Have you ever said or done something while you were angry that you instantly regretted? Have you ever held onto the memory of something that made you angry for an extended period of time and then replayed it over and over again? I know I have, and it has happened more times than I can count. I know that many of you have shared these same experiences of anger and resentment.
How many of you reading this article are right now recalling and/or reliving something that you said or did to another person(s) in the past while in the disempowering and state of emotion that we call anger? Isn’t it amazing that these memories can retrigger the feeling? Well I have some great news for you! You do not have to live like that anymore unless you choose to. I still experience anger, but it is only for a few moments, until I use the tools I learned. As for resentments, I like to remember two descriptions that help me stay the course: 1) a resentment is like me drinking poison with the intention that it kills my enemy, or 2) a resentment is like wetting your pants – you are the only one who feels it.
What is anger and why do we experience it?
Anger is a destructive and disempowering pattern of behavior which directly results from one of two phantom fears that we feel we are experiencing: 1) we feel that we are not going to get something that we want, or 2) we feel that we are going to lose something that we have. Go back to your personal memory or recollection and analyze it. What were you fearful about in that situation? Was it category 1 or 2? The key point to grasp here is that fear is a feeling, it is not a fact – False Evidence Appears Real is a good way to remember that these feelings are just phantoms.
What is the biochemistry of fear and anger?
The amygdala is the portion of your brain responsible for fight or flight. Emotional or environmental triggers act as catalysts to stimulate the amygdala. When you experience fear or anger a portion of the amygdala known as the stria terminalus releases pituitary-adrenal stress hormone (Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone, CRH). CRH in turn causes the adrenal gland to release epinephrine (the more correct scientific term for adrenaline) and cortisol. Epinephrine speeds your body processes up (e.g., heart rate, respiration). Cortisol causes the release of glucose into your bloodstream so that instant energy for fight or flight is available, and it also constricts the arteries. Faster heart rate and constricted arteries forces the blood to flow faster and harder. This is why some people will have heart attacks during episodes of anger.
What can we do to control the pattern of behavior that is anger?
I have learned many ways to interrupt the anger pattern. Pausing and internally asking questions such as “what am I afraid of?” or “what am I missing here?” work great. My perception of a situation can often be wrong, and so will be my response. In situations where the pattern has been triggered and the epinephrine/cortisol release has occurred, I interrupt the pattern with a visual in my mind. I imagine the person has a big red clown nose and I am squeezing the nose to make a honking sound. Sometimes I add circus music to really amuse myself. I call this technique “Clown Nose”. Another tool is to change my pattern of language to one that is softer. Instead of saying “that really pisses me off” I will say “that peeves me” while smiling as I say it. This transformational vocabulary technique is specifically termed “softening”. The softer wording produces a softer biochemical response. And as a final technique and example I will put my shoulders back, chest out, chin towards the ceiling and put and hold a big grin on my face. This pattern of physiology I call “Chin Grin” and it releases dopamine into the blood stream which makes you feel good. The more you smile the more you will feel good.