Anger: Damage Control

I have been through many phases of dealing with my own chronic pain issues. There was a time a few years ago where I labeled myself as “enlightened”, which meant in my mind that I was above going into the victim mode and could maintain a sense of tranquility. It was a bad idea and it turned out that my “enlightenment” was just another form of suppressing negative thinking. The key to life and successful relationships is awareness and labeling in any form blocks it. Anger also squelches awareness.

 Anger is Only About You

Anger is destructive. It is the body’s final defense to ensure survival. But the explosive destruction has a 360-degree radius of impact. You are just as or more affected than the person or situation that upset you. In that state of mind your only focus is your own survival and you are programmed to physically or mentally destroy whatever you have perceived as threatening. Additionally the blood supply to the frontal lobe of your brain is diminished which further clouds your capacity to be reasonable. It is effective as a survival response. It is not helpful in leading a rich life with fulfilling relationships.

Anger is helpful in certain circumstances or with particular people who may fire you up and you react appropriately, quickly, and move on. Even still it can ruin your day or a relationship? What if you decide to hold on to it for a while or indefinitely? One paper surveyed a group people suffering from chronic pain and over 80% had not forgiven the person or situation that caused his or her suffering. You will now be somewhat or very miserable for as long as you want to. Why would you want to do that?




Suppressing Emotions

It is risky to suppress anxiety, as it will fire up those circuits. Dr. Wegner in 1987 documented a trampoline effect. By not trying to think about something, not only will you think about it more you will think about it a lot more. It is even more problematic to suppress anger. Your body will still have an adrenaline/cortisol response and/or your behavior might be inappropriate to the situation. The key to success in human relations is being aware of the other’s needs or situation. When you are angry you lose that awareness. It is only about survival. BTW, adrenaline also decreases the blood supply to the reasoning centers of the brain.

After I emerged from my “enlightened state” I realized that I was in and out of the victim role all day long.

Amongst many facets of dealing with anger there are two concepts to consider. How long do you want to suffer and how severe do you want it to be? You will get angry and you will suffer? That simply is not going to end? But the answers to these two questions are completely under your control?

What Do You Do?

I have finally given up trying to not be angry. It takes too much energy. I have two parts of dealing with it. First, it is critical to be aware of your anger. There are many ways to disguise it, including rationalization. Since you are “right” then what you are experiencing really isn’t anger. My default disguise is just “feeling frustrated”.

I have also learned that it works both ways. I may not feel angry or frustrated but I am engaged in self-destructive behaviors. As I work backwards I can usually see both the anger and the trigger that set it off.

Secondly, one strategy I have adopted with some success is minimizing the destructive response while I am upset.

My List        

I have made a list of behaviors I do when I am upset. They include: a) stopping my own practice of expressive writing b) quit exercising c) eating poorly and at irregular hours d) feeling in a bad mood and making sure those around me are fully experiencing it with me, e) making excuses for not getting things done f) blaming others. There are many others that are subtler and some that are quite destructive. These actions are just a small aspect of my anger response. I was truly a victim of a chaotic family and unfortunately this pattern is a significant part of my core behavioral patterns.

If you feel that you are not angry or have this kind of behavior think again – or seriously ask those close to you what their observations are? Every human has this problem whether he or she recognizes it or not.

Cut Your Losses

Minimizing the destructive aspect of anger is your only choice. Some examples that I am working with include:

  • Eating a lesser amount of junk food.
  • Exercising even for five or ten minutes regardless of how I feel.
  • Re-engaging with the negative writing – even if it is just for a couple of sentences.
  • Not making anyone the target of my frustrations, especially my family.
  • Looking at what set me off and how the situation might look from his or viewpoint.
  • Recognizing that my anger response is often out of proportion to situation. Just being aware of it has helped me step back and not take action while I am in this fired up state of mind.

I am steadily making progress in cutting my losses.

I am not an expert in substance abuse and am not making any specific recommendations with regards to this problem. However, minimizing the amount of destruction is common sense if you have “failed.”



What about You?

What is your “anger package”? What self-destructive and other destructive behaviors do you engage in when you are feeling sorry for yourself? Is being angry and acting badly so much a part of your life that you don’t even feel anger is a problem? I frequently see patients who tell me they are not angry but it is clear that he or she has not taken one step to care for their health. Completely neglecting your physical health is one of the ultimate self-destructive anger-based behaviors that is akin to a slow suicide. There is no other explanation for it. You have to be aware you are in this mode before you can address it?

What can you do to minimize the damage when you in your victim mode? Can you contain yourself when you feel like yelling? Are you able to simply eat less when you feel like binging? What about having just a few cigarettes in the house instead of smoking for a week? Are you able to allow yourself to fail and get back on track quickly? Is there something you can do besides jumping back into your full drug habit?

Anxiety and anger will always be a part of your life? What can you do to limit the damage?