What do you do to calm yourself when in the heat of anger?
May 31, 2012 5:14 AM   Subscribe

What methods have worked for you in terms of keeping a rational mind when you feel yourself becoming (rationally or irrationally) angry?

I would be described as a quiet non confrontational person by nature.

Sometimes when I get angry (which is quick to heat up and also quick to cool off), I say or act in a way I look back with regret. Often this involves choice words (e.g. bringing up past wrongs with vehemence) and petty actions (e.g. storm off in a huff). While there is never any violence or abuse (i sincerely hope), I feel terrible afterwards and always initiate apologies (whomever is right or wrong does not matter).

Specifically looking for how to address/ resolve/ let go of the feeling of anger, as I dislike the amount of time and effort spent being angry and unproductive.

One past instance:

Dinner with mum escalates to me getting angry (defensive) and bringing up unpleasant things she has done in the past which consequently results in her current predicament.

She refuses to talk to me for a week, and I feel like crap for making her feel bad.

We eventually resolve by not pretending it never happened after we both cool off.

But this is kind of a recurring thing with mum, as we both know eachother well enough to push just the right buttons.

One recent instance:

While browsing a discount giftware warehouse with a pram, my 6 month baby grabbed a small cheap soft toy and promptly placed it in her mouth. I saw and placed it back. Almost immediately from behind, the owner shouted loudly at me to the exact words "How dare you put it back, woman! Pay for it, you stupid b****! Your baby puts her disgusting saliva all over it and you it back?! You should be ashamed of yourself! Get out of my store!" His shop assistants shook their head at me and said nothing.

I was too astonished/ bewildered (ashamed?) to do anything except apologise and got out of the warehouse.

This happened yesterday.

Thinking back, I can't seem to shake this feeling of anger. Maybe I was wrong for having my baby's saliva on the toy. Maybe this is a mother's defensiveness? I feel like I should reacted differently such as asked him to not be rude and I will pay for it.

I want to stop thinking about it and shake off this feeling of anger, as it is consuming me to the point where I am thinking of revenge (such as going back and taking a photo of the rude owner and blogging about him or just throw my baby's poop in the store).

I have vented to my sister, who empathised and nodded at all the right times.

Yet I am still angry.

How can I stop feeling angry and just let it go?

Thank you in advance for your time :)
posted by oink to Human Relations (15 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
My test for controling, non-venting, persistant anger over tiny things is: look at the infraction or source of anger. I ask myself, using a voice in my head "Will the thing that is making me angry matter in a day's time? A week? A month? A year?"

You know how quickly a month or year passes, right? If it doesn't matter in a month or a year, there is no point dwelling on it.

This tends to diffuse nger held by me over short-term issues. YMMV.
posted by lalochezia at 5:20 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are totally right to feel angry after that shopkeeper yelled at you. I work in customer service and what he did was EXTREMELY out of line and extremely inappropriate. You aren't the one who should of handled it differently - the manager should of approached you in a professional manner, not berate you.

How about channeling your anger into writing a YELP (or UK equivalent) review about the store/manager?
posted by littlesq at 5:27 AM on May 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

I want to stop thinking about it and shake off this feeling of anger, as it is consuming me to the point where I am thinking of revenge (such as going back and taking a photo of the rude owner and blogging about him or just throw my baby's poop in the store).

I find that visualizing myself - from a third-person-POV - going through some of these goes a long ways towards convincing me that these actions are dumb and would not be a good idea. When I visualize, I also roll the video forward, past the Big Moment and when it's all over. It's never as satisfying as I imagine it would be.

(on preview, though, I absolutely agree that the keeper's behavior was out of line...that's not the way to treat customers with babies, or anyone else for that matter)

Another thing that has helped me a great deal, and maybe it's simply age (I'm in my early 40s now but had a famously short fuse when I was younger), is realizing that I only have so many hours in a day, and so many calories to burn thinking about and doing things. "This" (as I try to think during moments of anger) "is not how I need to spend this time, nor is it how I'd like our kids to remember me if I were to drop dead at this very moment."

A little morbid, sure, but it's really helped me try to maintain perspective. Anger still comes and sometimes it still comes quickly, but I work very hard to make sure that it departs as quickly.
posted by jquinby at 5:31 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I find myself obsessing over some past event like this, I often realize that my anger at the other person is really an attempt to redirect shame or regret I'm feeling about what I did or failed to do. The best way I know to deal with it is to carefully work out what I'd like to do next time I find myself in a similar situation. After that, I just redirect my attention to other stuff that needs it. Being angry can get to be a habit; don't wear those grooves any deeper than you can help.
posted by jon1270 at 5:41 AM on May 31, 2012 [23 favorites]

I think that in the instance of the toy and the shop owner, that you're angry and embarrassed. While the shop owner was rather out of line and rude, your actions weren't very nice either.

