Anger is a curious thing.
We all know what it’s like to feel annoyed with someone close to us. To have the ensuing conversation “not go well.” Or to do or say things we regret.
We never want this to happen. Yet it easily can.
And why is it so hard to express yourself. What “they did” makes you feel terrible yet you can’t explain why. Not really.
You could put a psychiatrist’s couch through the holes in your argument. But do you stop? Of course not. You have to sort this out. You can’t have this bad feeling happen again.
So you yell louder. Sulk harder. Talk longer.
And before you know it you’ve spent three hours with the person you love more than anyone – also the person who you want to dig you more than anyone – driving home chip-eating etiquette.
You want to feel close, but things feel weird.
There are various ways we’re taught to deal with anger: from calming techniques to learning how to express yourself in a non-yelly or non-sulky way.
The problem is, these techniques can miss the point and are often just a sneaky way of blaming someone else for how YOU feel.
The reason anger is so challenging and confusing is because most people don’t understand what’s really going on.
Here are 3 insights to deal with anger in a way that truly helps you get over it and doesn’t cause havoc in your relationship:
1. The biggest mistake people make
Water boils at 100 degrees. Not on the odd occasion, but every single time. It’s a law of physics.
(On the other hand, a coffee pot without water left on a hot element while you excitedly fill out a form – because you like filling out forms – does not boil, it just fills the room with smoke, sets off the smoke alarm, and gets so hot the handle falls of and the coffee pot gets glued together. Yesterday.)
Here’s another law: Your anger really has very little to do with the other person.
Your anger is a reflection of your lack of self worth around something. Even though in the heat of the moment, it never seems like it.
But see that’s the trick your mind plays on you – your mind will always tell you your pain is because of someone or something else. But it’s not. It’s about a belief you have; a belief about your self-worth.
Whenever you feel annoyed it’s more likely someone has bumped into one of these beliefs, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
And like any self-respecting iceberg most of the bulk lies beneath the water: a lifetime of experiences mixed with faulty interpretations.
Sometimes anger is triggered by a large event, like infidelity or loss, other times it might be as simple as being asked to bake two cakes for the church fair when everyone else only has to bake one.
Your partner is your teammate, not your clone and you will naturally have different beliefs and opinions about things. But when there is rage attached, the real issue is yours.
It’s the same for everyone. We all have our icebergs. This isn’t about blame; it’s about being real about what’s going on.
2. Dealing with the insanity
Anger is a classic case of imbalance between your heart and your mind.
Your mind is all yelling and everything (or sulking, which is kind of the same thing)
But your heart is still talking in its regular sized voice.
Only you can’t hear it because of all the noise your mind is making.
Feeling annoyed is like a temporary insanity; you simply don’t have access to your full arsenal of inner wisdom and guidance – to feelings of love and compassion, to the bit of you that can see possibilities and solutions.
All you have is a mind out of control. This is why anger can be so confusing. This is why when you’re angry, you know you love the other person yet you can’t feel it.
Trying to communicate when you’re angry is not only a waste of time but you run the risk of being unkind. Sometimes the initial grievance pales in comparison to how ugly your reaction is. Anyway, most of what you’re annoyed about is your issue only you’re too hopped up to tell the difference.
As much as you think you need to sort things out immediately, you don’t. And frankly, you’re not equipped to. Ignore your mind, and wait: Go for a run, take a bath or curl up with a tub of Häagen Dazs and binge watch some Breaking Bad.
And if you’re the one being yelled at, it’s not mandatory you remain in the conversation.
When you’ve calmed down. Pitchforks in eyes have dissolved. It’s far easier to untangle the real issue from your trigger point.
This isn’t about suppressing feelings or staying in a relationship when it’s time to leave, learning to manage anger is about dealing with issues, big and small, in a loving compassionate way. Using all your faculties.
3. Why you don’t need to know WHY
And so we come to the berg beneath the water – the insecurity that caused you to fly off the handle in the first place.
The question is: What do you do to “fix yourself” so this never happens again?
In truth, you’ve already done a lot. Acknowledging that your anger is your gig is a huge thing. Not letting the issue spew all over your partner is another monumental thing.
Your mind is all
Ignoring that tirade is job enough.
We live in a world that likes to analyze everything. It’s how we think we can heal and move on. But it’s not. The better way is to have a little bit of understanding and then let the healing happen on its own.
Generally speaking what you’re annoyed at in the other person is exactly what you’re angry with yourself about. Same same.
But more important is to know – beneath your thoughts you love yourself completely. Beneath your thoughts you have no insecurities. All your insecurities lie in old beliefs you’ve picked up and carry with you.
The problem is only in your mind. Which is good. Because the thoughts in your head will pass soon enough. that’s what thoughts do, come and go. Best to wait for this angry bunch to pass before doing anything.
