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What can I do to control my anger in a time of conflict?
Anger can feel all-consuming, especially in the midst of a heated argument or conflict. Our minds race, our thoughts buzz, and our hearts pound. For some, it takes over and the results are emotionally disastrous. Explosive behavior can cause a person to yell, scream, say hurtful things, and even react with physical aggression.
When anger erupts during a conflict with your spouse, a friend, or even a stranger, it can tarnish, damage, or end the relationship. Repeated instances can have lasting effects. It can affect your spouse’s self-esteem, erode trust, or even worse, change how they respond to you, making them quicker to retaliate or retreat.
How can you prevent your anger from taking over?
Many of us have an adverse reaction to our own anger. We can feel ashamed of being out of control with our actions and emotions. But the truth is, it is unavoidable. It is a basic human emotion that is physiologically sewn into our beings.
Anger can serve a purpose—it lets us know that something we value has been violated. So, the goal is not to avoid ever feeling angry, but to learn to control how negativity affects us and how we react to the emotion, especially as it builds and we risk losing control and possibly even hurting others.
The best way to control your emotions is before an incidence of anger arises. Here are some steps you can take now to help you respond to your emotions rather than react.
Understand: The first step to controlling your anger is understanding the mechanism that causes this powerful emotion. It is hardwired into our brains and bodies.
When a trigger arises, our brain sends an impulse to the amygdala, igniting our fight or flight response. In turn, the adrenal glands begin releasing adrenaline and testosterone. These hormones can trigger aggression. Luckily, our prefrontal cortex exists. This part of the brain helps us make decisions, keeps our hostility reigned in, and guides us towards rational actions.
Reflect: Take some time to reflect. Write down your thoughts as you remember past scenarios that led you to lose your temper.
What emotions you were feeling, and how you responded. Is there a pattern of triggers, like feeling challenged, blamed, or accused by your spouse? If so, watch for these triggers and be prepared for the emotional response that is likely to occur.
Accept responsibility: Following an incidence of uncontrolled anger, many people are prone to shift the blame onto the victim. Recognizing that you are responsible and able to control your response to anger is a crucial step to breaking the harmful patterns.
You may feel out of control during a conflict, but you must accept that you have the ability to control your actions.
How to respond to anger in the moment.
Of course, we recommend diffusing conflict before you reach your threshold. But should a conflict occur, and you feel your insides brewing, here are some additional steps you can take:
Verbalize your feelings: Recognize, acknowledge, and verbalize both to yourself and your spouse, that you are starting to feel angry. This allows your prefrontal cortex to gain more control of the decision-making process. Verbalizing how you feel also allows your spouse the opportunity to acknowledge your anger as well.
Step away: Stay present but choose to control your actions and step away from the conflict. As soon as you start to feel the physical manifestations of anger, like your heart rate going up and tension gripping your body, take a deep breath, and choose to leave. Tell your spouse “I need a moment to calm down.” or “I need some time and space to collect myself.”
Be mindful: Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how strong your anger is. Talk yourself into calming down, and if you can’t, turn to a positive outlet to burn off your built-up angst.
It can be anything from going for a walk, exercising, or listening to music or a podcast. Any activity that you enjoy and takes your mind off the incident can relieve the tension and calm your nervous system.
Do not re-enter the conversation until you are fully composed and calm: Wait to have a conversation with your counselor, if need be. Having someone help you work through your anger and what’s causing your anger can allow you to heal.
If your anger has become destructive or chronic and is hurting your relationships, contact our office to find out about our anger management program.
With the right tools and guidance over time, you can reduce the harmful effects of anger on your life and in your relationships.