Anger Management Awareness Techniques--Part II
In the office, I frequently use the metaphor of writing
on water. Imaging your mind is a pool of water, and I send
you a message. You take your finger and write the message on
the water. The water records the message, then flattens out.
The message registers but doesn’t stick. You had the full
impression of my message without becoming attached.
When I say the message didn’t “stick,” I did not mean you
failed to remember it. In mindfulness, there is full
appreciation of experience. The colors in the world are just
as bright and the sensations—tastes, sounds, thrills, and ups and
downs—all are just as intense. The difference is that you, the
perceiver, are more fluid in the midst of these experiences, not
getting stuck in the rightness or wrongness of each. This
experience is a psychological stance, which if applied over time,
can lead to a serene state. But you don’t have to spend years
meditating to achieve results.
Why be mindful and how does this impact anger management?
The short answer is that in a mindful mental state, feelings are
processed differently. With a non-attached perspective,
expectations are watched with dispassion and anger, if it arises,
is instantly processed with controls, not abreactive aggression.
How does this work? The act of being aware of your internal
process in this unique way distances you from your immediate
reactions without dulling the intensity of the experience. Think
of it as putting a clutch between your brain and your mouth. Your
brain fully appreciates something but your mouth does not comment.
The urge to blurt out something is there, but the impulse is
detoured through another mental loop--extra awareness that you
consciously put into place. This delay allows you enough time to
fully experience anger without hastily acting out. Your feeling is
experienced but you are a little distracted, by process, so while you
experienced anger, the impulse to act was moved around first. If you
choose to subsequently say or do something in an angry fashion, you
still can, but by now, the forebrain has had a chance to process the
event and your reactions so your response to frustration will be more
refined (civilized, verbal vs. physical, etc.).
This conscious process actually works very well to neutralize our
genetic propensity to react before we think. There is a very well
known loop that exists in our brains that, literally, jump or bypass
our forebrains, when it comes to anger. Our forebrains will catch up,
but usually after we have reacted emotionally. Mindfulness derails
much of this genetic loop; giving the forebrain a chance to catch up
with us, hence maintain controls. In anger management, as with
managing all feelings and thoughts, the more awareness you have in the
moment, the more even will by your response. By that I mean you will
have time to consider the alternatives, including responding with
greater forethought, responding differently from your usual pattern or
not overtly responding at all. If you are a Type I anger person, this
frees you up to consider lots of alternatives compared to what you might
usually do when angry. If you are a Type II anger person, this allows
you to actually watch your thoughts, get in touch with them, and
experience anger as a feeling with more full awareness-—something you
probably trained out of yourself long ago.
To use mindfulness in everyday life, try the “discern and
disengage” cognitive approach on the twelve managing anger strategies
described in a previous article. You will find that most of them flow
much more easily in your awareness with mindful “cognitions” on board.
You will also find that any feeling, not just anger, smoothly moves
through your experience rather than causes emotional upheaval. For
you Type I folks, this will install many, many subtle, effective and
pleasurable controls in your way of dealing with life. For you Type
II folks, these techniques will quietly put you in touch with what you
have suppressed, repressed, or at the very least “detoured” through other,
less adaptive pathways; namely, the full range of your feelings. The
goal of this approach is greater mental health, enjoyment of life and
the conscious enrichment of experience. It takes a little practice,
but it works.