This post concludes the three-part series of posts on anger. Today, let’s explore how anger triggers are formed and how you can handle them more powerfully.
Anger triggers are based on your past experiences. They’re created when anger is unresolved or is handled in a way that gives away your power.
How you feel about all of your memories are collected in a file that you’ll label with an overarching attitude. The label will be either generally positive: I feel good about myself and I get what I want out of life, or generally negative: I’m not strong enough or smart enough to stand my ground.
Any time your current experience resembles a past situation where you were dissed (disrespected), you’ll be extra motivated to feel more powerful now as a way of making up for when you weren’t powerful. You’ll look for opportunities to tell yourself: See, I really am strong and smart.
And your brain is wired to commiserate with you on this. You see, when a confrontation doesn’t end well for you, your confidence will take a hit. From an evolutionary perspective, low confidence is a threat to your ability to defend yourself.
This is because when you’re bummed, you’re less alert to possible threats. A million years ago, when humans were prey, this was a big deal. Since your brain remembers being tiger chow, its survival response will be triggered, and it will step in to repair your confidence ASAP. As I’ve written many times in this blog, your primitive brain wiring only takes over when you don’t stop it.
The survival instinct part of your brain is hardwired to make a high priority of finding the best resolution for you to every situation as quickly as possible. Thus, if you let it, your brain will devote a lot of energy and imagination to hindsight.
This is why you’ll spend hours rehashing an argument in your mind. What you could have said that would have given you the upper hand. How you could have won. You’ll feel smart when you can conjure up a snappy retort.
Voila! You’ve replaced the feeling of being bested with being smart, and your confidence will rebound. But the deeper issue that caused the anger hasn’t been resolved.
In its rush to get that confidence bounce as fast as possible, your brain misses the bigger picture of the long-term effect of unresolved anger. So it’s up to you to consciously guide your brain’s processes to get the win-win: boosted confidence and resolved issues. (Shameless promotion: there’s a deeper discussion of this phenomena in my book, Power For A Lifetime.)
Unresolved anger creates a perpetual fire in your body (fueled by cortisol, the stress hormone) that scorches everything in its path. Every aspect of your quality of life is fried to a crisp. Mismanaged anger can disrupt your work, harm your health, and destroy your relationships.
We can all agree that anger becomes violent when vases or punches are thrown. But there’s a more subtle, albeit just as real form of violent anger. You choose covert violence when you use anger as a tool to feel more powerful than another: to manipulate, threaten, intimidate or injure them mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you can guess what the first step is to breaking the habit of anger. It’s the same for all unwanted behaviors: awareness of your patterns.
Like every other behavior, your anger is rooted in your beliefs about the world. These beliefs will create very specific patterns of what causes you to feel angry and how you’ll act once your angry.
So when you become more aware of your own patterns of anger, you’ll be able to break the automatic cycle of reacting. Instead, you’ll express your feelings authentically, set firm boundaries and clearly ask for what you need. Without yelling or crying.
Ask yourself these probing questions, and be rigorous in digging up deeper and deeper answers.
- What are my sources of anger at home (tv shows, movies, video games, gossipy friends, manipulative or demanding family)?
- What are my sources of anger at work (manipulative or gossipy co-workers, demanding boss, oppressive or nonsensical policies, office politics)?
- What group (ethnic, religious, socio-economic, societal) resentments do I harbor?
- Specifically, what triggers my anger? Explore each anger trigger individually. There could be different reasons for each trigger.
- What beliefs fuel that anger?
- How does each anger trigger affect me? Do I feel defensive, attacked, misunderstood, disrespected, diminished, etc?
- What other negative emotions does your anger lead to (hostility, anxiety, or depression)?
- For each anger trigger, identify what’s frustrating me. What do I really want instead?
Here’s an example of how the process works. In my younger, less empowered days, I worked in a small office. After I broke off a romantic relationship with a man I was working with, he acted out his anger by gossiping about me. I was embarrassed and devastated.
I felt attacked by him and misunderstood by my co-workers. I believed I was powerless to stop him and that he was changing their view of me. I became depressed. At that time in my life, I had a passive-aggressive anger habit, so I thought about spreading gossip about him.
But I began to notice that only a few people (his buddies) were playing his gossip game; most didn’t want to hear it and they didn’t treat me differently. So I decided not to spread gossip about him. I just did my job and worked my way out of my depression. Eventually, the gossip stopped.
Ultimately, I didn’t get what I wanted from my former boyfriend, which was respect. But I got the best possible outcome for that situation: self-respect and non-hostile coexistence. Most importantly for myself, I broke my powerless anger pattern. I created a new, more powerful response pattern that led to more peace at work and more peace in my heart.
The purpose of this exercise is to increase your knowledge base, not to feel guilty or ashamed of your actions. Knowledge builds power. Using this knowledge, take some time to cultivate compassion for yourself.
Compassion throws water on the fire of anger, effectively decreasing the strength and frequency of your anger triggers. In time, you’ll feel a greater sense of control of your angry feelings. You’ll feel the balance of power shift.
I invite you to join the masses who are actively evolving our society toward more peaceful coexistence. Every action you take toward peace is matched a thousandfold by compassionate hearts in every state of our nation, and every country in the world.
When you joyfully cultivate peace in your heart and it will spread like sweet raspberry jam through your relationships: with your friends, your friends’ friends, and your friends’ friends’ friends. We’ll reach critical mass, and our society will shift.
Today’s Coaching Question: Which of your anger triggers are you willing to re-program today? Share them in the comment box below.
Don’t feel powerful enough to break your anger patterns? Your Inner Life Coach can keep you on track in pursuing your inner peace.
Don’t know where to start? From a quick boost to a complete power makeover, I can help you stay on the path of fulfillment and happiness.
Some of your inner conflict could be coming from doing things that aren’t very important to you. Are you living your values? If the answer is no, or you’re not sure what your deepest values are, check out my free 5-day e-course, Discovering Your Values, in the blue box on the left side of this page.