, taking a walk and counting are all useful strategies to prevent the anger response becoming the problem. But what we don’t need is for the anger to fester. The response has done its job. It’s let us know something is wrong that we either need to resolve of let go of. How many times have we laid awake at night reliving a situation that made us angry? Playing it over and over in your head is damaging, and unnecessarily keeping the ‘feeling’ alive and not resolving the root of the problem.

If you keep yourself in a constant angry state reliving everything that’s ever happened in your life to make you feel this way, the long term effect is proven to lead to; cancer, strokes, cardiac problems, bodily pain and inflammatory issues to name but a few.

How should you respond to anger?

It might sound overly simplistic, but without the feeling, you can pragmatically resolve the situation, so it sounds clichéd but it really is about ‘letting it go’. This is not about condoning the situation or letting the other person off the hook, it’s just about letting the feeling go so it’s not harmful to you. It is so much easier to resolve or gain peace from a situation when you are not emotional about it. We literally need to decide to stop feeling angry, and imagine the anger physically leaving our body, and then we are able to perceive the situation like a fly on the wall. From here we can understand it and the perspective of others better and can learn objectively from it so you are able to put the event in the past and ensure you prevent similar reoccurrences in the future. This is what the anger is reminding you to do, learn and protect yourself, and then the feeling itself isn’t required any longer. So resolve and learn, whether that is calling the friend who embarrassed you in front of your partner to tell them the effect it had and why it is not acceptable, or just learning what you need to so you can put it in the past.

Equally, you might realise the reason something makes you angry is because it’s a trigger which you are already highly sensitive about. It might have nothing to do with the current situation. After all, anger can be repressed hurt in disguise, and it is that that requires expressing and resolving.

Choose how you’re going to respond emotionally

There are some situations that make us angry that we can’t resolve. Sometimes we have a difficult boss that pushes our buttons on a daily basis. We can’t avoid him or her unless we move to a new job. However, we can choose how we respond to their behaviour emotionally. This is about emotional management – making a conscious decision that a particular person is no longer going to hold that power over you any more, regardless of what they do or say.

Tip: Imagine you have a bubble around you made out of Teflon. Inside that bubble nothing can get to you. It simply hits the bubble and slides right off. Inside that calm bubble time goes slower and you are free to remain objective and choose how you will deal with the situation as well as how you will respond. Keep that bubble around you as you approach the situation.

Are you passive, assertive or aggressive?

Anger is frequently on a continuum like a traffic light system from green, amber to red.

Things that frustrate or annoy us build up to the boiling point of the explosion of anger. Similarly, how we respond (or don’t respond) to things that evoke these feelings falls into 3 categories. Being passive and avoiding leads to the pot boiling over at some point. Aggression is a response to the anger, not a resolve and will simply lead to guilt and worry, worsening the situation. It’s like holding onto a hot rock with the intention of throwing it at someone else; it’s your hands that get burnt. So ideally, we need to be assertive when it comes to managing the cause of anger.

It’s all about the value you place on yourself

When you’re in a situation that makes you annoyed there are ways of ‘nipping it in the bud’ before it escalates. Being assertive means you will assess the situation and work out the best strategy to find out why you are feeling that way and what to do about it. If you can’t do it immediately, walk away and work it out.

How many times has a friend asked you to go somewhere you really don’t want to go but you just can’t say no. You end up feeling compromised and ultimately resentful whereas its only come about as you’ve put your needs and wishes below theirs. Remember your own value and develop assertiveness skills, so you can start saying no to things that really aren’t right for you.

So learning to assertively handle the causes of frustration and anger means you don’t need to boil over and that internal hot rock doesn’t burn you out. Failure to do so means the person its ultimately destroying is you. Let go of the rock!

talking bubble image