06 Apr

Scrub Away the Emotional Clutter of Toxic Anger

By Donald Altman, M.A., LPC

Has toxic anger ever caused a problem for you or your family? No one is immune to this response — which is very much based on the survival response. Don’t be too hard on yourself because it can occur anytime we perceive a threat, especially one to the ego, to our sense of identity, and to our belief system. If you’ve experienced this personally or with others in your intimate circle—either on the giving or receiving end—you are not alone.

While anger might offer a sense of control, come with a feeling of self-righteousness, and get an individual what she or he wants in the short-term, there are severe long-term consequences, such as producing trauma and alienating and pushing away those you love. Fortunately, there are some important ways to reduce the effects of toxic anger clutter in your life.

First, let’s look more closely at anger. Anger can take a lot of forms and not all anger is damaging and inappropriate. Anger can be small and insignificant, like an irritation or annoyance that doesn’t do much damage and is quickly forgotten (someone cuts you off on the freeway or you feel temporary impatience standing in a long line). Anger can be medium-sized like being mad or upset (a co-worker repeats an earlier offense that makes you realize it’s an issue), signaling you that it may be time to have a conversation. Or, it can be giant-sized—such as when you’re absolutely at the brink and find yourself wanting to shout, curse, or throw something across the room.

Feelings of irritation and anger are normal—and these are not an issue when expressed with a sense of respect, compassion and understanding. The real problem comes when you experience daily, chronic anger and even episodic fits of rage (once or more a month). When this happens, you have reached the level of “toxic anger” that is going to severely harm relationships.

What can you do about toxic anger? The first thing you can do is to learn more about your anger by asking yourself the following questions:

  • HOW INTENSE is my anger? You can rate it on a scale of 1 (the least) to a 10 (the worst).

If your anger is in the 1-3 range of intensity, it falls into the irritation and annoyance range; the 4-6 range means you are upset, angry and mad; finally, if your anger rates in the 7-10 range, you are experiencing rage.

  • WHO is my anger directed at?
  • WHAT is the issue that triggered my anger?
  • HOW APPROPRIATE is the level of my anger to the issue that produced it?
  • WHERE AND WHEN did this knot of anger first originate and get tied?


6 Steps to Constructively Managing Anger

No matter what level your anger, here are six steps for taking control your difficult feelings in a constructive way.

  • Rate your anger. When you notice your anger, rate it in the moment on a scale of 1-10.


4-6=upset and angry

7-10=uncontrollable rage

Why is rating your anger important? By ranking your anger you have constructively distanced from it. Instead of being angry you are now examining the anger because it has become the object of your attention. You’ve actually shifted and changed your relationship to the anger in a matter of moments!

2) Relax and calm your body through breathing. To do this, clasp your hands behind your back or behind your head and take a nice deep breath and hold it for a few seconds before exhaling. This diaphragmatic breathing method turns on your body’s natural relaxation system and also helps you reconnect with the thinking and rationally responding part of the brain. (Yes, when you are angry you are actually disconnected from your rational thinking brain.)

3) Relax your posture, body tension, and facial expression. To do this tightly clench your hands for five seconds, and then relax them. Next relax your face and jaw. Roll your shoulders in a circular motion to release tension. Similarly, lower your head and roll it from side to side to relax your neck muscles. Another idea is to smile, even if you don’t feel like it. These strategies for eliminating the clutter of anger work because what’s happening in the body affects both our thoughts and emotional state.

4) Find another way to respond to the situation other than with anger. Come up with at least three possibilities—such as taking a walk, listening to music, or sitting in your car where no-one can hear you while yelling.

5) Ventilate and express your feelings early – don’t hold them in. By letting the steam out a little at a time, it won’t build up and explode like a volcano! Give yourself permission to express feelings in a more assertive and non-aggressive way.

6) Reward yourself! Yes, you have found a new and successful way to interrupt the toxic anger clutter cycle, so do something nice for yourself. Enjoy a soothing bubble bath, listen to some favorite music, or take part in a favorite activity. Congratulations, you’ve earned it.

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Donald Altman, is the author of Clearing Emotional Clutter, One-Minute Mindfulness, and several other books about mindfulness. He is a practicing psychotherapist and former Buddhist monk. An award-winning writer and an expert on mindful eating, he teaches in the neurobiology program at Portland State University. Visit him online at http://www.mindfulpractices.com.

Based on the book Clearing Emotional Clutter ©2016 by Donald Altman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

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