How to Let Go of Anger In The Heat Of The Moment

Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Is your happiness clouded by anger?
Is your happiness clouded by anger? | Source

This is one of two articles on anger. Its companion article, How to Reduce Anger, provides ways to reduce anger by dealing with the root causes. The suggestions in that article are best used when you feel relatively calm, and if followed will almost certainly lead to a reduction in the number of times you feel angry and in the severity of your anger.

However, it is also useful to have practices for letting go during times when you actively feel aroused to anger, so this article provides ways to let go of anger in the heat of the moment. First I will look at some ways we unintentionally add to our anger and then I will offer some ways that have helped me enormously to let go as anger arises.

Fear of anger is very common, but anger is not a monster

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Do you want to get rid of anger?

If you have arrived at this article from a search engine it is likely you want to feel angry less often and to be able to cope more easily when you feel do it. You may even believe that you need to “get rid of your anger.”

If you do, you are not alone. Every month there are over 6 million Google searches on anger, and of those searches over 60,000 are by people looking for anger management classes. Many thousands more people are looking for ways to get rid of anger, to relieve, reduce or let go of it and countless articles suggest ways to control or manage it. My experience is that trying to control anger can lead to self-judgment, which keeps the cycle of anger alive. Therefore this article and its companion are slightly different. Instead of getting rid of or controlling anger, I hope to show you that it is possible to feel anger without having to react to it and without feeling controlled by it. Anger is simply an emotion and like all other emotions, it passes. The main reason so many people have difficulties with anger is because we try to stop or resist the feeling.

Common ways we inadvertently increase feelings of anger.


We feel guilty for feeling anger.

Anger is probably the emotion most of us would prefer to avoid, ignore, deny and just generally not have. We judge ourselves for having it, and we judge others if they express it. If we feel guilty when we are angry our most common reaction is to try to justify it in the hope that will ease our feelings of guilt, and so we look for reasons why we are right and the other person wrong. This make us feel angrier – and then even guiltier when we eventually calm down. Sometimes we try so hard to avoid the guilt feelings that we keep on justifying our position – and so our anger simmers away until we have another outburst.

Seeing red can cloud your judgement

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We blame other people for our anger.

When we think that someone else has “made” us angry we feel powerless and at this person’s mercy. We definitely don’t feel in control of our emotions but controlled by them. This leaves us feeling very afraid of anger and so we try to suppress it. When we are aroused to anger it is harder to let go because so much feels at stake.

If you are used to thinking that other people make you angry, at first it can feel frightening to look at this differently. As you read this you may feel resistant to the idea. You may even think that if it’s not the other person’s fault it must be yours, so you want to go on blaming. That’s okay. It’s a normal reaction. You don’t need to change instantly. In fact the way our brains are constructed means it can take a while for new ideas to be fully accepted. Our thoughts create grooves or pathways in our brains, and these are strengthened the more often we think a particular thought or belief. So to change beliefs our brains need to form new pathways. That sometimes takes time. (But not always – the more open you are as you read this, the more easily change is likely to come. Years ago I wasn’t terribly open to new ideas so change took me a while!)

In any case, rather than trying to believe what I’ve written here, you will find it considerably more effective to pay attention to your own thoughts and reactions and see if what I’ve written seems true for you. I’d like to emphasize that there is no right or wrong here. If you try the techniques suggested and find yourself blowing your top the next day, that doesn’t mean you’ve got it wrong. It just means that like learning to play the piano, learning a new way of approaching anger sometimes takes time.

We fear anger in ourselves and in others.

Because of this we suppress it and this makes us fear it even more. We become afraid that we will have an outburst that is out of control. As with guilt, this makes us far more likely to have the explosion we fear – this time because we constantly suppress our feelings and try to ignore them. The reason for this is simple. When we suppress anger out of fear, what happens is we then repeatedly imagine scenes in which we explode at someone. This makes it far more likely to happen. Below I describe some more effective ways to deal with anger.

Ways to let go of anger as it arises.

Feel the anger as sensations in the body.

It may seem strange, but allowing yourself to notice how anger feels in your body makes it easier to simply allow it to pass through. If we don’t try to resist an emotion it can dissolve. We are so used to thinking we need to do something about the emotion that most of us instantly resist it, while simultaneously looking for a reason to justify our anger. Any “reason” you find in the heat of the moment is unlikely to be the real reason for your anger. This is explained in more detail in How to Reduce Anger, but briefly it is because anger is usually triggered by something happening now that reminds us of something from our past.

If you focus on the sensations in your body you are less focused on stoking your anger with thoughts about what the other person did wrong. Nevertheless, since anger feels uncomfortable and most of us are used to reacting to these uncomfortable feelings in our bodies, you will probably notice an urge to “do something” and you may notice recriminating thoughts popping up. Keep focusing instead on the feelings in your body and the urge and thoughts will ease, as will the feeling.

