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De-escalating Anger

Updated: Mar 31

“When angry, do not sin” (Eph. 4:26a). Strategies to manage your anger and help you avoid sin.

Understanding Anger

Anger follows a predictable cycle.

1. Triggering Event

2. Negative Thoughts

3. Emotional Response

4. Physical Symptoms

5. Behavior

The predictability of anger affords itself to strategic interventions at each stage. The earlier interventions are utilized, the easier it is to circumvent the downward spiral to sinful behavior. However, there is hope at each phase.

Intervention Strategies

1. Triggering Event

a. Practice self-reflection to learn your triggers. Being aware of your triggers can help you identify situations that predispose you to anger. Going into such a situation with a plan to cope with or extricate yourself from it can circumvent the anger cycle.

b. Self-awareness will help you realize when you are being triggered. Often, we are pretty reactive and have completed the anger cycle before we know we have been triggered. Self-awareness is critical to all de-escalation techniques.

2. Negative Thoughts

a. Negative thoughts are also known as automatic thoughts stemming from your core beliefs, i.e., insecurities. They can also spring from cognitive distortions such as mind-reading (you presume to know what the other person is thinking or “really means”) or fortune-telling (you are convinced you that know the outcome).

b. Challenge negative thoughts. Ask for clarification rather than assuming intent. Assume the best of the other person (I Cor. 13:7).

3. Emotional Response

a. Our thoughts generate our emotions. When your negative thinking births negative emotions, you can become angry over things that have not happened! For example, when you assume what someone “really meant” to say, you become hurt and angry over something your mind manufactured, not what was actually said. When you predict a negative outcome, you become anxious and angry over event(s) that have not occurred.

b. Practice mindfulness to stay focused on the present moment – what was said or done. Ask clarifying questions instead.

4. Physical Symptoms

a. When we are angry, our body reacts to a perceived threat. Our sympathetic nervous system kicks in – our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow, our senses sharpen, we are hypersensitive to stimuli, and our muscles tense, readying themselves to act. Some people begin to shake or sweat when their adrenaline spikes.

b. Breathwork is key to soothing your nervous system. Practice 4-7-8 breathing (inhale for a 4 count, hold for 7, exhale slowly for 8) to increase the oxygen in your system. Your heart rate will decrease, and your muscles will begin to relax.

c. Another key is a strategic retreat, a.k.a. remove yourself from the situation. Take a time-out to calm yourself, not ruminate on the triggering event and how you will respond to it.

5. Behavior

a. When unchecked anger fuels our actions, we tend to overreact - yelling, criticizing, arguing, and/or physically fighting. Simply put, we sin.

b. Utilizing interventions at any point before expressing anger can transform angry outbursts into assertive conflict management. If it is necessary to revisit the situation, plan ahead. When and where will you address the issue? How will you address the problem and present your proposed solution?

Many describe anger as a secondary emotion. In other words, the primary emotion (fear, hurt, disappointment, or betrayal, for example) occurs first, and anger is in response to it. Whether you consider it a primary or secondary emotion, anger alerts us to injustice and propels us toward action. So, not all anger is “bad.” It can drive us toward actions that improve our lives and the lives of others, just as it can propel us toward destruction. The choice is ours.

Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC

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