It was Aug. 2006.

My (now ex) boyfriend and I was in a movie hall, watching SRK’s latest release (or was it Hritik’s?). Some loutish guys among the audience made a few rude remarks about me.

I hit the roof. He followed me anxiously as I stormed out of the theatre.

As soon as we were out I hit him.

Twenty hard slaps on the cheek.

The idle loiterers of the area had a field day I guess.

No wonder we’re not together anymore.

Control your angerPhoto by Fadil Basymeleh

Having spent four delirious years as a victim of raving anger handicap before starting to cure myself, I can tell you – anger is good. Yes you read that right. It’s an essential tool in the survival instinct kit which Mother Nature packed with us while sending us off to school life. What’s sick though, is what I was – under absolute control of my anger, like addicts are controlled by drugs. You’ve probably guessed that it wasn’t adding any particular positive value to my life, especially my relationships.

If inability to control your anger is ruining your relationships, I know how you feel. You don’t feel any of the strength and menace they see in you.

You feel helpless.

When you’re not being controlled by anger you feel shocked and broken to see the disaster around you, the scars in the hearts (may be bodies) of the people you love more than yourself. The irony is, that you doesn’t know this you. Not having much control over your anger makes you feel like a hapless victim, not a dangerous perpetrator.

But relax. There are solutions. Here’s a 12 step anger management strategy which I put together and used to bring my anger issues largely under control. To make it easier, I’ve broken it down in the following four stages:

A)    Preparing the ground:Ways to mentally prepare yourself to be able to control your anger.

B)    On the ground:How to control your actions when your anger starts rising.

C)    Aftermath:How to come back to normal after an outburst.

D)    Looking into the future:Long term strategies to get to a mental state which helps you gain better control over anger.

It’s going to be long, so I’ll talk about the first two stages of anger management today, and pick up the other two in the next post. While I’m focusing mostly on people with clinical or near-clinical anger control issues, you can use these methods any time you struggle to control your anger.

A) Preparing the ground: Your inability to control your anger is in your mind. You need to see it the right way before you even aim for tackling it.

1. Know your problem: Have you done an assessment of your own anger to determine if it’s different from normal?

The red flag of anger sickness (as compared to normal anger which all of us experience from time to time) is that out of control and helpless feeling you get in the depths of your mind when you’re angry. If you do things when you’re angry which you wouldn’t believe you could do when you’re in your senses – chances are you have a serious issue with anger control here. Other related symptoms of anger problem include trembling limbs, increased heartbeat, sweating – you know them all.  

2. Take a decision to solve it: If you’re like me and you’re reading this, you’re probably struggling with this crucial step. You feel (as did I) that your anger is justified, and your “victims” should “pay for their sins”. Changing this mindset is usually a challenge because guess what – you’re often right. We all know that fairness is like fairy tales – it’s not real (well, mostly), and barring your near ones, the people who are bearing the brunt of your raving mania probably deserve (at least some of) it. But as you know, lashing it out on them is going to bring more harm to you that it’s going to bring to them (Remember what happened the last time you went mad with a colleague when they conveniently took credit for your hard work?). What I used to do is always remind myself of the fact that I’m not the only one receiving a bad deal in this world – I’m one of the 7 billion. Each and every human being on this planet has been through the glorious and the excruciating, the perfect and the unacceptable. This realization always helped me control my anger and calm myself down in the rave moments.

3. Ask for help: Once you’ve acknowledged your anger management issues and have taken the bold decision to tackle them, explain it to your partner, your family, your friends – all your near and dear ones who are affected by it. You know you’ll be a different person in “those moments” and they wouldn’t know how to help you control your anger. So explain to them beforehand what help you need from them.

In my case what used to work like fuel to the fire was any sign of confrontation or talking back from the other person (egomaniacal I know). I begged for help from my closest people, explaining to them how my success in controlling my anger depended totally on them and how if they could overcome their own natural tendency of talking back when I was having one of my rages, it could go a long way in helping me. I requested them to say something loving and soothing instead, and that worked wonders for all of us.

B) On the ground: The above steps will help you prepare yourself to avoid crazy scenarios as much as possible. But what to do when they do occur?

Control your angerPhoto by BDlighted

4. Turn your mind away: The slightest signs of that seething feeling building inside you and look for the nearest way out of the situation. The best thing is to leave the scene as soon as you can. If that’s not possible (think your boss giving you a piece of his mind) just turn yourself off mentally. Move your focus to something different. Here are some suggestions:

a) Good ol’ deep-breathing: I know you think (like I did) that something so simple and easy can’t work when it comes to controlling your anger, but guess what – it does. It’s as simple as taking 10 seconds to inhale, holding your breath for 5 seconds and then exhaling for 10 more seconds. You can repeat it as many times as it takes to calm your mind and nerves (and trust me, it will).

b) Think of something funny or sweet. Feel free to start with nursery rhymes.:P

c) Name-calling: No, not out loud. Call them a funny name in your mind and visualize them transforming into that physical object (How about a big fat 'dirtbag' shouting at you?). Amusement is like magic when it comes to controlling anger.

Another good ol’ technique – counting from 1 to 10 – has never worked for me, unless I was deep-breathing while counting.

That’s all for today. In the next part of this series we’ll look at what you can do to calm yourself after a total-anger-control-failure incidence, and the long term habits you can develop to keep anger control issues at bay permanently. 

Update: Here’s the second part – Control Your Anger Like I Did, Before It Destroys Your Relationship – Part 2.