If you think of anger as the emotional/sensing alarm system it’s important to assess what boundary is being breached.
It goes off when someone crosses a boundary. Think of boundaries as falling into three main groups: physical, emotional and spiritual. Physical boundaries seem to be the simplest to understand; someone touches you in a way that is inappropriate or hurtful and you get angry. Emotional boundaries have triggering signals – someone says something that is offensive or hurtful and you get angry. Spiritual is much less tangible than the other two, often it’s about something that you hold dear to you or a type of energy attack. Sounds esoteric but it is one of the most common boundary breaches. All of these breaches lead to anger.
The key to addressing anger in an effective way is to manage the control switch with mindfulness.
The stop, look, and listen process is useful to understand the underlying emotion of your anger – usually it’s hurt or a fear of injury. Mindfulness is paramount in this process to turn off the anger and take the appropriate action. Anger by its nature feels instinctive however, in my observations anger is actually a path to action that is often an habitual reaction pattern. If we feel hurt we have less of the adrenaline and inner strength to take action. However, by accessing anger we incorporate the fight or flight adrenaline system – now we have all the energy we need to take action. Brilliant strategy. Think how this works in divorce cases and in the survivor scenario – being angry rather than hurt creates fighting energy. That’s great when you need it, very efficient. The basic underlying emotion is hurt or victim and then the action is to survive.
The problem with this strategy is when it is an habitual reaction pattern of victim to survivor as a mode of action for all injuries. It’s inappropriate if someone cuts you off in traffic for example; you don’t actually need to survive that but you do need to be able to avoid hitting them or another car. You need the energy to take action but you don’t need the anger.
Befriending anger to increase happiness means to see the angry emotion as a teacher and an opportunity to strengthen your relationship or situation.
A boundary betrayal in close relationships is the biggest area where this is a malfunctioning use of the adrenaline fight or flight system. Unless one is in a dangerous relationship in which case then you need to take permanent action to get out of that relationship. In general it is more common that what is required is an increased understanding of the emotion underlying the anger and the boundary breach. The stop, look, and listen mindful attention to the situation allows for an understanding of the miscommunication rather than an exacerbation of the conflict.
You can use the stop, look, and listen exercise whenever you feel a boundary breach or anger. Try to really question those habitual reaction patterns – does it make sense that someone you love is trying to hurt you? Probably not so what is really going on? And what part of it is something that isn’t a part of the current moment interaction. Unlink the connection so that the past injury remains in the past and the current situation is free to develop along its true path.
More on this and how it helps to engender positive character and self-esteem in future blogs…. stay tuned.
See you tomorrow.