Anger and the Stories We Tell Ourselves: Ask Questions & Stop the Cycle
The world can be a frustrating place and experiencing anger is simply unavoidable. I’m not an angry person but this particular person really knows how to push my buttons and get under my skin. If I don’t get angry and stand up for myself, I’ll just keep getting pushed around and never live a happy life.
These are but a few of the many stories we tell ourselves in order to justify our anger and behavior while angry. This is not to say they aren’t initially valid reasons but, at some point, they can morph into tall tales of justification. Anger deserves our attention and our respect because it is real. However, the stories we tell ourselves about why we’re angry, and what to do about it, may not be real.
Let’s face it, most of us want to see ourselves, and have others see us, as “good human beings”. Therefore, when we launch into yet another wrathful tirade, it’s only natural to find ways to rationalize such conduct. When it comes to explaining our anger, we’ll develop a story and stick with it. These anger stories usually have subplots, co-stars, multiple acts, but more often than not, they end the same unproductive way.
Recognizing and subsequently re-writing our anger stories requires deep introspection. Deep introspection requires us to ask some tough questions of ourselves. The following, are a few such questions. If answered with mindfulness and honesty, the responses can help us begin to stop the cycle of anger, regret, guilt, and shame.
What is my anger about?
Related questions: What’s triggering me? What do I fear? What causes me to feel pain?
We’re all familiar with the magical thinking of yelling at the dog right after you stub your toe. You’re in pain, you’re angry, and you need to express it even if that expression is seriously misplaced. It may not be easy to do so while in the midst of an angry outburst, but, at some point, we must examine and address the primary sources of this volatile emotion. Venting anger is usually unproductive if we don’t see it as the signal it is.
Who is responsible for what?
Once some answers have been found for the above questions, it’s helpful to sort out responsibility. Problems can be multi-faceted and more than one person can share the blame. Recognizing and owning up to our role is a big step towards anger management.
Am I communicating without resorting to defensiveness or deflecting with attacks?
During an outburst, we may lose focus on our emotions and even begin to feel powerless. If we choose to hear all incoming reactions as attacks and/or go on the offensive to deflect blame, it may escalate the confrontation without ever addressing the root causes.
Do I need to cool down and if so, how can I make that happen?
Everyone knows someone with a bad temper. But how often do we make time to examine our tone and behavior when angry? If we take a good, long look at ourselves, we may recognize the need to cool down. One option is to create a “centering” question, mantra, or prayer. Sometimes, all it takes is a single significant sentence to remind us that we can do better.
What can I do differently?
Obviously, you wouldn’t be doing all this hard work if getting angry was working out well for you. So, what can you change and how soon will you make it happen?