How to Let Go of Anger
Anger is something many of us deal with in some way, and we get a lot of questions about how to let go of anger. It arises on a spectrum, sometimes coming up as irritation or agitation, and other times coming up as rage or fury. Many of us deal with the more subtle version of anger: resentment. They eat away at us, sometimes never arising into the full experience of anger. Whatever the case may be, we all deal with the arising of anger from time to time.
For some of us, anger is a go-to technique of aversion. This is my personal experience. When I am hurt or struggling, I find anger arising. Other people may experience anxiety, the desire to retreat into solitude or isolation, or a tendency toward drugs or alcohol. As with many other mental states, anger can be consuming if we allow it to control us, and we often don’t know where to start.
What is Anger?
Anger is an emotional experience that all of us have at some point in our lives. It’s my personal opinion, and the opinion of many people more knowledgeable than I, that anger is a secondary emotion. This means that anger may arise as a result of some deeper emotional hurt. We may not always realize this, but upon deeper investigation we can see how anger arises in response to another emotional experience.
Anger can serve us in moments. We’ve evolved to have anger as an emotion for a reason. It can let us know when we are unsafe, when something doesn’t feel right, or when something requires attention and changing. When we lash out in anger, it often causes harm to ourselves and others. We can feel anger as a natural response to something and allow it to rise and pass like any other experience. This is of course easier said than done for many people.
The actual experience of anger is one of sensations in the body and an accompanying mental state. People may experience anger and resentment differently, but some general symptoms are increased heart rate, headaches, shaking, sweating or clammy hands, stomach pain, and a buzzing energy in the limbs. In the mind, we often find the thoughts coming and going rapidly, a tendency toward aggressive thoughts, replaying past events, and planning future conversations.
Investigating Deeper Experience
Anger is an experience we often allow to consume us. Although it’s not easy, we can actually have mindfulness of the anger rather than resisting it. I struggled with anger for many years, allowing it to cause great harm to those around me. Today, I still have anger arise, but I don’t lash out in the same way. Instead, I’m better able to watch it arise, tune into the experience, and allow it to pass on its own. I do dislike the experience and sometimes resist it still.
As we learn to meditate and practice mindfulness, we can begin to see our experience more clearly. As we see more clearly, we no longer attach to experience. We allow it to rise and pass. This is partly the purpose of meditation practice, and can help us with many emotions.
With anger, we can really begin tuning into the experience. What does it actually feel like to be angry? We think we know, but we don’t often take the time to truly pay attention. When we do pay attention with compassion and patience, we can begin to break down anger and see the different aspects that make the experience up. This can help us grow disenchanted by the experience, and it has less of a hold on us when it arises.
As we begin to bring some awareness to anger, we can also understand the karma created by acting with anger. That is, our anger has consequences. Even if we don’t cause harm to someone else directly, we are cultivating a mind of resentment and hatred. We’re more inclined toward anger in the future. If we can see how anger causes harm and suffering more clearly, it may help us work toward non-anger.
When we look at anger, we can begin to dive deeper into the experience under anger. What is your personal experience? What arises before you notice anger? It may be some vulnerability, pain, grief, clinging and craving, or simple sadness. Whatever the case may be, we can look at the deeper roots with awareness and compassion. We can’t just chop anger away without addressing the roots. Anger arises as a response or reaction to another experience. We can’t stop every unpleasant experience, but we can learn to put some space between the discomfort and the reaction.
Practices for Letting Go of Anger
There are many different ways to work with resentment and hundreds of blogs and resources out there on how to let go of anger. I have found it helpful to investigate different options to see what feels right for me. Here are a few ways we can let go of anger with mindfulness and compassion.
Letting Go of Anger Meditation
Meditation is a great practice for letting go of anger. We can use mindfulness practices in the moment to tune into the anger and see what the experience is like. We can also practice regularly to build a foundation of mindfulness. Compassion practice may also be helpful, as we can train the mind to respond more gently to the experience of anger arising. Listen to a guided meditation below on mindfulness of anger, and enter your email to receive this meditation and a compassion practice for anger via email for free!
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Journaling as a Practice
Sitting down and writing is a great practice for letting go of anger. I originally learned this practice from my time with twelve-step programs, but it’s a helpful practice for many people who are not addicts. You don’t have to follow a strict inventory format. Perhaps start by just writing down what anger you have present. Are you angry at a specific person, event, or institution? You don’t have to have shame or guilt. Writing can help us see it more clearly and understand our anger.
You may try continuing by writing about what the anger feels like. How does it physically feel in the body, and what is happening in the mind? Can you pin down where your response is turning into a reaction to something unpleasant? I find that writing without much restriction can be really clarifying and help me to understand what is present for me.
Communicating Your Experience
In a similar fashion to writing, talking about our anger can help us to process what’s going on and what our experience is. Whether it’s a therapist, a significant other, or a trusted friend, we can hopefully find someone with whom we can talk about our anger. Sometimes it’s useful to ask for suggestions, while other times it may be more useful to simply speak our anger out loud. This isn’t to reinforce a fixed identity as an angry individual, but to help us process the resentment.
Using the Breath
The breath can be a wonderful tool. It’s always with us, always moving, and always has the potential to calm us. A form of samatha, breath practice can really help us center the mind. Whether it’s a moment of anger or you are using the breath throughout the day to build continuity, it can help ease the “fight or flight” response that happens when we’re angry. Tune into the body breathing for just a few breaths to help give yourself that extra second of pause before reacting.
Grounding in the Body
There are many ways to ground yourself in moments of anger or irritation. One of my favorite practices is simply tuning into the weight of the body where it is. If you’re standing, you can feel the pressure in the feet. If you’re sitting, tune into your butt and legs where they are in contact with the chair, couch, ground, etc. Just be present for the experience, and tune into the direct physical experience you’re having here. There’s nothing to figure out.
Laying a Foundation
We don’t just practice when we’re feeling angry. We can work daily to cultivate a state of non-anger. Personally, I found that meditating in the morning helped me get through my days with more mindfulness and less reactivity. Practicing meditation daily has helped me to notice when I’m agitated or sad. Before practicing, I only knew I was angry once I had acted in a harmful way. Today, I can see the process of anger unfolding much earlier and intervene when it is not so hard.
Check out our quotes about anger for some inspirational thoughts from leaders about dealing with anger.
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