Monday, December 20, 2010

Recognizing Anger

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - AUGUST 26:  A stop sign i...

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If you travel through life ignoring the signals or triggers for your anger it is a bit like driving while ignoring stop signs.  Eventually you will get into trouble or in to a serious accident.  There are three types of anger signals:  Body signals, thought signals, and actions signals.  Triggers are the situations that typically result in you feeling angry.

Body signals are the sensations that you feel when you are angry.  These sensations are automatic (see previous post).  Most people will feel hot, some sweaty, nausiated, headache, muscle tension, beathing hard, and so on.  The trick is to be more aware of your personal signals.  If you recognize that you are feeling angry then you can identify your body signals by thinking over the previous several minutes and becoming more aware of how you feel physically.  The tendency is to short change this awareness by simply stating, "I feel angry."  This is usually a thought or at least an emotion.  But awareness involves being more aware of how your body feels over just knowing that you are angry. 

Thought signals are the automatic thinking that occurs when you are angry.  For example:  Someone cuts you off in traffic and you think, "You idiot you are going to get someone killed."  That is an automatic thought.  These automatic thoughts often fit a similar pattern across various settings.  The most common pattern is to label people or situations with deregulatory language.  There can also be emotionally charged words like hate, pissed off, F%$# you, sucks, and so on.  Each person has their own pattern in thinking when they are angry.  The trick is to recognize your own.  Another common pattern of angry thinking is the just/unjust (either-or thinking).  You let some perceived injustice be the justification for your anger.  When in reality it is more likely the other way around.  It  is the perception and not the event itself that is triggering your anger.  For example: What if I told you that the person that cut you off in traffic was taking his child the emergency room because she is very ill.  You would change your thinking, "Be careful I hope that your daughter gets better.  That feeling is compassion over anger.  What changed?  Your thinking.

Action signals are the behaviors that you do when your angry.  Often others will recognize our action signals long before we are aware of them ourselves.  If you are bold you can ask others to help you identify your signals when they observe them.  It might be better to ask them to tell you when you are not angry at the time.  Telling someone their anger signals while they are angry is usually met with defensiveness.  Some typical action signals are: raised voice, complaining, slamming objects, stomping, arguing, clenched fist, clenched jaw, punching, kicking, and so on.  Each person has actions that tend to be typical when they are angry.  The goal is to become aware of some of the early signals before your anger leads to the more aggressive ones.  Another way to catch action signals in the moment is when someone says "Why are you angry?"  Rather than the automatic, "I am not angry."  You can say, "What am I doing that makes you think that?"  Most people that we are close with are perceptive of our moods and will be able to identify our anger long before we are aware of it. 

Triggers are the situations or people that can pretty reliable result in our anger.  Being aware of our triggers is beneficial in two ways.  We can learn to avoid unnecessary situations.  Avoiding an angry situation is wise.  Anger in the raw rarely solves anything.  If avoidance is not possible then awareness of our triggers allows us to be prepared to take positive action.  You can plan ahead what you are going to do if that trigger happens.  Planning ahead for angry situations or dealing with people that push our buttons is effectiveness.  Not planning is foolish because you will likely fall into habitual behaviors that have not been effective in the past. 

Being aware of signals and triggers is the first step in coping with or resolving your anger.  If you miss this step you are much less likely to be successful in dealing with anger.  If you do this step then you will be much more prepared to respond rather than react when anger comes your way.

God Bless You

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