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3 Steps to Healthily Manage Your ‘Silent Anger’

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If you look up “anger management” on the internet, you’ll find a bunch of articles about how to control your temper and prevent an explosive episode. But some people have no trouble keeping themselves in check when they’re angry. Conditioned to please and placate others, they smile and offer a conciliatory response to whoever wronged them and then go home to rage endlessly in their minds at their transgressor.

Like any other emotion, anger is not inherently bad. It’s a human response to the perception that you’ve been mistreated. But chronic, unexpressed anger can be corrosive to your body and spirit. It can consume your thoughts and take away your ability to be present and enjoy life around you. If you’re someone who finds yourself still fuming at the guy who cut you in the deli line 11 months ago, here are three steps for managing your silent anger.

1. Get curious about your anger.

The next time you catch yourself mentally chewing someone else out, step back and try to investigate your anger with curiosity. How does it feel in your body? What sort of thoughts come up? Are there other emotions present like shame or disappointment? Do you tend to get angry about the same kinds of situations over and over, such as feeling dismissed or viewing something as unfair? Examining your anger more closely can provide insight into what’s triggering and maintaining it, and help you figure out what you need to do to move forward. It also puts you in the driver’s seat so that you’re the one managing your anger, instead of the other way around.

2. Practice compassion.

Beneath our anger lies suffering, Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explains. We suffer and so we seethe, trying to alleviate the suffering through imagined punishment. But this is rarely effective. When your silent anger arises, try to get in touch with the suffering part of you and give it compassion. It hurts to be minimized or misunderstood or taken advantage of. And it’s important to tend to that hurt in yourself with loving kindness. You may eventually find that you extend compassion to the people who wronged you — this is not the same thing as letting them off the hook or even offering them forgiveness. It’s simply acknowledging the suffering that drives their behavior, which can help you to understand the situation more deeply instead of staying stuck in a place of blind fury.

3. Transform anger into constructive action.

Anger can be an adaptive emotion when it prompts us to stand up for ourselves and set appropriate boundaries. Once you’ve gotten in better touch with your anger and tended to your suffering, you should have a clearer sense of what constructive steps you can take to address transgressions. In some cases, like the deli line cutter, you probably won’t be able to express yourself directly to the wrongdoer, but you can practice being more assertive the next time someone steps on your toes. In other cases, you’ll have an opportunity to articulate your feelings to the person who made you angry. Try to focus on how their actions affected you and what you would like to see change, not on how terrible and wrong they were. Speaking up this way can be scary for card-carrying people-pleasers, but it can also be tremendously liberating. Of course, there are instances when it would be emotionally or even physically unsafe to confront an offender, in which case you should find a way to maintain distance and seek support to process your experience. If the anger you’re feeling is at broader systems and institutions (very common in these times), I’d encourage you to find a way to join others in advocacy, organizing or other change-making efforts that transform it into a sense of purpose.

Being angry is OK, but staying angry for weeks, months or years without exploring it or addressing it can be poisonous to you. I hope these three steps lead you in the direction of greater peace and freedom.

Photo by Jim Flores on Unsplash

Originally published: February 8, 2021
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