I try to rise above things, especially when I'm in the wrong. The appropriate response would have been, "Oh dear, of course you're right, I'm so out of it right now, what with being a new mother and all. How much is this then?" Then I would have paid and never returned to the store again. I would have also written a review in Yelp.

In general, just keep saying to yourself, "I'm above this, I'm above this."

I too, have issues with my mom. There's just something about that relationship. When the bitching and nagging get to be too much, I usually say something like, "Mom, you know I don't like to be spoken to like that." If she's in a mood and has crossed the line, I get up and leave. I've done it a bunch of times. I don't say anything, I just turn on my heel and go. I have left her in Philadelphia, Albuquerque, Sacramento and pretty much any time she starts in on me. She always feels terrible afterwards, but I'm the one who rose above the situation.

Begin to think of yourself as a person who is above pettiness, rise above it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:06 AM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

I dislike the amount of time and effort spent being angry and unproductive.

Have you read Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames? Thich Nhat Hanh notes, as you do, that anger can lead to hurting your family, acting clumsily, and roiling your mind. But in his framework, spending quality time with your anger turns out to be really productive. Anger is like organic waste, and various meditative practices help you turn it into compost.

(Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who also advises not drinking or watching violence on the telly, and wants you to inflict your loved ones with earnest talks; but you can totally blow that stuff off (as I, ahem, happen to know) while still benefitting from his tricks & attitude.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:41 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I feel myself getting angry, I ask myself: Will getting angry result in me getting what I want out of this? Usually the answer is "no." When it's right in your face that you're being counterproductive, it's easier to back off.
posted by kindall at 7:02 AM on May 31, 2012

I gave up caring what strange and irrational people think.
posted by devnull at 7:04 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

The shopkeeper was entirely in the wrong. I live in Louisiana (The South) and if a man spoke to a woman like that here, another man would quickly beat him to a pulp. How dare he call you a name and yell at you in front of your child. He could have calmly asked you to pay for it or, he could have done like everyone else does and just ignore a perfectly normal thing that happens sometimes.

I would post complaints on every local business site that you can think of. If he was the manager, then contact the owner. People in your town need to know that this crazy man is yelling at women with children. If he is that out of control at work, imagine what he is doing in his free time!

Spend a day calmly reporting his behavior to everyone you can and then let it go. You did nothing wrong. As a mother, your natural instincts are to protect your baby. Your baby was there with you when this happened. This is why it is so hard to shake off. You did nothing wrong. Your baby did nothing wrong. The shopkeeper needs to find a job that takes him away from the public.

As far as your mom goes, moms just do that to us. Forgive yourself. Let it go. When it is happening, when you are feeling really angry, imagine a cartoon piano falling out of a building, onto her head. The ridiculousness of the violence will cheer you up while exercising out some of that aggression.
posted by myselfasme at 7:13 AM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

For me, starting a mindfulness / meditation practice was crucial to my ability to recognize emotional reactions as they happen and and to respond in a more thoughtful fashion.
posted by browse at 7:38 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dinner with mum escalates to me getting angry (defensive) and bringing up unpleasant things she has done in the past
the owner shouted loudly at me
How can I stop feeling angry and just let it go?

Think about the times that you exceeded what was polite/smart/whatever - like with your mother - and how you hope people will eventually stop being angry at you.

That person treated you badly, but if he apologized would you forgive him? Can you imagine something going on in his life that would make you pity him for that outburst rather than feel angry about it? Perhaps he's a horrible person, or perhaps he just lost his lease and is going to have to close the shop and has no idea what he'll do next.

Who knows? I think the odds are better on "crappy person" than "forgivable stress" but since you can't know why not just assume the thing that works best for your mental health? You're not going to go back there either way, so what harm does it do to choose the interpretation that lets you go on with your life?

I don't think there's anything wrong with some anger when it's productive. If you see someone in your professional life discriminating against people then perhaps a little anger will motivate you to look for ways to correct it and get justice, and help you feel better about suffering the potential consequences of going against the flow. But these things where it doesn't matter behoove us to find a way to just set it down and walk on.

For me that's finding the most generous interpretation and thinking to myself "if I get wound up and yell at this possibly shitty person then maybe they just get MORE wound up and take it out on the next person. If I let this go then maybe it can just end now." I look at it as a good deed and remember that the only harm it does me is the extent I let it make me feel like shit.

It's not always easy. It's a practice. But recognizing the meaningless things gets easier and, somewhat paradoxically, it makes it easier to stand up and feel certain in situations where it's not the right thing to let it go. By directing and limiting my actions I feel more just when I to make an issue of something because I know I don't do it at the drop of a hat. And it makes it easier to learn to live with my own transgressions because I know I'm extending the generosity to others that I need sometimes.
posted by phearlez at 7:39 AM on May 31, 2012

I think you mostly answered the question yourself when you used the word "defensive" twice. In both those cases you felt like you had something to defend. In the store, the guy flat-out attacked you. Having someone go off on you way out of proportion to anything that happened is a really odd experience and you can feel really shaken later.

