Advice Column: Why do I get so angry and how can I stop it?

Advice Column: Why do I get so angry and how can I stop it?

Question:

I get angry a lot, sometimes out of nowhere. For instance, I’ll just wake up incredibly angry and everything that follows during the day will continue on that way. It could be when someone disagrees with me or when someone is behaving unreasonably or when someone is just being rude to me. Often I perceive that people are disrespecting me or being cruel when they may not be and I get this feeling of rage.

But the times that really scare me are when the rage feels as if it is literally taking over me. I’ll be angry in the situation and all of a sudden, I will literally miss a beat, like it’s not me in my body anymore, and I see a flash of white…literally what I imagine “blinding rage” to mean. It is in those situations that I lose control of my volume and I scream and rant even though I recognize inside that it is a disproportionate response to what has occurred. This happens most often in confrontations with my parents, usually my mother.

What’s worse is that this experience is followed by feelings of intense shame, frustration that my legitimate concerns now seem illegitimate, and just an altogether sadness.

I could use some tips.

Thanks.

Answer:

What’s important to remember is that anger (or rage) is a replacement feeling. Though it may be uncomfortable, anger is still easier to deal with than sadness and/or fear. The reason we choose anger over experiencing the real feeling is because anger energizes us (at least while we are feeling it) and it gives us a sense of agency over the situation (I am taking action) which feels better than doing nothing. So the question is – what is the feeling(s) underneath the anger that is so scary for you to look at?

You mention that the rage often takes over when you perceive people to be rude and/or disrespectful toward you. Ask yourself – what does it mean to me to be disrespected? What does it say about me? Your answer to that is a negative belief you hold about yourself. It is probably what you are most afraid of, and what hurts you the most.

Here are some common answers:

  • I am not good enough
  • I am not important enough
  • I am a failure
  • I am unworthy of love
  • I am not in control
  • I am worthless

Once you’ve uncovered the real fear, you can release it in a number of ways:

  1. Use mindfulness – Practice this at first when you are angry but not overcome with rage. Take a few deep belly breaths and bring up the feeling of being disrespected. Gently observe the physical reaction inside your body to that scenario, as if you were watching a movie. Notice the feel of it inside your body, and the thoughts that rise up alongside it. Now focus your attention on the exact location in your body where this sense of being disrespected resides. Notice what the whole thing about it looks like – shape, colour, texture. Imagine yourself drawing a line around it so that you know where it begins and where it ends. Next, imagine yourself in a room with it, and with an attitude of gentle curiosity – as if it were a small shy child or a hurt animal – imagine yourself saying hello to it. Notice how it changes as you approach it in this way. Feel free to have a conversation with it, and get to know it better (don’t forget the gentle attitude).
  2. Use Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). You can use EFT to release the negative belief about yourself that you discovered by asking yourself “what does it say about me?”. For example, if your negative belief was ‘I am not good enough’, then repeat that to yourself, and notice where you feel it in your body. Once you can locate it in your body, follow the instruction on the video and begin tapping on that. Watch the video training here.

What you describe as blinding rage is often referred to as Amygdala Hijack. When you look at the infographic below, you will see the three parts of the human brain. The hind brain (the stopwatch) is the oldest part of our brain which takes care of our physiological needs like hunger, body temperature, etc. Next, we evolved the Limbic Brain (the tiger) which contains our emotional centre, followed by the newest part of our brain – the Neocortex (thinking man in infographic) which deals with rational thinking, and human language. Normally, the Limbic Brain (emotional centre) and the Neocortex (rational thought) work together and negotiate reactions to the outside world. But during a rage reaction, the Limbic Brain hijacks the system and the Neocortex is rendered useless. It is as if you return to being a wild animal defending yourself against a vicious attack.

rage

So the idea is to lower the engagement of the emotional centre (tiger) so that it doesn’t take over the whole brain. We do this by slowing down the process + catching it before it gets to full hijack mode + re-introducing rational thinking. Here is what it looks like in the moment:

1. Stop yourself and remember what is happening in your brain – amygdala hijack.  Observe (from a distance) how it feels throughout your body/ mind.

2. Breathe. Taking 4 or 5 deep, cleansing breaths will oxygenate the brain.  Picture your brain being bathed with cooling, soothing oxygen.

3. Turn the feeling on its head. What does the opposite of rage look like and feel like (calmness? gratitude? calm acceptance?) Let yourself fully enjoy that new feeling.

4. Welcome back rational thinking. Once your emotions have calmed and you can think rationally, remember – what is getting triggered has very little to do with the situation or the person currently in front of you, and much more to do with YOUR belief about yourself.

I hope this helps. Take care:)

For another great tool for reducing anger, take a look at this lesson from The Depleted Mother’s Guide to Wellness and Balance.

What’s worked (or hasn’t worked) for YOU in dealing with anger? Put it in the comments below:
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Tamar (Tami) Amit, M.A. RCC

About Tamar (Tami) Amit, M.A. RCC