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There’s a gap between the stimulus that causes anger and our response

Gerry Chidiac

Early-20th-century Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenny said, “He who angers you conquers you.”

Anger is one of the most powerful human emotions, and it must be treated with tremendous care. It can be destructive, but it can also help us gain powerful insights.

Though reasons for anger vary significantly from situation to situation and from one individual to another, it often rises within us when we perceive threats to ourselves or those we care about. Sometimes, the threats are real, and sometimes, they’re not.

Other times, those who seek to control us will consciously or unconsciously provoke anger to gain the upper hand. This is what Kenny warned about.

Anger, however, is not necessarily bad. There’s a gap between the stimulus that causes anger and our response. We don’t need to respond immediately. We can stand back, assess the situation, and then choose our response.

We can also learn to listen to our anger. Often, it warns us about some sort of danger. The danger may be something within ourselves that needs to change. Perhaps we’re too competitive, having to win at any cost. We need to ask ourselves if this belief is serving us and if we need to work on ourselves to gain more equilibrium. Perhaps we’re holding on to erroneous beliefs that we need to challenge, such as our prejudices.

At other times, something triggers our anger. Perhaps we’re hungry or overwhelmed in a stressful environment. We may need to take a break, go for a walk, or have something to eat. It’s also possible that we simply need to get more rest.

anger management

Photo by Andre Hunter

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Anger can also be warning us that something isn’t right in our interactions with others. It’s helpful to ask ourselves, “I wonder why that person did that?” Perhaps they’re just having a bad day. Maybe they’re unaware of what they’re doing. Sometimes, however, they are indeed trying to hurt us, and the best thing may be to walk away, if even temporarily.

How do you develop these anger management skills? Counsellors can provide us with the support and guidance we need to understand ourselves and our reactions.

There are also many tools we can use, with or without the support of a professional. I’ve found two very helpful.

The first is journaling. By writing things down for our eyes only, we can reflect on what happened and the possible causes. We may start out very angry at another person but, as we ask ourselves questions and scrawl our answers, the situation becomes clearer. Our thoughts also come into focus.

In journaling, there’s no reason to resist our anger. And if we allow it to have its moment, we realize that it’s actually trying to teach us a valuable lesson.

The other tool is meditation. Studies consistently show that regular meditation allows us to respond with mindfulness and reduces our tendency to react in a way that we will later regret.

We lose credibility and respect when we display unbridled anger. And we hand our power over to others.

However, when we channel our anger with awareness, we realize the important lessons it’s trying to teach us. We can more easily tap into our amazing potential and use our innate goodness to make the world a better place.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages and genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He received an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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