7 Ways to Deal with Toxic Anger
Of all emotions, anger is perhaps the most misunderstood. But the truth is that anger is not inherently an unhealthy emotion - it is a natural reaction when the body senses that something is not right. Learning how to manage anger is a worthwhile and necessary skill to maintain open communication and to cultivate personal awareness. Despite the bad reputation that anger has, when understood properly and expressed healthily, it has the potential to drive productivity and problem solving.
Note that there are fundamental differences between anger and abuse: domestic violence and abuse is often motivated by "the need to control and gain power in a relationship," while those who struggle with toxic anger "are struggling with a distorted thinking process and demonstrate skill deficits" (5). While abusers do struggle with unhealthy thought processes and lack of coping mechanisms as well, they "visualize their victims as people but instead as property or sexual objects" (5) and express their anger externally. While anger can be healthy, abuse is never a productive thing. Note that we are discussing toxic anger and anger management in this post, and not abuse. If you are experiencing domestic abuse, please call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Helpline.
In our previous post, we covered how to tell the difference between toxic anger and healthy anger. Today, we'll be exploring 7 ways to deal with that toxic anger. Let's dive in.
After you've determined that your anger is unhealthy, cultivate some awareness about what kind of anger it is, why you are feeling angry, and what situations might be most triggering to you. When you find a moment of calm, try to objectively assess your responses - are you lashing out verbally? Does your anger express itself as passive aggression? Do you find yourself stuck in "moods" with no outlet for expression?
Journaling might be a good way to reflect. Try these prompts if you find that writing down your thoughts is an effective way to gain clarify:
In which situations do I find myself getting angry?
Who am I angry at?
What is my anger trying to protect?
If my anger stems from not getting something from someone else, what exactly do I want from them?
If my anger stems from lack of communication, what would it take for me to be able to respectfully verbalize my wants and needs?
When you feel toxic anger threatening to lash out, try to calm yourself down with some deep breaths. Draw the breaths all the way up from your belly, and avoid breathing quickly from the chest. As you breathe, inhale a calming word into your consciousness - "relax," "peace," or "calm" are great options - and focus your attention on that word. Use your breath to paint a picture of what that word might look and feel like - the word "peace" might feel like a cool breeze, or like a clear blue sky. Focus on that image and the feeling that the word invokes within you, and don't forget to continue to breathe through it.
Rephrase Your Thoughts
Be aware of definitive statements: “you always treat me this way,” “I never get what I want." These "always" and "never" statements are likely not based in fact, and make it difficult to continue communicating openly with the other party. Accusatory, definitive statements only serve to widen the gap in communication. Use logic to combat your anger in these moments. Talk yourself through the situation - does my partner truly never pay me any attention? Evaluate your anger - will expressing myself in this way really get me the result that I want?
Anger tends to make us incredibly demanding. Be aware of "I want..." or "I demand..." statements, and work on rephrasing them as requests ("I would like...").
Add a Time Buffer
Try to add a buffer of even ten seconds of time before you respond - this can be tricky, but giving yourself an extra moment can help you to calm down and to logically assess how you want to respond. By feeling more in control of your responses, you can eliminate the guilt that you might feel after lashing out, and can proceed through the situation in a way that feels in line with what you actually want to communicate.
Work smart. If you know that certain situations are triggering to you, prepare yourself before entering into them. For example, if dinner time is particularly challenging for you, take the time to center yourself with breath or other mindfulness activities before heading to the table.
We often put all of the blame of our anger on the other party - they did or said something that triggered us. We don't prepare ourselves or seek to steady our mental state because we don't believe that we have to: our anger is a justified response to offense. Each occurrence of anger becomes something incredibly surprising and therefore additionally offensive. Remind yourself that the only person who can choose your response is you - this does not absolve the other party from their potential offenses, but rather gets you in a mental state where you can clearly communicate your feelings and discuss resolution. Part of mental preparation is reassessing your perspective on your anger.
Exercise is a powerful from of mindfulness that can pull you out of the most intense of emotions. Sometimes you might even forget to breathe or feel that your breaths are shallow and unhelpful. By getting your lungs pumping, you are effective forcing yourself to take deep breaths, and to work out the tension that can get pent up as the body gets angry. This is a great way to do a couple of the above steps at the same time - it allows you to breathe deeply, create some space, and clear your mind to reframe the situation.
See a Therapist
Sometimes, struggles with anger are the result of hormonal changes or other mental health issues (PTSD, depression, etc.). If you find yourself unable to get a hold of your anger, or find that your anger is threatening to harm those around you, working with a licensed therapist might be the most productive way forward.