Although focusing on the body sensations is probably the technique that has helped me most, sometimes old patterns of reacting run deep and it takes a little more than that to fully let go. The following are other ways you can support yourself when struggling with anger.

Notice the thoughts that are going through your mind, and see them as a story you are telling yourself. As best you can, don’t react to them.

This might seem like the opposite of the above technique, but it’s not. You may also think that this is easier said than done, and you’d be right. It is challenging not to react when you feel aroused and overwhelmed, so if you do so be gentle on yourself. The aim is not to force change through punishment, but to gently create transformation through love. Punishment is likely to lead to more feelings of anger. (Our world shows that: people have judged and punished for centuries and yet psychologists say more people are angrier than ever before.)

So how do you notice thoughts and yet not react to them? First, this is not the same as suppressing anger. Neither is it, “letting the other person away with bad behavior.”

Below are the ways that help me to notice yet not react. The aim is to observe yourself, and to become detached from the feeling while remaining connected to yourself.

Which would you rather feel?

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Ways to not react to thoughts that fuel anger.

  • I keep in mind that the thoughts running through my mind are not the absolute truth.

(They might not even be true at all – there may be missing information that would change how you see things.)

  • I keep in mind that whatever angers me in the other person is something I am avoiding in myself.

This does not mean you should then turn your anger on yourself. Whether you attack yourself or someone else, the outcome is the same. In the heat of the moment it is not necessary to try to work out what it is the other person is doing that you dislike in yourself. When you feel calm again you might want to do look more deeply, but when you feel angry just being aware of this can help you ease off.

  • I ask myself, “What do I want out of this: to be right or to maintain a connection with my child/husband/whoever?” Other variations are, “Do I really want to yell at my kid or do I want her to learn something useful?” (I’ve discovered that if I yell my kids don’t hear what I say. Instead they hear, “Yell, yell,” and set about defending themselves.”)

Sometimes maintaining a connection isn’t important. You may never go back to the restaurant that gave you bad service again, or you might be glad to sever the relationship with a violent spouse. Even in those cases, asking yourself what outcome you want is still helpful. Perhaps you want a settlement with your violent spouse and venting could jeopardize that.

  • When I feel overwhelmed, I ask for a different perspective on the situation.

You don’t need to believe in God to do this: the response comes from the wiser part of you, from the part of you that feels awed beneath the stars or when looking at a newborn baby – the part that feels connected to life. This may sound like New Age hocus pocus, but it works very effectively. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked this simple question in the midst of feeling furious, and within seconds some new understanding comes to me.

Again, if the first few times you try this you still yell anyway, be gentle on yourself. Remember you are learning – and perhaps the new perspective you need is to forgive yourself for feeling anger!

  • I take time out.

If you do this, try not to just walk away – that can be confusing for the other person. Instead let them know you aren’t able to think straight and need a few moments alone. This applies with children as well as adults. At times I’ve told my children my thoughts are muddled and that I don’t want to be unkind to them so I need to sit down and write my thoughts out.

Use the time out to feel the sensations in your body, to ask the questions previously mentioned, or to explore more deeply what’s creating your anger. How to do this is explained in more detail in How to Reduce Anger, but one simple way is outlined below.

Look for the feeling that is underneath or behind the anger.

I first read of the idea that underneath any feeling of anger there is another emotion in When Anger Hurts by McKay, Rogers and McKay. The best way to understand this is to look honestly at times you have felt angry. Perhaps you felt angry because your partner went out for a drink with co-workers instead of coming straight home from the office? Underneath the anger, it’s quite likely you feel fear of your partner leaving you. Maybe you also feel ashamed for feeling so dependent. Your anger is a smokescreen covering those other emotions and the key to letting go of anger is to let yourself feel the hidden emotions.

One day a woman I’ll call Annabel felt anger and frustration towards her husband. He was seriously ill and behaving in a very demanding and aggressive way. Because he was ill she felt guilty about her anger. I asked if she could allow herself feel it. She did. I then asked if she could let it go. She feared that if she did she would start crying, and I said that was okay. She cried for a few moments and then felt relieved. Later she told me that she felt much calmer the rest of that day. She was amazed that she even calmly handled a situation that would normally have got her mad. That is what happens when we stop seeing anger as an enemy and allow it to come and to go.


Disclaimer:
I am not a medical professional and all views expressed in this article are my own. If you have serious issues with anger to the point of reacting violently it would be advisable to see a professional coach or counselor rather than trying to cope alone.

