How to Work with Anger

In my experience and from my training, there are three important steps to working with anger.

First, we need to see and then admit that we have anger issues. Just acknowledging that we have trouble with anger is our first priority in the beginning.

Second, we need to see how anger makes our mind so disturbed and unhappy. It’s such a painful experience! And we also bring that same kind of unhappiness to the object of our anger, the other person or persons in the situation. So secondly, we need to see clearly how anger actually makes us and everyone else so unhappy, how it gives us so much pain.

And the third thing we need to do is to see the result of our anger. Where does an angry mind, and the actions of anger, lead us to all the time? We have many experiences of anger. Most of the time this anger has led us to quite a painful state. It is definitely not pleasant, and the result is often destructive.

Getting Motivated to Work with Anger

It’s easy to think, “I’m going to let go of these negative emotions. I really mean it!” But it’s hard to do it. You have to be determined or it won’t happen. So it helps to remind yourself how destructive it has been to engage in this neurotic way of relating to your emotions. Remember the negative impact it has had on your life and how it has hurt others, too.

What are the dangers of being engulfed by anger? Anger is like fire. It burns up your good qualities – destroys them in an instant. When you’re hot-headed, boiling mad, inflamed, you risk turning into someone you don’t even recognize. You lose your common sense and might do or say something you would never have imagined saying or doing. A bitter comment, a shouting match, or a slap, and you can destroy a relationship you have nurtured with patience and diligence for years.

If that weren’t enough, anger also spoils your appearance. No matter how well dressed and presentable you think you are, the moment you become aggressive, no one sees your beauty. Your fine clothes, cool gear, and stylish makeup? Suddenly none of it makes a difference. You lose not just your impressive physical appearance, but the beauty of your mind and good heart. Of all the emotions, anger is the most destructive.

An angry mind state can take us over for mere moments, or it can become a mark of our personal style, like the clothes we wear or the car we drive. And even though one emotion by itself may not be purely negative, it can trigger other emotions, causing a chain reaction.

Based on this knowledge we’ve gained from our experiences, we must come to a conclusion where we say, “I am going to change. I am going to change my angry mind because I want to be happy.” With strength and conviction you say to yourself, “I am not going to do the same thing I always do with my anger. I’m going to change.” That’s very important, to say, “I’m going to change. I am going to bring happiness to my mind and to the minds of other people.” Then we try to change our habitual patterns in little steps. We don’t have to take some big leap––we just keep taking small steps, one after the other, and we slowly change. 

Mindful Anger: An Exercise

Once we have decided to work with our anger a little at a time, we can try this method. When we begin to feel angry, then take a mindful pause to connect with ourselves, it creates a space in which we can appreciate the energy of the anger itself.

1. When you get angry, just be with that experience. Connect with the energy and say, “Oh, right now I’m angry.” You don’t need to elaborate. Just, “I’m angry.”

2. Notice how you feel when you do that/ There’s no storyline, there’s no object that you need to elaborate on, there’s no justification needed, no rationalization to make it better. Just, “I’m angry.” Feel the anger.

3. Appreciate the energy itself. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Anger is beautiful. It’s so bright and so vivid. You can feel it in your body, you can feel it in your mind. It’s a beautiful experience.

Doing this exercise gives you a way to direct your mind and attention so that your anger doesn’t spin out of control. When you have practiced this method for a while, you will notice it becomes easier and more automatic for you.

 

This post combines explanations for working with anger that were given by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche in public teachings and interviews, and in his book, Emotional Rescue: How to Work with Your Emotions to Transform Hurt & Confusion Into Energy That Empowers You.