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Responding to Anger: "To Thine Own Self Be True"

Image of the sea beyond a rocky out crop. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Anger, Katherine Broadway

“This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Hamlet, Act I, Scene iii lines 78-81

The beauty of Shakespeare's words are how timeless they can be. These pearls of wisdom were written in 1603, and still apply in so many ways more than four centuries later. Today, we will examine how this concept can help you learn to deal with anger.

Self-knowledge and self-awareness are essential to be able to constructively deal with anger. Like an iceberg, the origins and causes of our anger can be more complicated and hidden than we are aware. You need to know yourself so that you can be true to yourself.

When you are able to be true to yourself, then you will able to be honest and direct with others. Your feelings become your ally to help you navigate through your life.

In the last several articles, I have talked about different aspects of anger and how important it is to aware of what you feel and how you think about your anger. You do not have to act on anger simply because you feel it. Being angry is a way to evaluate your character and values.

Stella grew up in a family where she saw every conflict handled through angry fights, yelling, violence or abandonment. She became terrified of conflict and the anger she would feel. She believed that all anger would end with someone physically acting out the anger or being abandoned. Stella would “make the anger go away” as quickly as possible. What she did not realize was there was much more going on inside of her.

How You Respond to Anger Begins Inside of You

Stella could have helped herself feel safer by exploring what she had experienced and feeling safer with herself. Once those fears were addressed, she could then feel safer with others.

Do you see yourself in this example? Do you know where your reaction to anger comes from? Here are a few ways to figure it out.

Six Suggestions to Help Yourself Understand and Deal With Your Anger

1. Learn the power of "the pause":

A small pause carries a large impact. Many times it helps a situation cool down and resolve itself. Train yourself to pause before you respond to yourself or others. Begin with one-second, then two-seconds. Continue to build your ability to pause until you are comfortable with waiting to respond. This will not be easy or quick.

You can practice pausing while talking with friends about subjects which you are comfortable. You could even tell your friends that you are working on learning to pause.

2. Ask yourself what else is going on inside of you:

When you learn to pause, you will have the time to ask yourself this question. It helps you shift your focus away from the heated moment and connect with yourself. Anger is the emotion that most people will identify immediately. You may find that there are other emotions underneath the anger. This will help you make clearer choices in response to the situation.

If you are in a situation where you feel you are not fully in charge of yourself, take action to get some distance and time to away from the situation. Let those involved know you will return later.

If you cannot leave all together, excuse yourself to the restroom. It is a great place to calm down. Splash cold water on your face, walk in circles, and take the long way to the restroom so that you can expend some of your excess energy through movement. If you are being mistreated, disrespected or are in danger, remove yourself until everyone has had time to calm the anger to a manageable level. When you return to the person or persons, you may need to take a third party with you to give you support or to mediate.

4. Anger may be fueled by your past experiences:

Things are not always what they seem to be on the surface or in the moment. Everyone carries with them unfinished memories from their past. These experiences live in our memory and can be activated in the present. They add old emotions and old ways of seeing the world to the current event. It can be the opposite of seeing the world through “rose-colored glasses.”

This is when “the pause” helps. Give yourself time to examine your intense emotions so that you can learn and grow.

5. Learn to tolerate strong feelings:

There is a lot of conversation about feelings being normal, important and useful, but little is said about learning to bear strong feelings. Our society teaches us from the time that we are young that intense feelings need to be minimized and dissipated.

Life is filled with intense experiences that create strong feelings. Learning that these are a part of life and need to be felt, processed and understood is an important skill. It will reduce the fear of feelings.


6. Control:

Trying to control life is like throwing gas on flames. No matter how safe it feels to try to maintain control, it is impossible and the effort will fuel your anger. Your routines and ways of living work for you, but when you try to persuade others to do things your way, it usually does not work and will only increase your anxiety and anger. Being open and receptive to situations gives the space to see interactions and the meaning of events in a new light.

When you try to make life constantly flow smoothly, you get stuck in a cycle of suffering. Life is full of times when there are difficulties, conflict, misunderstands, disappointment and loss; you feel that if you work a littler harder, you can avoid these painful experiences. It is a myth that you can be happy all the time, but you can learn to tolerate your feelings, not judge yourself and to soothe yourself at those times. That will lead to a satisfying life.

Are you having trouble managing how your responses to anger? I have helped many people feel better about how they feel and to manage anger in a safe way. Call me at: (919)881-2001.

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