Mind Your Thumbs

How to get right when you’ve been wronged

(Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash)

Anyone whose ever sailed on a ship or captained a small boat knows the importance of stability and buoyancy. Staying on top of the water with your keel relatively parallel to the horizon means smooth sailing. But let the waters or the boat be troubled by extremes, whether natural or man made, and you’ve got a recipe for danger.

So it goes for our emotional bodies when anger, justified or not, unleashes a torrent of feelings that whip us about as if we are a lone palm waiting just beyond the abandoned seawall to greet the season’s first hurricane.

Dipping a toe in the roiling cauldron of anger comes with consequences. Most of us have, discovered this fact at some point in our lives after we’ve indulged this potent emotional bender, unless we’re completely incapable of self reflection.

In my own experience, when I’ve allowed angry emotions to bloom unchecked, (and I do believe there is a moment of choice here) I’ve felt the current threatening to tear me away from the precious isle of middle ground.

Worse, I can feel my rational mind receding behind the cacophony of a neuron-chemical induced swirl of reactionary thoughts, some vaguely rational, some not.

But the important thing to note here is the distinct handicap unchecked anger fosters in our ability to determine the difference.

It’s what most of us want when we google anger or read books or papers on the subject in order to understand this volatile and natural emotion and how to constructively manage it.

It’s a valuable but difficult exercise to observe one’s self in the midst of this storm of emotions we call anger, but worth every effort.

When many of us are hurt or threatened, fight or flight, the autonomic response to threats, stress and fear, kicks in and before we know it, we are flooded with the neurotransmitters which engage our unique default settings.

Having previously, and naively believed, such things as autonomic responses to be black and white, off or on, I didn’t recognize the blurry territory my anger placed me in, thus, I now understand I engage in a mixed response to threats. Ultimately, I usually come out fighting and this means anger comes along for the ride, or sometimes it even leads the parade.

Without delving much further into the physiology and the neurological expression of our most radioactive emotion, I’d like to come back to what I promised you in the title of this article: relief.

It’s what most of us want when we google anger or read books or papers on the subject in order to understand this volatile and natural emotion and how to constructively manage it.

Photo by Josh Adams-Ford on Unsplash

All hands on deck

There is a much touted adage in twelve step recovery circles which regards anger in a basic and fundamental way. It goes something like this: If you’re feeling angry then you’re in fear of not getting something you want or getting something you don’t want.

This is a good place to startwhen we want to begin unraveling the basis of our anger, whether specifically directed at something or someone, or nebulous and simmering beneath our daily lives.

To be sure, anger is a root-bound emotion with causative tendrils deeply burrowed into places we may not realize. Often the thing or event in real time which triggers our anger is not all that lies in the waters beneath our subconscious.

But, this exploration and excavation of anger issues takes a commitment of time and work on our part, and for now, when the gales are upon us, we simply need some reliable tools to keep the ship from sinking, check the emotional storm and stabilize our course.

Here are some suggestions when you’re in the path of the storm

Take a step back and breathe

If possible, physically remove yourself from the area of conflict and follow this action with several deep breaths. Slow down and focus on the details of your surroundings. If you’re driving, pay mindful attention to how the steering wheel feels against your palms. Counting backwards from one hundred to zero serves to divert your thoughts away from how angry you are feeling since it’ll be several minutes until the neurotransmitters that flooded your brain recede. But if we dwell in the swell, the surge of chemicals our anger has released can grow to a tidal wave we are unable to control.

Taking a step back and focusing on our breath is not simply an empty, go- to idiom, it’s action we can take that produces real results.

Take a walk or ride a bike

This is an offshoot of taking a step back from the situation, and it works quite well to induce deep breathing and trigger a countering release of endorphins. If you’re able to exercise, or do something physical, get going. Do this mindfully and you will feel better afterward.

Gaze at your reflection in a mirror

A study some years ago, concluded most people are unable to look at a reflection of themselves for very long when they are significantly angry. The distorted image we see of ourselves in those moments is startling and sometimes enough to jar us out of the vicious chemicalthought cycle which can drive our emotions out of our control. If you try this and it works for you, don’t stop there. Try remaining engaged with your reflection and see if you can get to a place of empathy and compassion for yourself regarding the fear and hurt which caused you to be angry in the first place. If you find your self- talk to be shaming and critical, perhaps you might come back to this exercise once you’ve done more in depth work around your emotional life.

Phone a friend

Telephone a trusted friend. Let them know right up front you’re upset and angry and ask them if they have the time to simply listen. If your friend has the time and ability to refrain from advice or interruptions, unburden yourself with the flood of emotions you’re feeling. Say what you need to say and listen to yourself without judgement as you do. The answers you seek, or the real reason for your anger is likely to come tumbling right out of your mouth. Think of it like bailing water from your own boat in order to discover where the hull was penetrated in the first place and needs a plug.

Whether you feel your anger is justified or not: reach out to the other person

Deciding to remain in the grip of negative, toxic emotions such as anger and resentment is nothing short of self destructive. Make a decision to reach out to whomever you have had a heated conflict with just as soon as you’ve cooled down and you have returned to your reasonable and rational nature. You may not be ‘over it’ yet but you can set your intention and communicate to the other person you wish to resolve the issues sooner rather than later.

(Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash)

Please, take my advice — I’m not using it

I can attest to each of the above suggestions’ effectiveness, because I’ve put them to work in past experiences.

However, my most recent dance with anger exacted a heavy price before I was able and willing to take a needed step back and review what I already knew about the psychology of anger.

For myself, when I’m ‘engaged and enraged’ the neurotransmitters that swim in my brain cause me great distraction and psychic pain.

As was the case recently, while under the influence of anger, whatever I was doing, be it simply walking from here to there, cooking, or working on a minor home improvement project, I became unusually clumsy and quite accident prone.

Last week, on several occasions I tripped, I stumbled, I nearly fell, stubbed two toes, spilled things, and cut myself until finally ending the assault by breaking my thumb. All this happened in the course of four days as I stomped around, cried, and fumed, unwilling or unable to step back and engage in the most modest acts of positive self-care.

It is ironic, but it seems it took breaking my thumb for me to ‘slow my roll’ and stop my descent into the pits of justified anger, the most dangerous kind there is.

And as I sit at my keyboard; typing skills and acuity seriously hampered by the splint on my left hand; I can see a clearer picture of myself and the missteps I made in the past few days. I have gained some valuable insight I hope I don’t forget anytime soon.

By being unwilling to engage in healthy self-care around my emotions and by not doing the things I’ve done in the past which I know to be effective, I was sending myself poison both mentally and physically. By not allowing myself a healthy expression of the anger I was feeling in a particular situation, I was also buying into the invalidation and shame I’d been conditioned to feel around anger.

As hindsight and revelation fills in the crucial details about how I handle anger by punishing myself, I can choose to steer my ship toward smoother waters. Once there, I’ll be better able to rationally consider the situation which cast me into a sea of anger in the first place.

If you’re reading this article because you’re struggling with anger too, may you be empowered to deal with it in a more constructive and loving manner, thereby, bringing balance back to your life and keeping all your fingers and toes intact.

Copyright SK, 2020, All rights retained

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