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Anger: The Temptation and Its Antidote
We are easily tempted into anger. Often, the underlying factor bringing up anger is a sense of lack of control – a perceived threat to getting what we want. This temptation for control is rooted in our ego and in our attachment with specific outcomes.
Further, anger originates from the tempting belief that the real source of our unhappiness or provocation is entirely external to us and is hence targeted at an external object or person. It’s always someone else's inappropriate behaviour that's the cause of our anger. Atleast that's how we rationalise our outbursts anyway!
Anger also resides in the conviction that a burst of aggressive energy aimed at the other person would improve the situation. The child would change his/ her ways, the subordinate would start behaving in a desirable manner and the spouse would listen to us more often.
Its toxic impact
Anger is an emotional illness and has some serious consequences for us. While small and occasional releases of cortisol can provide the body a quick burst of energy during emergencies, uncontrolled and frequent anger has a host of harmful effecrts on our personal and social well-being.
The physical effects of anger include increased levels of heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Anger also activates the release of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which in turn impair the ability of the brain to function optimally. Anger creates blood sugar imbalance and suppresses the body’s immune system.
When angry, we are unable to make judicious choices – in such a state, sometimes, we are indeed out of our mind! Further, after a bout of anger, we still carry residual feelings of frustration – both for the situation and ourselves. Obviously, anger weakens our ability to have a meaningful conversation and leads to deteriorating relationships.
Shifting the attention
We need to realize that getting angry does not solve the situation in any way – it only exacerbates it. Instead, we need to shift the focus of our attention from the external triggers to within ourselves; from the person supposedly creating the disturbance to the reactions we are experiencing inside us.
As the Buddhist teachings highlight, if your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. When we are angry, we need to see how we can douse the fire inside us rather than sweat about ways to set right the other person.
Working with your anger has to begin with recognizing that you have anger issues in the first place. You can then start to explore ways that would help you with managing anger (in the short-term) and eliminating it from your system (in the long-term).
People find many ways effective in coping with their anger. These include, taking a few deep breaths and counting till ten before responding, walking away from the situation and dealing with it after you are calmer or engaging in something else that you enjoy (playing a sport, reading, going for a walk or listening to music).
Further, asking yourself about the long-term importance of the issue (will this issue matter over time?), reminding yourself about the ill-effects of anger or plainly having the resolve to not give in to the temptation even when burning inside, are other ways to manager anger.
While the first step to dealing with anger is to learn to manage it, we make a meaningful shift only when we learn to neutralize our instinct to get angry altogether. This requires committing to the deeper process of self-realization.
We need to recognize that irrespective of whatever happens to us, it’s how we react that makes the real difference; that we do have a choice in every moment; that anger does not solve anything and that there’s always an alternate option, driven by compassion, dialogue and persuasion, that may be more effective. Only when we learn to be present in the moment, can we become aware of such choices.
Sustained reflection helps us realize that the real source of our disturbance is not external to us; instead, it’s our inability to accept the reality as it presents itself. Guided by our ego and our conditioned beliefs, the desire to control our outcomes is natural. However, only when we begin to accept the reality as is (not as we would like it to be), do we get initiated on the path of inner peace.
Letting go of our attachment to every little outcome is the antidote to anger. Letting go of – the need to seek perfection in our lives, the need to win every argument with our colleagues, the need to nurture a flawless child and the need to constantly boost or protect our ego.
As we advance on this path, rather than feel hurt by another person, we begin to appreciate how their hurtful comments or actions are not directed at us but are an outcome of their own inner wounds; as a result, we in fact develop compassion for them. This furthers the circumstances for the vicious cycle of blame and anger to subside.
Discipline of self-reflection
Consider reflecting on the common situations that lead to your anger and examine what beliefs are you working with there. What might be possible alternate beliefs in this situation? What do you need to accept? What do you need to let go?
Creating regular reflection time and discipline of meditation accelerate this journey of self-realization. Mindfulness practices, like watching your breath or even watching your emotions, without judging them or getting attached to them, dilute the power of our emotional temptations.
Developing a mechanism to track your progress, perhaps by writing a diary about the situations where you got angry and where you chose an alternate path, could further support the transformation.
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