Anger may unavoidable, but how can I make it less devastating? How can I cope with my anger? How can I cope with your anger? How can I cope with your anger when you direct it at me? Coping with anger is simple…but not necessarily easy. Like most things, it takes trust, some practice, and some learning. And, the better you get at coping with your anger, the more space you create to give and receive love.
The first thing to understand is that our feelings are rarely just one emotion or another. Rather, feelings cluster and combine. We usually speak of feeling angry when we are also feeling frightened and ashamed and hurt. When I became a certified Parent Effectiveness Trainer (PET) through the Gordon Training Institute, I was taught a wonderful metaphor for our feelings – The Feelings Iceberg. Remember that only 10% of an iceberg shows above the oceans surface, 90% lies submerged and hiding. Just so with our anger. While anger may show on the surface, beneath the surface can be sadness, pain, fear, shame, hurt, and more.
Physiologically, the part of our brain that is responsible for feeling, the brain stem, only experiences pleasure or pain. That’s it, just pleasure or pain. It doesn’t make any further distinctions. Then the thinking part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, analyzes, distorts, deletes, generalizes, compares, judges, categorizes the feeling into anger or fear or whatever. Then language is applied to the thought, further defining and categorizing. When you tell someone that you am angry you may never realize all the other ways you are feeling pain. And, I’m sure you’ve noticed, that when you are done yelling or screaming or righteously lecturing, you don’t feel better, your relationship isn’t better, nothing seems better. That’s when most people decide that expressing anger doesnt work. In actuality, you’ve exposed 10% of the iceberg and ignored the other 90%, crashing into the submerged part and, perhaps, tearing a big hole in your relationship.
A key strategy for coping with anger, your’s or anyone else’s, is to look at the entire iceberg, to find out what is under the anger. The nature of feelings is that, once acknowledged they transform. Saying sentences that begin “I’m frightened that…”, “I’m hurt that…”, “I’m sad that…”, “I’m ashamed that…”, help you to begin to understand more of what is sourcing your pain and to free your feelings to change. When someone is blasting you with their anger, ask them to also tell you about their other feelings. Acknowledging the whole iceberg is what melts it.