Managing Anger in the Forgiveness Process

Anger is an integral part of the forgiveness process because it illuminates the stories we have about the injustices we perceive. As we raise our awareness, we can learn a great deal about what we can forgive and begin to free ourselves from anger that disrupts our lives.

What is Anger?

Anger is a universal human experience. Whether you’re from a small village in Thailand or Manhattan, you’ve probably experienced anger at some point. Its universality raises the question: If this potentially disruptive and uncomfortable response is natural, what is its purpose? 

The function of anger is to compel us to take action in the face of danger. It energizes. In the face of injustice, anger drives us to act. It also helps us learn from and remember experiences. I bet you still remember that time so-and-so…

So, knowing anger serves an essential purpose, how do we create space to allow anger to compel us to take action and learn from our experiences without causing damage along the way? How do we learn to integrate it without being an angry person? To answer this, we need to dig a little more deeply into how the experience of anger manifests.

What Does Anger Feel Like?

Take a moment now and see if you can get mad. How does your body respond? For many, the breath shortens, muscles contract. We experience tingling in our hands and feet. The jaw tightens.

What about the mind? When we elicit anger, the mind begins to race. We latch onto the story that evokes the most indignation. This creates a cycle of feedback in the body that reinforces the embodiment of rage. The story makes us madder, and the body responds more aggressively.

Discerning the mind-body relationship provides essential data for getting to know our anger. Recognizing this connection allows us to use the body as a tool.

Anger as a “Fix”

There is a pleasurable aspect to anger that we need to acknowledge. The sensations of anger create intensity and energy in the body that can be addicting. Anger originates in the part of the brain responsible for the fight-flight-freeze response. The limbic system controls the release of adrenaline. Anger also triggers dopamine, the same neurotransmitter in the brain cocaine and other drugs stimulate. 

We have to be honest with ourselves about our relationship to anger. While its natural occurrence provides us with a tool to learn and grow, anger as a habit serves primarily to arouse. Using anger this way comes at the high price of weakened vitality and isolation. 

If you think you might use anger this way (you’re not alone), consider asking for support if you decide to try the following technique; at a minimum, be patient, safe, and mindful.

How Do We Deal with Anger?

Anger itself isn’t the problem. It is our response to it that causes issues. Rather than resisting your anger, move into the sensations and begin to disarm the experience by gently unraveling the physiological and mental response, then learning what is yours to learn.

Because of the mind-body connection, it is important to use both when integrating anger. 

Move Your Body

Find an activity you are willing to use consistently that involves rigorous (for you) physical activity and mental focus: kickboxing, jogging, some types of yoga, strenuous hikes. One simple, effective tool is to jump up and down and swiftly shake your hands and feet. You will look silly, but it does the trick.

Shhh Your Mind

Your mind is going to tell you why you have the right to be outraged. It will attempt to trick you into believing every self-righteous thought that crosses your mind. For now (for as long as you can), gently tell your mind to shhh. What you don’t want to do is engage in rigorous activity while you replay the story louder and louder. That will likely make you angrier. 

Regroup and Reflect

The goal of the movement is to process the physical sensations associated with anger. This activity, accompanied by taking a mental break from the story, will buy you time to regain your balance. 

With renewed equilibrium, revisit the upset and inquire about what action, if any, would reflect your highest intentions. And, what is there to know that you may not have known before? The key is not to move away from the anger. Repressing or denying it can cause chronic health and psychological issues. Gently and honestly reflect, take action if you need to, and move on. 

Ultimately, anger is trying to tell you something you need to know. Denying it won’t help you learn. When it emerges, look at it. Ask what you need to know. Forgive. Adapt, and move on to the new lessons life has to offer.