Nothing can erode your sense of calm, your patience or your wellbeing like anger. And if you find yourself getting steamed up often, almost anything may trigger it. Your boss handing you a big assignment at the end of the working day. Your husband watching TV and not responding to you. But just like stress, anger doesn't originate outside of you -- those things just trip the wire. The emotional cascade comes from inside.
When you feel anger reach its boiling point, it's often caused by what we call a ticker tape of thoughts that runs through your mind. It can sound like: "I don't believe this!" "This is completely unfair." "How could he do this!" "I need more help and I'm not getting it!"
All of these thoughts boil down to one thing: You feel your rights are being violated.
Your Emotion Radar
You developed what we call your emotion radar since you were very young. This emotion radar is your way of perceiving the world, which you learned from the people around you. Your radar is always scanning for clues that will affect your thoughts and emotions. And by the time you're 10, it's your go-to way of processing things that happen to you.
If you struggle with anger, your emotion radar is likely tuned to scan specifically for that violation of your rights -- when you think someone is messing with you or trying to take advantage of you. You'll look so hard for that you may find it -- even if it isn't there.
Of course, the ticker tape thoughts may be accurate -- your husband really may be paying more attention to the TV than to you, and your boss may be insensitive. Problems arise when your ticker tape is dominated by an imagined violation of rights, when your emotion radar pings even though no one is messing with you. You end up feeling angry for no reason, which uses up your energy and robs you of emotional and physical health.
How to Break the Habit
The good news is that you can interrupt this anger cycle through awareness. Identify a recent situation (or maybe you're angry right now!) in which anger took hold of you. Now, try the trap it, map it, zap it technique.
TRAP IT: When you feel anger coming on, flag that emotion. Notice the symptoms, such as clenched jaw or tight shoulders.
MAP IT: Identify the ticker tape thought that's going through your head that's causing the emotion.
ZAP IT: Challenge the thought. Is it true? Can you be sure that your boss is out to make you miserable, or is she also under a lot of pressure? Do you really think your husband doesn't care about what you have to say? Don't let that anger-fueled thought get off so easily.
When you can shift into a cognitive mode, and become aware of what's happening to you and questioning the source, as opposed to getting caught up in an anger-fueled rage, you're far more likely to calm that emotion, and less likely to make a decision you'll regret.