“I can’t control myself for not getting angry. Everything and everyone make me angry. I can’t control myself. I am ruining my relationship.”
I am not sure how anger becomes one of the reasons my clients come to me. Even when it is not the direct reason to seek help, it is often seen or reported by their partners during the couple’s session. When one person is often angry in the relationship, the other person shuts down. As the result, the angry person pursuits, and the stonewalling person withdraws and creates a pursuit-withdraw cycle in the couple’s communication.
Here is the story of how I started to take interests in this emotion called “anger”. A long time ago, seriously, a very, very, very long time ago, about at least 15 years ago, one of my very first clients who was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, had severe depression. When I saw her, she was always crying. Tears would come down nonstop. After working with her for a couple of years and she got better, she asked for the couple’s counseling. Since I had seen her individually, I referred her to my supervisor. One day, my supervisor asked me about her.
Supervisor: “why is she so angry towards her husband?”
I: “Angry? what are you taking about? She is depressed.”
This is my introduction class of anger and depression. From that moment on, I learned that, anger and depression are two sides of one coin. Depression is anger inwards. When you are angry at yourself, it made you depressed. When you are angry at other people, it made you feel powerful.
However, that is too simple in a way. More specifically, if all the human emotions are like an iceberg, anger is the tip of the iceberg where we can see it. However, anger is probably only 1/5 of the emotions where people can see it being expressed and there are at least 80% of the emotions no one but only ourselves can see.
How do you stop anger? Unfortunately, once you are already angry, or when people see you get angry, it’s a little too late to stop it. There is a chain of events already happened before you knew it. Generally, there were physical reactions (e.g. “a knot in my stomach”, “a knife stab into my heart”), there are thoughts going through your mind (e.g. “how can you?”), and then, there are emotions, and the final stop is the anger coming out.
There are many things you can do once the anger coming out, for example, walking away to cool down. However, once you are “flooded” with anger, it is very hard to walk away and to cool yourself down. Once a person is flooded with emotions, it is very hard to see things straight and complete with the full picture. Therefore, a lot of anger “control” relies on steps that happened before anger coming out of your body.
And all of the steps relies on your awareness of yourself. Once you have more awareness of your physical reactions, thoughts, and emotions, you can stop yourself before you reach the anger stage easier.
1) Do you feel a physical reaction during the conversation? If you do, what are those physical reactions and at which part of your body?
2) What are the thoughts going through your mind during the conversation? Are they reasonable? Are there other explanations that the other person interact with you the way you interpret his/her behaviors?
3) Other than anger, what are the other emotions you experienced? There are often other emotions such as resentment, sadness, disappointment, and/or frustration, etc. Those are the emotions you want to express, not anger.
Anger is a powerful emotion and it makes us feel in control of the situation. However, it is just “feel like” in control, not actually makes you in control. It actually makes you lose control. It is harder to express other emotions such as resentment, sadness, etc, but, expressing those emotions make you draw the other people in instead of pushing them out.