3 Steps to Working with Anger

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
May 13, 2009

In his book Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations for Transforming Difficult Emotions, acclaimed author and Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

Recognize and embrace your anger when it manifests itself. Care for it with tenderness rather than suppressing it.

In an earlier article I wrote about the difference between destructive and constructive anger and how Thich Nhat Hanh writes about taking care of our anger. There are three things you can do to help take care of your anger.

* Acknowledgment – The first point of change happens with awareness. Often times we either are not aware of our anger because we are suppressing and repressing it or not aware of the warning signs before we just explode. Awareness of the warning signs that anger is present is important to begin to get in touch with. The most practical way to do this is by paying attention to our bodies. Think of a scenario that really makes your blood boil and let it stew in your mind for a bit. Then shift your attention to your body and notice what sensations are there. You may notice warmth, tightness in the chest, tension in certain muscles, teeth clenching, and pressure in the eyes. Get to know these physical feelings as they can be a great guide as to when anger is arising.

Along with knowing the warning signs, it’s important to acknowledge in our own minds when anger is here. We can even say; anger is here right now. This nonjudgmental acknowledgment is critical recognizing that there is discontent in us at the moment and it would be wise to do the next step.

* Care of Anger - It is well known that when we are in a state of anger or in a state of repressing our anger, we often times say or do things that we regret later. It’s not that the anger is “bad”, it’s just that often times having a dialogue when really angry isn’t as effective as cooling down and then coming back and expressing what you are feeling. How do we take care of our anger in the moment? With the recognition that the anger is there, you may choose to step away for a bit and notice this discomfort or pain inside. With awareness of it, you may even bring your attention to your breath and say “breathing in, I am aware of this anger, breathing out I calm my body.” You may also choose to take a walk, while attempting to be “tender” and embracing your anger as if it was a little child, a mini-you, who needed love inside. After some time the anger will soften and transform a bit revealing what may be underneath it. This will take some practice.

* Awareness of others - Often times when we get angry there is someone else involved. Our reaction often is one of retaliation to get back at the other person with little awareness that this actually increases our own suffering as the conflict escalates. We don’t want to hold back or pretend we aren’t angry, but we also don’t want to retaliate as this doesn’t help. In this step, it is important to really try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes to see why they possibly reacted the way they did. This can be very difficult or near impossible if it was a serious offense of abuse. So take this step with caution and at your own pace. You may also want to check out and earlier blog on refusing to forgive. Peace in yourself, can lead to peace in the relationship.

By no means is it easy to tame the tiger within, please have compassion for yourself during this process. If you have a longstanding issue of suppressing or all-too-quickly and dramatically expressing your anger, it may be good to seek support from a healthcare professional.

This information made possible by Psych Central