Joy S. Mock, LPC
Mental Methods for Conquering Anger Outbursts
Updated: Apr 24, 2022
Sometimes the smallest remarks or inconveniences cause us to blow our top.
Before we know it, we go from feeling in charge to acting like a child having a meltdown. We may hear an inner voice that begs us to stop even as we yell, but in that moment we just can’t. Either way, in the struggle between our emotions and our rational mind, it seems that our emotions almost always win.
The good news is: We can change that! Below are some helpful steps.
Step #1: Recognize the warning signs
You’ve heard the old saying. “Anger is one letter away from Danger”. So the sooner you can recognize the warning signs, the more quickly you can begin to attend to the feelings behind them.
Anxiety, raising your voice, pounding heart, sweating, tight chest, being defensive, being overly critical, feeling shaky, being argumentative to name a few.
Step #2: Name the feeling
This simple act promotes greater bilateral integration in the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and makes it feel like your emotions are both heard and acknowledged. So if you’re fuming over a comment someone made, get curious and ask yourself, “What emotion am I feeling right now?" Is it anger, disgust, frustration, fear or sadness?” This is the first step in creating distance from your emotions instead of being consumed by them. I feel __________ .
Step #3: Listen to Your Thoughts
Along with heightened emotions, there’s invariably a commentary running through your mind. Can you hear what it’s telling you? Is it venting about the unfairness of the situation, about how you’ve been treated wrongly? Is it reminding you of similar incidences in the past and how it’s time to take revenge? Or perhaps it’s beating up on you for being a doormat and never standing up for yourself. Listen closely!
Step #4: Connect to the Meaning
A thought is just a thought…until we attach meaning to it. That’s when it becomes loaded with emotion—and when the meaning is negative, upsetting, or scary, we react in extreme and often self-defeating ways. So if your thought says, “How dare she talk to me that way,” what's the underlying meaning? Does it bring up beliefs that you’re superior and that others don’t have the right to stand up for themselves? Or does it touch on those unhealed parts within you that believe you’re not smart or capable and fear that you’ve been found out?
Step #5: Challenge the Meaning
The meaning we attach to situations, to other people’s motives, and to our own reactions are often the result of past experiences (mostly from our early years). Because they’re formed in childhood, they’re rigid, concrete, and extreme. As we age, we have the ability to challenge these beliefs because our brains can think in more flexible ways. So if you are scared by your belief that you aren’t smart or capable (incompetent), you may want to remind yourself of all the wonderful areas in your life where you’ve shown your skills and talents, risen up to challenges, and performed well and challenge those thoughts.
Step #6: Change Your Thoughts
Once you’ve shifted the meaning, it’s easier to change the thoughts. Ask yourself whether the other person truly meant to offend you, or if they were simply stating their perspective. Or perhaps they were tired and didn't mean what they said? Changing “How dare she…!” to “I’d rather she didn’t…” and “I’m not good enough” to “I made a mistake” has a completely different effect on our mind and body. Remind yourself of both the other person’s and your better side so you see the full picture.
Step #7: Decide to Act, or Let It Go
Once you’ve connected inward and can think with your calm brain, you’re in a position to decide what to do about the situation. You may express your opinion, but then let go of trying to control the outcome. You may feel strongly that this reaction needs addressing and express your need for respect in a calm way. Or perhaps you realize that the other party's reaction was out of character for them, and you show them compassion instead. Either way, you act with reason rather than raw emotion.
With practice, these steps can become your new protocol for managing your anger. Practice with minor annoyances so that the skills will be in place when a major anger trigger come. Remember, practice makes progress!
Adapted by J. Mock