How to Work with Anger

Q: What’s the best way to work with anger?

Rinpoche:  Some people have told me the best way to work with your anger is to break everything – break your cups and plates, and knock down your doors. Some people told me, “Stab your pillow” or something, I don’t know . . .  or scream, like a primal scream, a John Lennon kind of scream.

Q: (Laughing) But do you believe that’s true?

Rinpoche:  No.

Q: It doesn’t sound very peaceful.

Rinpoche:  Well it’s very popular, so we should do that, right? (laughs)

Getting Started – Three Points

What is the best way to work with anger? First we need to see, and we need to acknowledge, that we have anger issues. That’s very important at first, in my experience, from my training. In the beginning we need to know that and see that. Just acknowledging that we have anger issues is an important step in the beginning.

And then we need to see how anger makes our mind so disturbed and unhappy. It’s such a painful experience! And we also bring the same kind of unhappiness to the object of our anger, the other person or persons in the situation. So secondly, we need to see that, to see 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 it has led us to something quite painful. It’s not very 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 of how destructive your neurotic way of relating to your emotions has been. Remember the negative impact it’s 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’ve destroyed a relationship you’ve 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 in our mind where we say, “I am going to change. I am going to change my angry mind because I want to be happy.” Where 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 it in little steps. We don’t have to take some big leap –– we just take small steps, and slowly change.

What to Do When You Get Angry – Try This

Just be with that experience. Connect with the energy here and say, “Oh, right now I’m angry.” You don’t need more elaborations. Just, “I’m angry.”

How do 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 or whatnot. Just, “I’m angry.” Feel the anger.

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.

Note: 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.