When you faithfully respond to all your angry thoughts as if they’re real, you feed the faulty beliefs and insecurities. Ignore them, and your Iceberg of Insecurity melts a little.
And, it’s much less embarrassing.
PS: Does this resonate with you? Do you know what I mean about those strange conversations that go round in circles? Love to hear your thoughts!!
Great post. Irritability is something I deal with on a daily basis. I grew up in an angry house and irritation is just always there. It really sucks but you just learn to deal with it, one episode at a time. I agree with all the points you have made. Communicating while you are angry is just a waste of energy and can actually turn into something far worse than you could have imagined. I guess it’s important to accept ourselves, however we are feeling and not become desperate to find that ‘forever fix’ so that we never feel bad again. That’s just another loop your mind loves to get into.
It’s a stinky feeling all right. And I agree with your point about acceptance – it seems to be the quickest way forward too. Thanks for saying hi and sharing how it is for you. I really appreciate it:)
I totally know about the confusing dog-chasing-tail loops that “let’s fix this NOW” conversations get into!! I’m a very chronic overanalyst…Nice to have an answer laid out so nicely in your article here. 🙂 I enjoyed the read and even had a Yesterday’s Rant with my hubby to apply it to… How handy! Hehe
Ha, yeah, the dog chasing the tail is right! Thanks for saying hi:) Nice talking!
urgh im over analytical too! Totally see it…xx
Great article. I always enjoy and learn from your posts. For sure you are not the only one in whose mind anger and confusion team up. All of us humans experience the same stuff at some point in their lives. We are all ONE 🙂
I’m so glad I found your site and signed up for your newsletter – I don’t know how I found you but obviously was meant to. Your words reinforce how universal our feelings are, we are not alone – and if you sit back from it all it is so funny (in an understanding, heart-warming way 🙂 Thank you Lisa for putting it all in such clear words and pictures.
My pleasure! So glad you found me too:) Yeah, it is about sitting back isn’t it, because it’s often not that funny in the midst of things, though sometimes it is. We really are just all so sweet but we don’t know it!
Always love you articles. Your perspective so refreshing. Thank you.
I see how the “we need to talk about this NOW” may be a mental trap. Thanks for the article, Lisa! For some reason your messages always have a good timing 🙂
You’re welcome. And, yeah, is a big trap all right! Good about the timing:)
Hi Lisa every email I get seems to be exactly where I am at thanks for the help. I have done quite a few self helping courses and they taught us to recognise that what someone or something has done has triggered a feeling to then detrigger by achnowledging the feeling but unless your brain understands where or what triggered the feelings then it reoccurres. I’m not saying you are wrong more wanting to know your views on this.
I had something happen yesterday where my step daughter came home from the beach red raw my partner was checking on her waiting on her hand and foot rubbing on lotions. Sounds nice doesn’t it but I was ropeable the more he did for her the worse I felt. I kept a lid on it and became the sulk until my partner kept asking what’s wrong I couldn’t answer I thought n thought.
I slept on it the next day I realised I was jelouse because I had been burnt several times as a kid my mum would say “tough you bought this on yourself” or my brothers would come up and flick my bra strap to make it sting . So when I saw my partner be compassionate I had a million nasty thoughts run through my head.
From there I told my partner had a cry about my families cruelty and had a swim. I feel great again. Although I only sulked for a day It can be weeks sometime I wish it was only minutes.
Thanks again Lisa Merry Christmas 🙂 Anna
Well, in answer to your question, I have to say, personally I disagree with the view that we need to know what causes the trigger so it doesn’t recur. Though I am aware this is a more common approach. It would take a lot of figuring all our triggers out, for starters! Of course, I am not a trained professional, it’s just what makes sense to me.
It can be confusing hearing different opinions I guess I can only say to go with whatever works for you!
And congratulations on only sulking for a day! I know how easy it is to fall into the big ol’ sulking hole:)
Thanks again and Merry Christmas to you too!!
Aloha and Ditto to all the wonderful posts! I won’t belabor the wonderful points made here I just had to say how grateful I am to have found this post…right now…today. It is a reminder of so many things as well as a lovely wake up call I pray I will always keep in mind.
It is also a reminder to re-read your fantastic ebook about that tricky little critter called “mind”. You have a brilliant way with communication. Many blessings for you and your continued good words/works!
Many blessings to you too, Gina! And thanks so much for your your kind words:)
Excellent article are so are all the other ones you post. You have an excellent way of conveying your messages. I just wanted to say Thanks for all your wonderful posts. Love reading them.
My pleasure Ashfaq – and thank you too!
