The Cost of Anger: Understanding The Patience Trainers and How to Establish a Wise Relationship with Anger

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Gonzalo Brito holds a PHD in Transpersonal Psychology from The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University. This article has been re-blogged from his website blog

Anger is one of the most difficult emotions experienced by humans, both personally and relationally. Precisely because it is difficult to deal with, anger tends to have a bad reputation and we tend to relate to it from a dichotomy. For some (among them many people interested in meditation) the strategy is often to repress it for fear of consequences in order to sustain a peaceful, spiritual or “mindful” identity. For others (for example, those who believe that always at all costs have to be “authentic and spontaneous”) the strategy is to ventilate, regardless of the consequences.

In this post I share a brief excerpt from the book Mindfulness and Emotional Equilibrium  (Chapter 8, Working with Anger). In this  text we explore anger as an emotion that has full meaning from an evolutionary perspective and with which we can relate more Constructive than from the repression or the blind expression.

What is anger?

Anger is a universal emotion whose main adaptive function is to remove obstacles that prevent us from achieving objectives that are relevant to us. When we feel anger is because our primitive brain tries to tell us that something must be changed (for example, that we must eliminate something that is blocking us). We share this emotion with other mammals, even with reptiles.

A human baby is already perfectly equipped to get angry. You can check if you hold a child’s arms behind her back, preventing him from gripping a toy that has front and has drawn attention: rather he be angry, frown, will tighten the muscles, try to move towards the toy and perhaps even He will scream.

When the baby is older, you can have a fairly similar reaction if someone closes the passage on the highway, especially if you are late for an important meeting. Anger also appears when you are treated unfairly you or with whom you feel connected, or when something or someone stops you from getting what you intend or suit your needs.

pointing-1991215_1920Although it is perfectly possible to get angry with yourself, the energy of anger is usually directed outward and is usually accompanied by an accusation. This tendency to accuse, criticize, punish and retaliate makes anger an especially difficult emotion to handle and a great source of interpersonal suffering.

When we feel angry at someone, our sense of “I” and “other” tends to solidify in the mind. In this state, we usually exaggerate everything negative of the other person and we become blind to their positive qualities, which, in turn, fuels aversion. In our angry mind, the complexity and subtlety of the other is reduced to a monolithic caricature called “the enemy.”

The Patience Trainer

It is usually safer to be angry with someone close to you than with a stranger.”

silhouette-2480321_1280Many times we wonder why the people closest to us are the most angry. In the first place, those who know us better also know what is most painful. Someone said, “Your family knows how to squeeze your buttons; They installed them. ” But a deeper reason is that it is usually safer to be angry with someone close to you than with a stranger.

The aggressiveness that your boss arouses sometimes directs you to your partner … because it is less likely (but not impossible) that your partner will fire you. In fact, we can be frustrated with ourselves and direct that anger out, and it is quite incredible that we can be angry even with inanimate objects: the computer, the door, the wall, the shoe … This reveals something interesting: although we source it out, actually anger comes from within. The others simply pretend to be the real enemy, when in reality they are our “patience trainers,” offering us opportunities to explore and domesticate the habit of anger. If everyone were kind and considerate, how could we train patience?

Beyond the repression and the blind expression

“You can not really eliminate pain through aggression.”

Anger is complicated because it involves a cost both to express it and to suppress it. Repressing it does not really solve anything. It only postpones the need to deal with it, while it is simmering and quietly underneath the surface, wreaking havoc on the body. But if we manifest it, it almost invariably injures others or provokes reprisals.

Another custom is to unconsciously “feed” mental states of anger through our stories of blame and victimization, whereby the habit of anger takes on even more force. At present, there are few therapists who advise their patients to freely express their anger with real or symbolic ones (punching a pillow, screaming in an empty room, etc.) partly because neuroscience has shown that every time we express anger, we train and reinforce it in our brains. The idea that if you let go of the anger you will stay well and calm is simply false: the satisfaction that this discharge can produce will be but a temporary relief, and the anger will appear again.

Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan teacher of meditation, said of this cycle: “You can not really eliminate pain through aggression. The more you kill, the more you strengthen the killer, who will create new reasons for murder. Aggression grows until there is no space left; All space has solidified “(Trungpa 1999, 73). And anger will appear again.

