Anger is a functional emotion, as it is a fitting evolutionary response to injury and loss. It often steels us toward constructive action. However, anger, like stress, is incredibly taxing on the mind and body. People inclined to anger have more heart attacks and gastrointestinal problems than those who are not. Anger also often incites violence, both physical and emotional. Using anger as a tool for right ends is possible by learning to transform it from a destructive, animal rage into a righteous expression of justice.
Techniques of withdrawal, analysis, detachment, and compassion help turn anger into peace.
- Spacious Withdrawal: Retreat from the source of your anger and sit quietly, breathing deeply. Bring the situation to mind and then slowly expand your awareness to encompass more than the situation; focus on your breathing if you need to as the relative importance of your anger shrinks in your mind. This disengages the unthinking parts of your brain that make you want to lash out and engages the moderating, thoughtful parts.
- Counting Down: An oldie but goodie. Count down slowly from twenty (or thirty…or whatever works for you). When you reach one, your emotional response will already have cooled.
- Counteremotional Exercise: Use anger as a trigger for love. Use your anger as a spark to consider what you love and those things that you find beautiful in life. Most importantly, be compassionate toward your own anger.
- Structural Analysis: In a meditative posture, consider the situation as objectively as you possibly can. Analyze the roles, intentions, and actions of everyone involved as well as the entirety of the event–its wins and losses. Respond clinically.
- Planning: Use the anger to steel you and make you stronger. Focus your angry emotions on a plan to establish resources and skills to resolve the problem.
- Emptiness: Using the same principles as structural analysis, take it a step further and recognize the transitory nature of human life and human squabbles.
- Abandoning the Self: Feel the anger in your mind and observe it detachedly. Recognize how the state of anger ebbs and flows with electrochemical impulses in the brain. Your anger is not your Self. There is no self. Thus, there is no anger.
- Lovingkindness: Respond with love; “turn the other cheek.” Some exercises on lovingkindness are here.
- Building Alliances: Realize that you do not exist in isolation. Recognize that you are part of a community and a support network.
The teachings of the Buddha are full of reminders that anger is destructive and that detaching from it is one of the keys to enlightenment and happiness. Christ taught to "turn the other cheek" when we are struck instead of angering.
Serious anger issues that lead to extreme rage and violence may be better dealt with, at least initially, by a trained therapist with knowledge of anger management techniques.
If you would like to test your ability to transform anger, you might try, during your next stressful traffic jam, silently sending out waves of lovingkindness to all the other cars on the road, even those who cut you off, don't pay attention, drive too slow, or lay on the horn. You might also choose a relative or acquaintance who has been a source of frustration and anger in the past and try to hold them in your mind in a compassionate and loving state.