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Mindful : February 2016
How do you blow your stack? Get to know your anger profile. An important part of working with anger mindfully involves becoming familiar with the way anger manifests in your life. Although anger is a basic and universal emotion, Paul Ekman likes to say that we all have different “anger profiles” based on three factors: ONSET How long does it take for you to get angry? INTENSITY How high does your anger go? COOL DOWN How long does it take for you to get over it? Some people can get angry in a blink of an eye, while for others it builds up over many hours. While some people typically experience mild forms of anger, such as irritation or annoyance, others can get enraged or furious at the slightest provocation. For some, it’s easy to cool down and move on, while others ruminate about what made them angry for days. When angry, it can be difficult or even impossible to think clearly. This is the “refractory period,” when we react swiftly and unconsciously, behaving in ways we wouldn’t at other times. It lasts from the time the flame ignites until it begins to cool down. During that time, it’s like wearing colored glasses that cause us to see everything through the lens of that par ticular emotion. Remembering this, we’re more likely to give ourselves and others space to cool down and let the refractory period pass before trying to resolve an issue. When we’re in the grips of anger, it’s hard to see the big picture, and also to take in feedback. Some- times people become angry because they feel they lack control over their own lives. Telling them what to do only fuels this tension. In the heat of anger, we see and believe only that which confirms our anger. For example, if we feel angry at the telephone company for making an error on our bill, we might remember all the other times we’ve had problems with phone companies rather than recalling all the times that our phone service and bills have been problem-free. These cognitive distortions help perpetuate anger, making it harder for the mind to see other perspectives. 1 Take out a piece of paper. Reflect on times you’ve gotten angry. Looking at the sample anger pro- files, graph your typical response: onset, intensity, and cool down. If you feel your anger responses vary too much for a single profile, come up with an “average” line. Try to be as objective as you can, like a meteor- ologist char ting weather patterns. EXPERIMENT 2 Reflect on the graph. Consider its shape. What could be helpful in terms of taking care of your anger in a way that decreases suffer- ing for yourself and others? For example, if your anger has a steep onset, you might benefit from the practice of asking yourself, “Am I sure about this?” and try to gather more information about the situation triggering your anger. Perhaps it would be helpful to share this infor- mation with those closest to you, so they can suppor t you in responding more skillfully or not taking your reactions as personally. 60 mindful February 2016