The Cost of Anger

The expression of anger can have a seductive quality and cause an adrenaline rush; So it can become a habit, even an addiction.

Most people know that when we express aggression we get some satisfaction or relief. The expression of anger can have a seductive quality and cause an adrenaline rush; So it can become a habit, even an addiction. Anger is like a fuel. When we get angry, we feel stronger and bigger – think of the furious cat, with his column arched and his hair bristling, pretending he is bigger than he really is to scare the one who really scares him. However, anger is not a very efficient fuel: it burns at high temperatures, it is expensive (it can cost us health and our relationships) and it eventually corrodes the system. In addition, the first to receive anger is the angry person: you are the main recipient of your anger.

Options to Anger – Gate Four

“It is crucial to learn to establish a wise relationship with this energy.”

Fortunately, there are other options besides the “three doors” of repression, expression and unconscious feeding. When offenses or obstacles are perceived, it is normal for the reaction of anger to arise. It is simply the expression of our nature and our evolution as a species. Although we may get angry less often, anger will always be part of our emotional life. Therefore, it is crucial to learn to establish a wise relationship with this energy.

When you remember that you are not only a victim of your anger, and that you can use it as a path of self-discovery to cultivate full consciousness, you will be able to begin to practice being present with anger, to connect with it and let its energy arise and fade without acting upon it or repressing it.

This is “gate number four”. Do not underestimate the power of this simple method. Like most of meditation, it is simple, but not easy. The ability to work with anger with mindfulness is not a binary proposition, something you have or do not have. It is a practice that is acquired gradually and that strengthens the muscle of mindfulness in front of pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

Instead of identifying with anger, rejecting it or not being aware of it, we can learn to approach it with an open and curious attitude, trusting that it probably has something to teach us and that this can be a very productive part of practice . It may not be an obvious idea, but it is very important to understand it well: anger is not outside the space of mindfulness practice. In fact,

Exercise: Mindfulness of Anger

This is a guided visualization in which you will sometimes remember that you were angry, and this will serve to explore the “inner geography” of anger. By inviting us to notice the places of the body where the sensations are manifested, the quality of these sensations and how they change, this exercise will help us to become familiar with this form of energy, to see it more closely and to recognize it more easily when it appears.

Do not rush this exercise. Leave enough space before and after the main part, to practice mindfulness of breathing. The purpose of the exercise is not to end anger, but to be able to experience it safely, observing the changing sensations of the body.

Use the following instructions as an orientation, and modify them as needed. Please read each point and spend two or three minutes following the instructions before moving on to the next one. Remember that you have full control over this exercise. You can adapt the instructions and regulate their intensity as much as you want.

  • Sit in meditation position, comfortable and attentive, with relaxed hands and closed eyes. Feel your body, feel the parts that are in contact with the chair or the floor.
  • Take several deep breaths, completely filling the torso and releasing all the air.
  • Remember that you have felt anger. It may be this same year or last year, but it has to be relatively recent. It is not necessary for you to choose the most intense anger episode; In fact, it is wise to start with something smaller, but it has to be real. Visualize and feel what happened, let anger appear again, right now. Allow the feeling to intensify as much as possible within your safety zone.
  • It often happens that when you remember an episode of anger, other emotions appear, such as sadness or fear. For now, try to stay angry.
  • In what part of the body do you experience anger? Explore the sensations. You may be tempted to reject them. Do not do it; Instead, investigate how you feel the anger in the body, watching the sensations, gross or subtle, throughout the body. When you notice the sensation, does it increase or decrease? Does it change or move? Is it warm or cold?
  • Practice bringing compassion to anger. Anger is a normal emotion, and is part of the human being; We all get angry once in a while. See if you can hold your own anger as a mother holds her newborn son. What happens when you hold it in this way, with attention and tenderness?
  • And now, little by little, leave this feeling. Gradually return your attention to the breath and stay there for a while, letting the emotions settle in the spaciousness of your breathing and your consciousness.

When you finish, reflect on the following questions: What sensations did you notice in the body? Did they change when you observed them? Could you bring some compassion to your own anger? What happened to the anger in doing this?

Wishing you a hug and a good week!

About The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University

Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does Sofia University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition.

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