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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Anger: Taming Your Tiger Within

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 26th 2009

 

angerIn a very good recent blog, Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D., wrote about how managing anger and emotional stressors could very well save our lives. Anger can be a huge issue for many and the quick expression of it can exact a toll that could have grave effects on our bodies and minds. Maybe we have had tremendous stressors in our lives or feel that we've been dealt an unfair deal in life. Or maybe we grew up in families where the only way one parent connected with the children was through anger so the message got confused that expression of love is through anger and now that's being passed onto your children. The messages that we receive is that anger is bad and needs to be squashed. The problem with this approach is that it adds judgment to the anger which only makes it feel worse. Anger is neither good nor bad; it is simply an emotion that more often than not comes from a place of earlier trauma.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a highly regarded Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and peace activist wrote a wonderful book called Taming the Tiger Within. In this book he expresses a more mindful and compassionate approach toward anger. Here's what he says...

Recognition - The first thing we need to do is recognize this anger. There is no need to suppress the anger, we must become aware of it and instead of judging it as bad, we can take a different approach and begin to see it as a very young child who has been hurt. We can learn to open our hearts and care for this anger with tenderness. Although at times we may identify with this anger and even call ourselves "angry people", we are much more than our anger and therefore have the capacity to acknowledge and approach whatever discomfort is there.

Inquiry - Thich Nhat Hanh says that at times we can "water the seeds of our own suffering." The way we do this is by either hurting other people which inevitably makes us feel worse, or by allowing our minds to stew in a cycle of angry thoughts. Again, it is good to acknowledge the anger and eventually recognize where it is coming from (e.g., childhood or recent argument), but to stew in it allowing the muscles to be tense to a point you can't handle it anymore, is not skillful. So ask yourself, "Am I watering the seeds of my suffering right now?"

Mindfulness of others - If your house was on fire, the first thing you would do is go put the fire out, not run after the arsonist. But too often in our lives we try and seek revenge, punish or passively do this by holding a grudge.  This is equivalent to running after the arsonist. The first thing we need to do even when in relationship with others is recognize our anger, and then take care of it. Imagine it as a little child inside of us, take a time-out and see yourself holding or embracing this part. Take a walk and do this. Usually when we interact with others in a state of anger, we end being impulsive and making the situation worse. This is not to deny our anger, just take care of it and then come back to the person.

The bottom line is that we can learn to recognize our anger and approach ourselves with more compassion and kindness. This is not easy, especially after years of doing the opposite. Next time you're angry, trying and take a breath and remind yourself to take care of your anger before making any impulsive actions. You may want to express your anger to another, but it will likely come out more effectively from a more grounded place. Easier said than done, but remember it's a practice and can support you and others over time. If you are unable to do this many times, you are not a failure and don't even waste a minute berating yourself. Simply remind yourself this is a practice, forgive yourself for that and now invite yourself to act differently. The phrase forgive and invite can really be helpful.

As always, please comment and share your questions and experiences below. Your additions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

aaaarrrggggghh help me - - Mar 20th 2010

Strange but true, this article made me really angry

 

I'm a prime candidate for help then and am open to suggestion,

 but loathe the idea of visiting my GP any other suggestions

??????????????pleeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssseeeeeeee

About Anger - Beth Smith - Mar 18th 2010

I am 48 years old, and I have never in my life had the chance to read/hear/see such wisdom connected to an article about anger.  Like many other readers, I was admonished by every adult in my environment that anger was an immature emotion and that any expression or even feeling of anger defined a person as "lacking maturity and control", and socially undesirable.  I was bullied and scapegoated all through my childhood and had abuse in my family as well, and like most young children (in the days before bullying was even considered a significant issue) did not have the verbal capacity to express what was happening to me.  The teachers had a "don't complain over nothing" attitude, and I would carry my bewilderment home each day, and cry and throw tantrums in the morning in an effort to beg my mother not to send me to school.  I could not express in words well enough.  My father was abusive, and with this stew, I was told nearly daily that I was a problem child, a problem student (I cowered in my class seat, and hid at recess to avoid being attacked, and kept as silent as possible each day, and still I was labeled "the problem"  I never had the luxury of being told that my anger was totally valid as a result of such abuse, and that anyone would feel the same.  I was made to feel extreme shame for expressing anger, which just increased it. All these years later, it has done it's damage (I'm tired of the misplaced popular advice to "get over it".  Abuse has to be accepted and processed and empathized with in order to be able to complete it and move on.  Thank you for being a voice of acceptance. Beth

Loving and Compassionate Take on Anger: Beautiful! - Mona - Dec 13th 2009

Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful article.  I couldn't agree with you more.  Just this afternoon, I volunteered in this spiritual organization, where kids were learning about anger.  The only reason I volunteer there is due to my sheer love of children and the need to accrue seva yoga hours for my yoga teaching training course. 

In any case, these teachers were telling children that anger is bad.  It is a bad feeling and it has to be controlled (in other words, supressed) under any circumstances.  I found myself gravely disagreeing with them.  I feel that anger is a natural human emotion, just as love, and it needs to be honored, accepted and embraced because we can release it.  What upset me more that these children are learning to feel guilty about such a raw, human and natural emotion.  Anger isn't a bad feeling.  It just is a part of us, just as love and joy are. 

On a personal level, I wished someone had told me as a child that feelings of anger is alright and human.  I wouldn't have spent so much of my life feeling guilty about it.  I feel that we should be honest with children and tell them,and educate them to have a loving, compassionate approach to it.  As if it were a little baby that needs to be held, comforted and nurtured. 

Thank you, Thikh Naht Han for sharing such a beautiful way of honoring all parts of our humanity.  God bless you.

Metta & Light,

Mona;)

 

 

 

 

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