This article was an interesting read. I agree that taking the time to cool off before talking something out is usually the best approach in a relationship. I hate arguing as I grew up in a new angry, dysfunctional family that still blames everyone else for their own issues. I do have to say though, that I am finding that I have to do a lot of analysis of my past lately. I have had depression with anxiety since I was a teen, but recently, I developed PTSD and a full blown panic disorder on top of that. My therapist said that in my case, it was due to not properly addressing the bad situations I had been through and it was a combination of a lot of them. The straw that broke the camel’s back basically. I have found that in some cases, there are things that happened that I am still not ready to fully tackle because of how traumatic they were. I have made the progress of acknowledging that they happened, but dealing with the emotions they caused is harder. Emotions are never a very logical thing. I guess I am struggling with your idea of not figuring out what the trigger is. Maybe not finding the trigger for anger is ok, but I feel like I need to find the panic triggers and deal with what’s causing them because not doing so until now has proved to almost completely debilitate me. I spent years in a severely high state of anxiety, so much so that being calm was rare. Then the panic attacks started and they were so bad that I was having them in excess of 5 a day. I gave up trying to handle it on my own when I had one just because I woke up one morning. The meds I’m on are helping keep them under control now, which is amazing honestly. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to not be a nervous wreck every day. I guess I feel that sometimes analyzing things can be helpful, but it depends on the situation.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about how you manage things:) I really appreciate your connecting here and wish you well! Lisa XX
Steve M Nash
Thank you for sharing your wisdom with such wonderful clarity! 🙂
I think everyone needs to read this post, if only for the gentle way you get people to turn the pointy-finger inwards via your lovely cartoons!
Ps And I agree too. There’s no need to get angry, or exploratory, with the anger! It’s going to happen again, but it will blow itself out quicker and quicker and quicker, once we ‘get’ what the anger’s really pointing to!
Thanks Steve, my pleasure!
Hi Lisa. Your post left me a blithering wreck of tears to be honest. It’s a great one, and you always put things so incredibly well. It was just about 6 years later than I needed to really ‘get’ it. I don’t mean this to bring anyone down, but not doing things differently means I now have to face life watching someone else live with the person I love, and only getting to spend half as much time as I’d love with my precious daughter.
The good thing I’d have to add is if anyone recognises themselves in what you say, I think you have beautifully described a great way to do things differently. You have a truly unique way of expressing great little life lessons … this would be much more valuable in schools than maths if you ask me! 🙂
Thanks for sharing it.
It’s my pleasure David, really is.
Thank you Lisa perfect timing and amazing as always I can’t thank you enuff. Your a savior.
🙂 You’re welcome.
I arrived at your blog and this is the first post I’ve read. What an amazing, clear, helpful article. I feel like I should read this every morning before I get out of bed!!
You hit the nail on the head in so many ways – BRILLIANT.
Ha ha. Yeah, me too:) Thanks Sam!
I love your blog and every time I read your articles I think to myself ‘this is exactly what I’m struggling with’. It’ so funny, it gives me some kind of consolation and I must say I really benefit from every single piece of advice.
I’ve just read your post and I have a question.
I’ve wanted to be ‘a Zen Master’ for too long, I’ve been suppressing my anger insted of expressing it. Right now I don’t even know when I’m angry but I feel how my body is getting more and more tensed. Of course I feel stucked in self pity and depression. And a funny thing – this crisis came when I fell in love. I’ve lost all my joy and can’t feel happy anymore, weird isn’t it? I’m sure I don’t want to lose my boyfriend by blaming and judging him and I don’t want to lose mysef either, supressing my feelings. And here’s the thing – I don’t know how to express my anger not hurting myself, my boyfriend and our relation at the same time. It became very important to me to notice when I’m angry and every time I don’t express it I feel like I was doing some terrible thing to myself. I’m really confused right now. I feel I can’t trust myself anymore. Do you have any piece of advice for me?
ps. sorry for my English, it’s not my mother tounge 🙂
Also your first blog entry I ran into and am so grateful. You tie together so many great points with humor and not making me feel like a villain for ever having anger in the first place. Will be looking forward to more posts and will definitely be re-reading this one too. i have suffered depression and anxiety for 18 years and the whole thinking angle seems to be where the answers lie for me. So I am thrilled to see your take on thoughts and their consequences.
Thanks for taking the time to say hi! Yes, anger can be a tricky thing. Pretty natural response to our insecurities bubbling up. Hope you enjoy the other articles.
So what do I do fix this. I truly need help with my anger it has really ruined my relationship.
What is it you’re thinking you might need to do? Maybe read this article again sometime. See if anything else occurs to you. Because the point here, is that our thoughts pass, they are constantly renewing. And the damaging aspect of anger is when we act on our angry thoughts when we’re angry, rather than waiting until we’ve calmed down. We’re really not ourself in the “heat of the moment.”