Like an unseen landmine, your anger can seem to explode out of nowhere. Someone says or does something and BAM, you lose it.
While it may seem like it overtakes you in an instant, anger often grows – from annoyance to frustration to anger to fury. As your anger becomes more intense, it essentially kidnaps your ability to think clearly. However, sometimes when you are aware of the signs of your anger, you can learn to pause, step back, and respond more constructively. (Learn about the signs of anger here)
You can do this by learning pay attention to 5 domains of self-awareness, STEAM: Sensations, Thoughts, Emotions, Actions, and Mentalizing (as I describe in this video).
At a time when you are calm, take some time to reflect back on a situation that angered you and ask yourself these questions:
Sensations: What do I sense in my body?
Bring your attention to your body. You may notice building tension, such as tightness in your back or shoulders. You might be holding your hands in fists or clenching your jaw.
Thoughts: What are my thoughts?
You want to pay attention to what you are thinking, such as a building urge to tell someone off; and how you are thinking. Are your thoughts coming increasingly faster and more powerful? Do you have a sense of them be irrational, but sweeping you up in their intensity? By observing your thoughts – especially at the earlier, less intense levels of anger – you can often slow down the process of it escalating.
Emotions: What am I feeling?
Watch yourself connect with and identify your emotions. In doing this, be sensitive to the intensity of your anger (and other emotions). If you start getting overwhelmed, you might want to shift your focus to taking some deep breaths, viewing the situation more from an outside perspective, or taking a break from attending to the situation.
Actions: What are my actions and reactions?
By reflecting on your reactions (or the actions you want to take), you can learn to assess them. When you can do this in the moment, you have a better chance of deciding how you want to respond, choosing actions that will result in the best outcome for you.
Mentalizing: Do I really “get” what’s going on in myself and the other people?
“Mentalizing” means understanding in your mind and connecting in your heart with what is motivating you or someone else. When you really “get” where you or someone else is coming from, you are more likely to empathize with yourself or that other person. While you might still be angry and want to take action, you are more likely to respond with greater empathy and compassion.
Overall, by gaining awareness in the areas of STEAM, you will learn to recognize your anger sooner, and to really “get” what is motivating it; as well as “get” what is motivating someone else’s actions. The result? Rather than exploding out of anger, you will respond more calmly and take constructive action – moving your relationships and your life in a more positive direction.