Making Anger Your Ally: Stay in Touch With Your Feelings
- Wednesday, January 08, 2003
A critical aspect of mastering anger-expression is learning to sense when anger is approaching from within you. You can't afford any surprise attacks. You need every second you can get to think through decisions about how to handle this enormous power so that the outcome will be highly positive. And you will need to make these decisions under great stress without any unnecessary delay.
The best way I know to detect anger in its earliest phases is to stay in close touch with your feelings all the time-especially when you are involved in transactions that might lead to trouble. When you learn to access scores of details about yourself you will improve your ability to choose constructive behavior sequences.
But how do you stay in close touch with your feelings? The two exercises I have in mind involve a pen and a journal.
This first exercise calls for you to spend time each day writing out your feelings just as you have them. So the first thing to do is to buy yourself a large notebook (or journal) just for this purpose. It should be used for the two exercises every day and for nothing else.
You should find a place to keep your journal between times so that it remains totally private. If you fear that others might read it, explain to them what it is and ask for their pledge that they won't read it under any conditions.
The exercise requires an hour a day, at least six days a week, for a minimum of three months. That sounds like a tremendous amount of time, I know, but you are trying to take a huge step in the direction of knowing yourself-and you must schedule sufficient time to do it well. If you have only a half hour a day, use that. It will give you an important start, and you may be able to expand your time later.
By the way, spend exactly the time you allot for this exercise. When time is up, put all materials away until the next day, even if you are right in the middle of a sentence.
Make sure that you are alone for these periods. Find as much privacy as you possibly can. Now here are some suggestions about how to use these private times with your journal:
First, record the exact date and time above each day's entry. Then make it your objective to record your feelings-whatever is going on for you at the time you're writing. Your challenge is to stay in touch with your present feelings. If that means you have to change subjects a lot that's fine. You are writing this for no one but you.
Second, it is best to stay as relaxed as possible. But it is also essential to be alert. That's why writing in bed may not be such a good idea, while writing in the park near your home may be perfect.
Listen to your feelings while you write. Let your body talk. Follow your feelings out to their edges. Track them wherever they take you. It doesn't matter whether your feelings are negative or positive, pleasant or unpleasant. You're simply trying to get to know them, whatever they are.
Now my experience in helping people with this exercise is that some persons tend to pick it up quite naturally while others have a miserable time getting into it. The latter must be patient and persistent. The exercise virtually always works for everyone eventually. The secret is to stay with it.
Some individuals have difficulty, I think, because they have been taught to deny their feelings. Society tends to foster a deep distrust of feelings. So some persons' feelings become buried and hard to reach.
It should be pointed out in response to this distrust that I never encourage anyone to let their feelings control their behavior. Quite to the contrary! But our goal here is to help you get in close touch with what affects you, assuming that is the best way for you to "see" your anger coming.
In part two of this series we will examine exercise number two, my recommendation to keep an "Anger Diary."
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