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Comments 42 comments

annerivendell profile image

annerivendell 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Great Hub. Voted up.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Very sensible advice Yvonne. These are sound psychological tips and even though you are not a medical professional you speak more sensibly and give more holistic advice than many I know. The suggestions you make are very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy on anger management and will be useful for many. Voted up/awesome!


Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

This is a really wonderful hub that happens to be on point for me today. I am learning that the key to dealing with emotions is to feel them, feel the sensations, just as you have described, although it is very tempting to try to push them down or do something to fix them. Voted up and sharing.


yoginijoy profile image

yoginijoy 4 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

Excellent hub on a topic that we all have experienced. My mantra for when I am angry with myself or another individual (or group) is to tell myself that we are all buddhas in the making. It's the journey or the process that counts, not the finish line. Voting up, beautiful and awesome!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Annierivendell, thanks for your comment!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Docmo,

Your endorsement of my suggestions means a lot to me, since you are in the medical profession. I have used a process that is similar to CBT for many years (The Work of Byron Katie) and find it a great boon to letting go of anger. I also included bits from a variety of other sources - anything I've tried that's worked!

Thanks very much for your comment and vote up.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Cyrstal, you are absolutely spot on. Even the most disturbing emotions dissolve if we allow ourselves to feel them rather than try to stop them. It's so tempting to react to try and get rid of feelings because we're so used to that, but far more satisfying in the long run to let them pass. How great that you've found that.

Thanks for your comment and for sharing.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

yoginjoy,

I so agree that it's the journey that counts - life is one long journey really and yet all we ever have is this moment. When I remember that, venting anger is just so not worth it.

Thanks for your kind comment and vote up.


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

I like these tips - you have given us some great ideas for learning more about our own emotions, and dealing with them effectively. Voted up and up!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Marcy. Glad you think this useful.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Yeah this is great advice. Anger is the trickiest emotion for me to deal with. Everyone does get mad...no doubt but I do struggle with my own reactions to it. The worst part is that first minute of it...it's what flies out of the brain before you have time to pop the filter in. For some darn reason, mine didn't come assembled! lol

Excellent hub and thank you!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Kelly, I think for many of us anger is the trickiest emotion. I can relate to what you say about what files out before you have time to pop the filter in. I used to have many of those moments and now it's nothing like as often and far, far less intense. For me the biggest single change has been in allowing myself to feel the anger - to feel it in the body. Allowing it means we don't need to justify it, and that lets it ease.

Thanks very much for your kind comment and for being you!


barbergirl28 profile image

barbergirl28 4 years ago from Hemet, Ca

Outstanding hub. I know for me, I anger very easily. Lately it seems to have gotten worse, or maybe I just notice it more. So I have been taking actions to really "see" why I am getting angry and if it is really a necessary moment and is there some way I can deal with the situation better. Great hub and great tips!


cyoung35 profile image

cyoung35 4 years ago from Corona, CA

Great hub, I've always held my anger in and I know it's not healthy. I always try to keep myself calm during a heated conversation. Voted up and interesting.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Barbergirl, I would guess that you are right and you have just noticed your anger more. If so that's a great start to letting go. (We can't let go if we don't even notice after all.) Everything you are doing sounds great too.

The book I linked to in this hub has a companion one, "When Anger Hurts Your Kids," and the authors point out that parenting is a demanding job and all parents get angry at times. I found it very helpful when my kids were as little as yours are. (I reviewed that book on my hub "The Best Parenting Books for Understanding Your Child.)

I'm glad you found this useful and thanks for your comment.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

cyoung35, staying calm in a heated conversation is not always easy, but is always worthwhile! Glad you found this interesting and thanks for the vote up!


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

While I am not presently dealing with anger issues, Melovy, there was time a few years back that I was. It took quite a while to let go of it. It is complex and the solutions take time and soul searching as you have shown in this article. thank you for sharing this with us.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

pstrauble, you have hit the nail on the head - it can sometimes take time to deal with the underlying issues. Thank you for your valuable comment.


CloudExplorer profile image

CloudExplorer 4 years ago from New York City

I use to have anger issues oh yes indeed, but I handled it over the years and mainly by seeking for things to outlet such issues, I found meditation to work wonders for me Melovy, and I also took up Tai Chi, I read up on the the art of Zen, and Toaism.

I done this during my 10 years in the US Navy, and came out like a champ who now can manage any angers emotions or what have you that comes to light.

I like how you analyze the psychology of the issue with anger as something we are responsible for mustering up, and even if its directed towards us from an outside source such as another person.

Awesome helpful hub here for those looking for anger management, Thumbs up and sharing!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi CloudExplorer,

Glad to hear you found practices that helped you with anger as being angry is not much fun. Meditation works for many people to reduce the overall level of anger they feel. I'm not sure if it made a huge difference for me, but following 2 practices that are similar to Zen definitely did. (I've also read quite a few books on Zen.) Some practices seem to suit one person and some another, and there's not one right way.

