Overcoming Anger to Be Your Best

We live in an age of rage: road rage, work rage, online rage and relationship rage. About 9 percent of U.S. adults (22 million people) have incidents of impulsive fury, according to recent combined research from Harvard, Columbia and Duke universities.

But good news lies in the brain’s neuroplasticity, the ability to create new neural pathways that help us cope with current hurts and past wounds. 

My new book, Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies That Work (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), draws on neuroscience and Eastern philosophy to offer an effective method of uniting mind and body in the satisfying achievement of “healthy anger” and self-control.

Sometimes aggressive, sometimes silent, sometimes denied—anger takes many forms. Whether explosive or suppressed, it damages more than human connections. It can destroy our health and our relationships.

Fortunately, we have the power to transform corrosive fury by strengthening the brain’s prefrontal cortex involved with high-level reasoning. Managing our anger improves all facets of our life, including the professional side.

Here are some strategies for achieving healthy anger through the practice of mindfulness and self-compassion:

• Become a better parent to yourself. When emotions dominate, we think like children. We see threats everywhere, jump to conclusions, and fall prey to unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. A wise parent listens to this “child logic” and responds not with tough love—“shape up or else!”—but with empathy and support. As good parents to ourselves, we admit to mistakes as part of being human, but recognize that they can help us learn and grow.

• Involve your body. Like lava, anger seethes below the surface before it erupts. Through exercises such as muscle relaxation, visualization or a quick “body check-in,” we can identify and defuse tension.

• Involve your mind. Take your “emotional pulse” several times a day. Pay particular attention to anxiety, depression and shame. Look to the past not to blame others, but to identify the source of your own hurt.

• Understand anger in all its complexity. There’s more to rage than a trigger and an outburst. By keeping an “anger log,” we can chart the interplay of our needs, desires, expectations (both realistic and unrealistic) and negative feelings.

• Practice pausing. Hackles rising? Form a new habit by hitting the pause button and considering more-effective responses. 

• Forgive others—and yourself. Forgiveness is a process, much like grief. It involves fully feeling pain and then letting it go. 

• Choose compassion. We can develop empathy for others by visualizing their childhood or considering their “back story.” Fury is a power play that brings short-term relief and rewards, but compassion and forgiveness carry long-term benefits to health and relationships. 

• Tailor communication to the situation. To deal with conflict, we must communicate assertively. At work, it’s more effective to address behaviors that affect productivity than to dwell on feelings. Choose a comfortable place. Make eye contact and speak in a slow voice. Listening, partially agreeing and admitting our contribution to a dispute can keep anger constructive.

By lengthening our fuse and cooling our heads, we can become better employees and better people.

Originally posted on the SHRM Book Blog.



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