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Lots of experts advise us that it is much better to express anger rather than bottle it up.
They point out that suppressing anger can adversely affect our physical health and, in research, has frequently linked with heart disease.
Yet other experts advise that expressing anger only makes things worse because it exacerbates the difficult situation and can have have a destructive impact on your relationships, your career, and even your personal liberty.
This conflicting advice does not seem to offer us much choice. Expressing anger is easier on the heart but you could end up lonely or in prison. Suppress anger and people will like you but you may damage your health.
Fortunately these are not our only choices. There is a third option - not to get angry in the first place. And that’s what this article is about.
Quite simply the best way of dealing with the anger habit is to prevent it occurring in the first place.
This means getting to know the triggers that for you provoke angry feelings and systematically defusing each of these triggers so they no longer affect you.
The Pegasus NLP 5-Step System for dealing with your anger-causing triggers is a way of changing how to react to events which press your anger hot buttons. Incidentally, if you have trained in NLP you will know about quicker methods, such as the Anchor-defusing techniques.
That said the following will 5-Step System work for many anger-triggers if you use them systematically
Fact 1: You are not omnipotent! You cannot change the world. You cannot win every argument - every I'm-right-you're-wrong battle. And you cannot change other people. What’s more you don’t have a right to - they have a right to their own views and behaviours.
Fact 2: Just like you, other people are fallible and human. They are just as likely as you to say or do inappropriate and thoughtless things on occasions. Accept this and don't nourish a grievance when they do get it wrong. Or, at least, wait until you achieve perfection in how you live your life before requiring them to also do so...
Fact 3: Getting angry hurts you much more than it hurts others - it affects your peace of mind, your relationships and even your physical health.
Fact 4: No-one can make you angry - without your cooperation. They cannot get into your brain and change how your brain cells function. Your thoughts can certainly do this - but no-one else can. It may ‘feel’ as if they’re making you angry, at first, but this plan will help you change your mind - and your attitude to life.
First identify your anger triggers. A ‘trigger’ is your brain treats as a signal that it’s time to run your ‘time-to-get-angry’ programme. Once a trigger has been activated the angry feelings begin automatically and inevitably.
Developing skill at recognising triggers is important, and it is liberating, because it moves you from being on auto pilot to being more on ‘manual control’ of your moods.
So for the next few weeks, as you go through your day, recognise and build a list of your personal anger-triggers. Write these down. Do it on a card or scrap of paper that you keep with you throughout the day.
Identify your Red Scale. When you've got a sizeable list go through it and give each trigger a 1-10 intensity score. For example give 10 to a trigger that evokes uncontrollable fury and 1 to something which evokes quite mild irritation.
Draw a line down the centre of a sheet of paper. On the left side write your 'Red Scale' triggers beginning with the highest scorers. On the opposite side, and for each trigger, write all the meanings (the mind-reading interpretations) that you tend to attach to each event.
E.g.: Lets' say one of your triggers is being overtaken while driving. On the right-hand side you might write ‘I get angry because they think they're better than me' and/or ‘they're trying to look down on me because I have an old car' or ‘they’re dismissing me because I'm younger/older than they', and so on - for each trigger.
Once the triggers are on paper some of these meanings will appear silly to you. Great! You are on your way to feeling in control of your moods. But most of them will still be active triggers - an anger-response is an emotional and not a rational reaction.
Begin by selecting a moderate trigger - say one that scores four or five on your Red Scale. Make this your 'Trigger of the Week'. Write it on a scrap of paper or a 3 x 5 index card so you have a reminder with you at all times.
Beneath it write the significances (from your right-hand column) for this anger-provoking trigger. Now list the ‘costs’ of being a victim to this trigger.
For example, consider what it costs you when you get angry because your children didn't clean their rooms? Your peace of mind is undermined for hours after the argument. They sulk for hours - days if they are teenagers. Perhaps you and your spouse argue over the importance of it at all. And so the list goes on.
Next, on the other side of your card list some ‘Better Ways’ of reacting other than becoming angry. What is a better way of getting the kids to to their meals on time - than shouting at them?
What is a better way of getting respect from colleagues, friends or strangers other than bossing them around. (In some cases there may be no way of doing this so accept that.)
When you want your life-partner to understand you are there better ways than banging doors or shouting at them? Remind yourself, too, that you can't always get what you want - so accept that and get on with your life.
Every time your Trigger of the Week gets activated think to yourself, in the moment, 'here we go again - my trigger has been activated and I'm reacting like a puppet whose strings are being pulled - and this is no longer acceptable to me'.
Calm yourself by breathing gently for a few moments. Now reflect on the implications of being a helpless victim to that trigger. Don't get angry with yourself, though, there's no point in that - it's just wired-in button.
Simply decide you've had enough of being a victim to this trigger and that you are now learning to respond more appropriately. Use your Better Ways list to imagine some ways in which you could have responded.
Taking up to a week per trigger, work your way through all the anger-provoking triggers on your list. Leave the highest scoring ones till last when you will have built up skill and confidence in neutralising triggers.
Yes, this 5-Step System will require a few minutes per day. But when you consider how long have you been at the mercy of your anger moods - and when you consider the consequences of not taking this action - you may well decide that this is a good investment of your time and attention.
Secondary gain is a psychological term for the pay-off you get from having a problem. So what do you get from becoming angry? Does it give you a feeling of power, as for example when you notice that it intimidates others? Does it give you a feeling of being hard-done-by? Is anger the only way you currently have of protecting yourself from others who might otherwise control or overwhelm you?
This secondary gain will undermine your anger-resolving process unless you get it really clear in your mind that you no longer want such a pay-off. Or that you now have better ways of attaining it.
Bear in mind that not all anger is unhealthy. Sometimes anger is quite appropriate - it can be our final defence against allowing other people to manipulate or dominate us. And it can motivate us to take action against injustice.
Anger is healthy when it is not on-going but is usefully used to motivate us to take appropriate action