Thanks very much for your comment and for sharing. Much appreciated.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

A great hub interesting and useful and here's to so many more to come.

Eddy.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Eddy. Glad you found it useful!


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

Anger is such a powerful emotion and it's amazing how some people use it to self-destruct. But I agree that a lot of times anger is an emotion that usually hides other feelings such as hurt and guilt. I don't get angry that often but when I do, sometimes I do feel guilty. Thankfully, I have learned to let go and take a step back to put things back in perspective. This an awesome hub, voted up, useful, and interesting!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Anger is just so debilitating! I've been fortunate in that I can't stay angry with anyone, it's just such a waste of time and energy. You have so many helpful ideas and such sound advice here.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

Great advice, Yvonne. I like the tone and layout of this informative article too, and the great perspective on handling anger. Great write, which I share.


jenbeach21 profile image

jenbeach21 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

Great information. I tend to feel anger is a wasted emotion but it can't be hidden either. It needs to be expressed in a healthy way and then let go of!


Shawnte87 profile image

Shawnte87 4 years ago

Very useful information in this hub. I also agree to it's healthier to express your emotions, even anger. It's better to let it out than bottle it up and hold on to a grudge. :3


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Alecia, you are right, anger is a powerful emotion and so many of us are afraid of it - probably for that reason. Feeling guilty for anger is so common too, you are certainly not alone. You method of taking a step back is a very useful one.

Thanks for your comment.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

tilsontitan, not being able to stay angry does sound a great way to be, and I'm glad you found the ideas helpful. Thanks for your comment!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Michelle, glad you like the tone and perspective! And thanks for sharing it.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

jenbeach21, I think sometimes we need to go through the feelings to let the anger go - so I'd agree it can't be hidden away. It's when we let anger fester that it is most harmful, so letting go is certainly the way to go. Thanks for your comment.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Shawnte87, holding grudges certainly does not help us, but I'm not really talking about letting it out, so much as letting go. Sometimes (often) the reason we are angry has nothing to do with the person we are angry at - their action may simply be a trigger, so expressing it might not be appropriate. In that case, letting go allows us to see more clearly and to find the real source of our anger.


Louisa Rogers profile image

Louisa Rogers 4 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

Hi Melovy, thanks for a great overview of many excellent strategies. I once heard a woman say that I was very struck by: To feel angry is one thing; the stay angry is quite another. I don't have a problem with anger itself, in fact I think it can be quite useful; it's when it stays and festers and curdles into resentments and sarcasm and nastiness that it gets so toxic. I'm an NVC student as well, and that has been helpful. Voted up and useful.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Hi Louisa,

NVC is a helpful, yes. I've been on a couple of courses and it has helped with some sticky situations - probably more with coping when other people's anger was directed at me. I agree with you that when anger stays and festers that's when it's so toxic. Sometimes when people have a lot of resentment they anger easily and often or overreact - I once read that almost all anger is though triggered by something current is actually about something from the past, and I do find that can be the case. Something reminds us of something past hurt and so we jump to conclusions and feel anger. So the more we start to see things differently (as in NVC) the less we get triggered - at least that's been my experience.

Thanks very much for your comment and for the vote up.


watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago

Recently I discovered something about anger that seems to have totally defused it for me. It may not be true for others, but I noticed that when I get angry, it's usually because someone has crossed a boundary (or I've crossed one). Often it's a boundary I didn't know I had, so the anger has become a wakeup call for me - a kind of friend. Knowing that makes it so easy to deal with. I look to see what the boundary was and share it with them (or tell myself), then find a solution to it. As a result, I hardly get angry anymore.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK Author

Watergeek, seeing anger as a wake-up call to show you boundaries you didn't even know you had - how great is that! It totally makes sense that seeing anger as a friend would reduce the amount you feel it because then the internal fight is over. I do try to look at it that way, but still have my triggers around certain issues - and usually I find that it is because I am trying to avoid some aspect of myself, so like you say it's a wake-up call.

Thanks for such a great and useful comment!


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Very interesting analysis and suggestions Melovy. Coping with anger triggers is a great way to reduce such outbursts. Letting it go and not subduing it is another.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 3 years ago from UK Author

Rajan Jolly, thanks for your comment. Glad you found this interesting.


expertscolumn profile image

expertscolumn 3 years ago from New York

I take a deep breath and walk away


Melovy profile image

Melovy 3 years ago from UK Author

Good suggestion, expertscolumn.


CarNoobz profile image

CarNoobz 3 years ago from USA

The blame game never solves anything. Great hub. Voted up


Melovy profile image

Melovy 3 years ago from UK Author

CarNoobz, you're right about that! Thanks for your comment.

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