Given recent violent events, the tenor of political discourse and the deep divide within our country, I've been searching for a way to better understand what is going on and how to move forward personally and professionally.
I recently came across an article called "Can We Have Compassion for the Angry?" by Laura L. Hayes, Ph.D on Slate.com from 2016.
I love how she differentiates amongst people who are struggling with mental health issues and people with anger issues. I also think it is important to highlight the link between unregulated anger and rage, and the connection to violence.
I've had my share of rageful "conversations" on Facebook, and I find it incredibly helpful to remember that the true issue in play is anger. Unregulated anger and rage is a major issue in our society and one, I believe, few people consider as an significant issue.
According to Dr. Hayes:
"An adult who is able to effectively regulate anger uses it to alert himself to a problem situation. Managed well, it is an extraordinarily effective warning system. Unregulated, impulses are stronger, and thinking is less clear. The poorly regulated adult with enhanced reactivity, impulsivity, and a constant state of fight or flight sees in every interaction the potential for being harmed and the necessity to defend himself. The angrier he feels, the less clearly he will think. His reactions will often be out of proportion to the situation, and he will be prone to violence. Because he sees the world as a constant source of danger, he externalizes blame, to his spouse, children, neighbors, government, and 'others' in race, nationality, religion, or culture. Angry, blaming, aggressive, and unable to modulate his emotions, he can become a danger to others."
"Violent crimes are committed by people who lack the ability to regulate and modulate their response to perceived danger. This is not a hypothesis; it is a fact. The individual who lacks the essential skill of using more sophisticated reasoning, perspective-taking, and emotional stabilization to regulate his more primitive fear and aggressive impulses will fall into the pattern of aggressive overreaction again and again, often with escalating levels of violence.
In the end, it is helpful for me to remember that these reflections are just thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves, others and the world. Our brain, self-empowerment and discipline are much stronger, more resilient and adaptable to change, and more powerful than our automatic thoughts and emotional reactions. We are able to change our responses to these provocations.
Dr. Hayes recommends mindfulness as a tool to self-soothe:
The process of mindfulness is often described as nonjudgmentally bringing awareness to the present moment. One can be mindful about an infinite number of things, so there are many ways to approach it. Often instruction begins with exercises of breath and/or attention to what is happening in the present moment in the mind and body.
For me personally, the next time I see Facebook's algorithm throw me a contentious political or religious dead-end dialogue doomed to fail, I'm going to conduct a quick breathing exercise and throw the below meme onto the discussion:
#anger #rage #issues #mindfulness #thinking #thoughts #reframe #deflection
Mental Health and Therapy Writer. As featured on Huffington Post, Vox Media and elsewhere.