The thing with your own mother is-- well it reminds me of the way things happen in my family. There probably is a better way to get things done. When you say things escalate, it's not clear whether your mother has a way of needling you until you explode or what. Is there a way you can head this off by being aware of the stage where things go wrong and saying something to the effect of, "Let's not let this turn into a fight"? If discussions always end in your blowing a fuse of some kind, it does erode relationships. Just a guess, but when you blow up , your mother may feel your power with regard to her has decreased. (My own motivation for not getting het up with family members is exactly that; by keeping my cool I am in more of a place of strength. Petty, but it's a good motivation for me.)
posted by BibiRose at 7:48 AM on May 31, 2012

A friend of mine has started doing something for herself that I think is funny (and useful). She allows herself X number of things per day she's allowed to get POed about (which includes the obsessive part of staying POed for longer than is logical, and working over the details in her mind.)

So now when someone does something incredibly stupid but trivial, like idiotic driving, and she starts to get wound up, she thinks- is this worth one of today's 3 (or however many) POed episodes? And she says if she thinks about it, and decides it's not, she says it's surprisingly easy to let it go.

Over time, she's planning to cut down on the number of POeds she's allowed per day.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:09 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

This, or a variation of it, helps me ward off my tendency to say what should not be said when I am angry. I repeat this mantra to myself ("Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary?") and try to wait out my angry episodes which fortunately are rare but powerful.
posted by Lynsey at 2:08 PM on May 31, 2012

The episode with the shopkeeper is embarrassment, and embarrassment definitely takes time to get over, and generates anger. I don't think you were in the wrong, but you were publicly shamed. Ouch. Resolution: Instead of, "Wow, what a jerk!" think "Wow, that person must have been having a terrible day." See it from the other perspective - shopkeeper is standing on concrete floors all day, dealing with bad pay and cranky customers, or he would never have behaved so badly. May not be true, but showing compassion costs you nothing, helps you cope.

Mom is annoying. Mom tells you how to live your life: "Mom, you raised me, so maybe it's time to trust that I learned from you, and that I will make good decisions." Mom does a Mom Thing, like straightening your hair (which was gelled exactly as you liked): "Ma, you're messing with the 'do (in mock outrage) and ya can't mess with the 'do." A small amount of non-mean humor often helps. If Mom gets more than annoying, i.e., mean, hurtful, etc., then it's "Mom, you're hurting my feelings. I'm going to leave now."

I watch grown people with their parents, and parents with their grown children a lot. The grown children have many annoying kid habits, and the parents have many annoying parent habits. Listen to Mom as if she were a friend; if your friend says "OMG, you should totally wear that color more often; it looks gorgeous on you" it's probably okay. If your Mom says "Oh sweetie, I love to see you in that red; it such a good color on you" it might annoy you, because every frickin' year, you had to have a red dress for the family picture, and would it have killed Mom to let you wear blue just once, and also, Moms are just so dense about fashion.

When getting together with Mom, or anybody you tend to have tension with, bring a mental list of conversation diverters. You start to feel annoyed when Mom bitches about your brother's kids again, so you say "Yeah, and hey, did you read about that crazy accident on Maple Street? The guy that drove into his neighbor's porch?" Ideally, you start talking about wacky news,and the tense subject is dropped. Or, Mom keeps complaining about your brother's kids: "Mom, you often seem distressed about Brother's kids. Are you really concerned about them? What's up?" which might lead to a genuine conversation in which you learn that Brother's kid got arrested twice this year, and Mom is worried. You're a grownup; so is your Mom; try to have a genuine relationship.

I'm really emotional. I've had to practice dealing with anger. I've learned that anger will not make my head asplode, so I can be angry, and not yell, cry, or kick puppies. I've learned to think before I talk pretty darn often, so when I tell someone they're being a complete and utter jerk, it comes out as "I think it's pretty unreasonable that you did X, because Y; how can we resolve this?" at least some of the time.

I spend time asking myself and/or others "What do I/you want to have happen?" and "What's the right thing to do?"
"What do I/you want to have happen?" Well, in a just and perfect world, this person would stub his toe.
"What's the right thing to do?" Nuthin. Guy was a jerk. Not my fault. Don't need to own it. Jeez, I hate getting hollered at, though.
"What do I/you want to have happen?" I want to have a genuine relationship w/ my Mom.
"What's the right thing to do?" Engage with her as a person, respect her thoughts and feelings, expect/enforce her respecting mine.
posted by theora55 at 2:20 PM on May 31, 2012

« Older What computer game writing software should I use?   |   Nut keeps falling off of bolt Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.