Raging Bull – Develop More Tolerance
I have developed some anger issues – everything seems to set me off these days. My fuse is short and I snap quickly. What can I do to develop more tolerance?
Signed: A Raging Bull
Dear Raging Bull,
In many cases, anger is what we call a secondary emotion. It kicks in to protect us from an imbalance (the pain or discomfort) that other emotions might be creating in us. Or it happens when we are experiencing a physiological or mental imbalance of some kind (when we are tired or hangry, for example; or drained from too much thinking). Anger can be very empowering. It lights a fire under us to fight, flight or freeze, which allows us to change the circumstances that we are in, in some way. By changing our situation, we can get a reprieve from whatever is causing the imbalance. Anger can give us a sense of control in moments when we might be feeling helpless or overwhelmed or uncertain (physically, emotionally or mentally).
To decrease how often you are feeling angry, or to lessen the intensity with which the anger hits, you need to determine what the underlying issue really is. Once you know what is triggering the anger, you can address the need directly. It’s sometimes a bit clearer to know what to do if the root of the anger is physiological or mental. By having a snack, drinking some water, getting a bit of rest or allowing yourself to be active for a short while, you can reset your physical needs and regain your inner balance. If the root cause of your anger is a mental overload, you can step back and find a way to take a pause break (getting lost in a mind-numbing distraction, for example) or a refill break (delving into an activity that feeds your soul), as needed.
If the anger is rooted more in an emotional imbalance, you may need to dig a bit deeper to figure out what it is that you are truly feeling, so you can address/soothe that sensation. If your anger is trying to protect you from another emotion, it is not going to subside until it feels you are truly safe (can handle that root feeling). You don’t always need to know how to make the root feeling stop – you just need to know you can cope with it effectively while it is happening (with or without support from others). Ask yourself, “why am I so angry?” If your answer is focused on someone else’s behaviours or attitude (for example: “because she did X”), then you know that you have not yet discovered what is actually being triggered within you. It is only at the point when you are turning inward enough to be focusing only on yourself, emotionally, that you will be able to see the root feelings you are experiencing (and then be able to find a way to address or calm them). Try saying this to yourself instead – “when she did X, I felt… because I was….”. And keep peeling away the layers of emotion until there is nothing left (for example: “I felt sad because I was feeling unappreciated or alone or unloved”).
Addressing your anger (regardless of whether it is being triggered by another feeling, your mental state or your physiology), is about being able to listen to the warning signal your brain is sending you, being able to recognize whatever imbalance exists, and being able to find a way to soothe or comfort yourself. We cannot always control what other people do or the circumstances that are happening to us. But your brain needs to know that you can handle the challenge you are experiencing, even if you don’t like it or feel good about it. The anger cannot lessen or go away if your brain is telling you that you are not feeling safe or secure. If you don’t trust that you are strong enough or capable enough to manage your deeper emotions or needs, the anger will rise up in order to help change the circumstances or give you an easier focal point to deal with. The more you connect to yourself (and not the other person’s behaviour) and build strategies that help you manage/cope with whatever is happening, the more you will build that trust/confidence in your own ability to find balance (self control) again, in any situation. And the less you will need your anger to step in to protect you.
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