When You Are Angry, Count To 10 A Simplistic Approach.

We’ve all heard the saying, “When you’re angry, count to ten.” And many of us have followed it and reaped its benefits. Anger is something we are all familiar with. It is our body’s response to a lot of things that we perceive to be out of our control. It is said that fear and anger should be counted as two sides of a coin. 

What could be the reason we become angry? According to many pieces of research, anger is majorly caused by perceived or real threats, stress, or events that occur that the individual has no control over – for example, long lines, traffic jams, snarky comments, or excessive tiredness (although we do have a tiny bit of control over tiredness). Otherwise, too, the basic temperament of a person may cause him to get angry at the slightest provocation. I actually know someone who got angry because his girlfriend failed to inform him that she had suddenly met someone he didn’t want to see on her way to college. Without knowing the reason, he just started shouting, and that led to their relationship getting severely damaged.

Then there are people who are genetically inclined towards aggression or anger. They don’t have any control over their anger and wouldn’t think that they have done anything wrong by getting aggressive or angry at themselves or others, even in situations that did not warrant any such behaviour. There is a high level of stress in competitiveness, reaching its highest limits in today’s world. People feel that the resources of the world are limited and they are scrambling to get the biggest share, not caring whether they need it or not. This leads to stress and undue pressure being exerted even when not required.

Scientists have shown that a person’s environment affects his behaviour and anger to a great extent. People who have been exposed to explosive and aggressive behaviour or verbal or physical abuse during their childhood are more prone to getting angry and showing their dominance over others through ways of aggression.

When a person feels helpless in situations that he is unable to control, he lashes out at everyone and everything else. The anger here is mostly displaced. He or she might even become harmful to himself if the situation remains unresolved for a long time. This can also be a major sign of depression wherein irritability towards oneself or family members extends to becoming angry at oneself and others uncontrollably.

One other cause is “learned behaviour”. Anger is learned from the environment through exposure to explosive behaviour, verbal or physical abuse during early childhood.

Anger has many negative effects on the body and mind. Some of the side effects which you must have heard about include the effect of anger on health – arrhythmia, breathlessness, hormonal disbalance, etc. But the lesser known effects include dermatitis, gastritis, muscle aches, liver damage, and (believe it or not…) diarrhoea!

In layman’s terms, why do we get angry? Here are a few psychological points of view on anger. Read on to find out.

  1. To blame others: We become enraged when we discover someone doing or saying (or not saying) something contrary to or different from what we expected. It is pure blame. The anger overpowers our senses and we just want to lash out at them for not keeping in mind our perspective.
  2. To shift the blame: This is a tendency followed by children. When they spill milk, for example, they will blame their mother for calling them at the wrong time, or their father for opening the door, or the doorbell, or even the non-existent friend who caused them to make the mistake. They want to escape punishment. This usually disappears as we progress in age, but in some people it continues well into adulthood. These people want to run away from taking the blame and would rather blame everyone around them, their circumstances, and the weather—anything that can be blamed safely—for something they said or did just to escape being reprimanded by their parents, partner, or boss.
  3. To divert attention from shortcomings: Someone knows that they are less than the other person and would want to alleviate their position by thinking that by showing their anger they are just trying to make the other person understand that they are equal to them. An example would be a person who cannot afford to buy a Mercedes getting angry at someone who owns one, and saying, “Do you think that because you have a Mercedes, you can walk your dog anywhere?” The cause of the rage is not owning a luxury car, and the result is evident in penalising the other person for walking his pet (though it might be a common practise in the neighborhood). These seemingly unrelated phrases show the inferiority complex the person is going through.
  4. To gain sympathy by victimising oneself: Nobody wants to listen to me, people are selfish, I hate my family because… These are all statements made in anger just to make someone feel either guilty or sympathetic towards the speaker. Sometimes it is said while raising their voice or crying. The other person might just feel obligated to soothe the speaker to calm them down or to make the speaker believe the opposite of what he or she is saying.
  5. To punish someone else or yourself: Sometimes we feel genuinely wronged and just want to punish the other person for whatever he or she has done. When we feel we have done something wrong or we could have done something differently in a better way, we get angry at ourselves and might punish ourselves by abstaining from what we love doing.

What we need to understand is that anger is a natural and healthy emotion. It is good to have a healthy amount of anger because it might just become the cause of our tenacity to push through adverse situations. It is only when anger becomes problematic and starts affecting our daily lives that we need to take stock of the situation and seek help controlling it.

If we find our anger has started affecting our lives negatively, some steps can be taken to manage it:

  1. Biofeedback: As we have all heard – “count to 10 when you are angry” – Have you ever wondered why? If you pay attention to your breathing pattern when you are angry, you will notice that your breathing rate increases and so does your pulse rate, meaning heart rate. When we count to 10 (or 100, if required), we concentrate on our breathing pattern. When the breathing rate is controlled, so is the heartbeat, and so is the anger.
  2. Use the control pattern:
    • Stop and think before you act—just like I said, count to 10 and breathe deeply. Think of the consequences of acting rashly under these circumstances. While this may require work in the beginning, you will definitely benefit in the long run.
    • Identify the trigger for anger—what exactly causes you to get angry? As I have already listed out the major causes of anger, you can also identify what causes you to get angry. Try to find out whether it is fear or anger, because fear can also cause anger in many cases. Analyse whether the anger or the lashing out is more important than the ultimate goal and whether you will achieve it faster with anger or with understanding.
    • Search for at least two alternative solutions: Take a time out, separate yourself from the situation, walk out of the room — do whatever it takes to understand the situation properly and decide on the best course of action.
    • Evaluate and decide on the best solution: Now that you have searched for alternative solutions to anger, you just have to evaluate the options and see what is best for you. It differs from person to person, and you alone get to decide what is best for you.
    • Implement the alternative: Now, this one is simple. You already have the ammunition, so fire away – gently and not angrily.
  1. Find things that make you happy: Instead of concentrating on the situations that make you mad, isn’t it better to concentrate on what makes you happy? It can be your work, your children, grandchildren, or a pet; old photos of memorable events in your life; the list goes on. You can find your happy place, so to speak. And when you feel anger rising within you, just take some deep breaths and go to that happy place.
  2. Decide to be on the cause side of the equation: Many a time, we get angry because we feel that the situations are out of our control. What do we do then? At that time, we have only two choices, so to speak – change what we can, and accept what we can’t. Don’t let situations affect you. When you find yourself in situations you can’t control, just let them be. Everything is resolved with time. Today it might feel like a big thing but give it time and it will feel like a silly thing to even remember it.
  3. Meditate daily: Meditation calms and soothes our minds. Setting aside a time daily for meditation enhances our decision-making ability and thus gives us more scope to analyse situations and act without getting angry. And you’ll notice that even 5 minutes per day makes a big difference. Just put on some soothing music, sit comfortably, and concentrate on your breath for some time. That should do the trick in the beginning. Use affirmations while meditating. (This is very effective in dealing with all types of negative emotions.)

However, all said and done, it is always better to consult a qualified counsellor for difficult-to-control and frequent spurts of anger. Sometimes things are better left to experienced and qualified personnel to handle. Especially when someone faces frequent outbursts of anger, is getting violent (in which case, stay away till help arrives), or seems to be in depression. Let professionals handle these types of cases.

Kulmohan Kaur

Kulmohan Kaur is a Gazetted Officer with Govt. of India. She is an NLP Master Practitioner from European Council of NLP, Life Coach Certification (ANLP, ECNLP). She has a post graduate degree in Psychology. She is an author, blogger, avid reader, motivational Speaker, relationship Guide and Life Coach.

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