How to let go of Anger
Anger management is a hot (and yet so cold) topic.
Why? Because we all shy away from talking about our anger. Its like we don't want people to know we get angry.
Well, I'm going to get real vulnerable with you all and tell you a quick story about my journey with anger and how I've been learning to let it go (always a process of course!).
At the beginning of my relationship with my now husband, we were inseparable (I guess that hasn’t changed) and spent a LOT of time together (another thing that hasn’t changed). We had a lot of “getting to know each other” to do even though we went to highschool together 8 years prior. And even though we were in the honeymoon phase, because we were spending all our days together, we still fought quite a bit.
Most of the time it was me getting upset or angry.
He would do something and I would get frustrated and I would or would not tell him about this frustration and then he would do it again and as the frustrations accumulated my tolerance for “stuffing” it dwindled.
It would go a little something like this (and this is an actual real life example):
He would have a baseball game in the valley (this was when we lived in Los Angeles and for those of you who are not familiar with the valley, it took forever to get to because of the horrible LA traffic), which he would leave almost 2 hours before to get to. I would be out or at work and text or call him with no answer. I would come back to the apartment, and text or call him with no answer. Each time there was no answer, my anxiety would raise a bit. Is he ok? Oh my gosh, what if he got in a car accident. What if something happened? I would then picture him on the side of the road somewhere and my mind would run away with this scary idea (I hope I’m not the only person who does this). My anxiety would raise quite a bit, and then I would see his phone sitting on the counter, and the anxiety would turn into anger.
The anger would last for hours as I just sat and stewed about the fact that he forgot his phone. Stewing and stewing about him leaving his phone.
Simply leaving his phone.
There was nothing important I needed to tell him. I knew where he was. I had nothing I needed from him in that moment. He was just playing a fun baseball game.
But yet, I stewed and stewed.
And it happened a couple times a week. He would forget his phone when he went somewhere and I couldn’t contact him and I stewed.
My frustrations would grow. Even though I expressed the growing frustrations, he was so confused by them. He was so confused as to why I was getting so angry at seemingly innocuous situations. Yeah, ok, I get it, you worry when I don’t have my phone, but why are you so angry. Are you just an angry person?
I definitely didn’t feel like an angry person and I never really thought I had an anger management problem. But why in the world was I getting SO angry about this little thing.
Even though I felt completely grounded in my frustrations and felt that they were completely valid, let’s be real here, it was a freakin phone.
Well, they were and they weren’t.
Because what was behind the little things that would frustrate me, like the leaving of the phone, were deep-rooted fears that I had no idea were there. Deep-rooted fears that had absolutely nothing to do with him leaving a phone or me worrying about him being in a car accident.
I’m going to tell you how I figured out that it was actually something much deeper (and give you a free worksheet!), which is the same tactic I now frequently use with my clients when they have issues with anger, depression, or anxiety.
How to identify underlying thought patterns.
Get your FREE Anger Tracker Now!
When this was going on, I had just started social work school. I was learning all about how we have way more underneath the surface than we even realize.
But I didn’t think that was me. No way. I was totally aware of everything that was going on with me.
Until I was getting angry all the time and luckily had a patient enough partner to take a step back and say “Hey! What the heck is going on here?” instead of just getting mad and starting a yelling match.
So I did what most people do in this situation.
They go to Amazon and the look for a self-help book. I’m not quite sure what I typed into the search box, but I came up with “Couple Skills: Making your Relationship Work” (
I honestly thought it was just my way of being in a relationship so I wanted to learn some new skills on communication (not necessariliy anger management) and tolerating a partner who does things that pisses you off (because clearly I thought he was the issue).
I was just starting to learn about cognitive behavior therapy and the power of our thoughts to control how we are feeling. And I was learning about how sometimes we believe thoughts that are untrue, which can be so confusing because aren’t all of our thoughts and feelings valid?
NOPE. BIG NOPE. BIGGER THAN BIG NOPE.
I had no idea what I was feeling had more to do with something I was thinking underneath the surface. That my feelings were valid, but my thoughts were not.
So here is what I did:
I started tracking my thoughts.
I used a combination of the thought tracking exercise they introduce in the book and CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) tactics to create my own thought tracking worksheet (which you can download for yourself at the bottom of the page). I was pretty much doing what I did with my clients on myself (which I do and don’t recommend at the same time - I would have much rather talked to someone who was trained in analyzing and understanding my thoughts and who was then able to connect those thoughts to my behaviors).
I wrote down the event. In this example, it was simply, He forgot his phone.
I rated how angry I was on a scale of 0-10, 0 being not angry at all and 10 being the most angry I could ever be.
I kept track of when I would get upset. Literally, the time of day.
I noted what else was going on for me right then, if there was anything else adding to my stress: I had just eaten, or I haven’t eaten for hours, I was stuck in traffic, I had a tough session with a client, I had a great session with a client, I had a lot of clients in a row, I had a project due, my back hurt, I was tired, etc. Doing this brought my awareness to everything else that was going on my life at that moment where I realized his phone was gone. Often there was a lot going on.
Next, I wrote down all my thoughts in order of how they come to me, like brainstorming or stream of consciousness. After each thought, I would ask myself, “What is the worst thing the thought could mean” or “What would the worst thing be if that thought were true?” Here’s an example:
I’m so angry he forgot his phone again. What’s the worst thing that could mean. Well it could mean he doesn’t care that he doesn’t have his phone. Ok, what is the worst thing that could mean. It could mean he doesn’t care that I can’t get a hold of him. Well that sucks, but what is the worst thing that could mean? It could mean he doesn’t care to talk to me. Ouch yeah that sucks. And what is the worst thing that could mean if that were true? It means he doesn’t care about me.
The underlying problem. Right there.
When my partner left his phone at home it made me feel like he didn’t care about me. And that hurt. And what do we do when we’re hurt? Usually we mask it with anger.
What I have come to find is that anger is what we call a “second order emotion.” Generally there is another feeling underneath that our anger is trying to hide.
But I didn’t stop there.
Once I realized that I was feeling he didn’t care about me, I would list the "evidence" that this thought, the thought that my partner didn’t care about me, was untrue.
How did I know it was untrue? Well, he does this, he does that, he shows me he loves me this way and that way, when he does have his phone he is super responsive, he spends all his time with me, he’s super sweet and thoughtful, blah blah blah etc. etc. etc.
I rated how much I believed this underlying thought how much I believed the thought of “He doesn’t care about me” of on a scale from 0-10. The rating usually was close to the 0 end.
This wonderful realization didn’t come the first time I did this. I had to do it a few times to really get the hang of the exploration of my thoughts and how to discover what the worst thing would be. So be patient. And kind.
BE PATIENT AND KIND WITH YOURSELF.
Lastly, I rated my anger again. And low and behold, my rating that I started out with had plummeted.
The best thing that came out of this exercise (other than gaining a priceless anger management skill) was I now knew what my underlying feeling was and was able to talk to my partner about it. I was able to open up and communicate my fears.
And guess what, once I did that, he never forgot his phone again.
My point is not to have a partner that stops doing the things that frustrate you so you never have to get angry again (I wouldn't count on that), but to be more mindful and have more understanding about your triggers.
Grab your "Anger Tracker" now
and start identifying what's really making you angry.
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