Dr. John Schinnerer
A difficult skill to master is letting go of old, stale anger. In this post, I will share with you a great tip I recently came up with to teach you to let go of anger.
Old, stale anger is anger that we hold onto, often because no one has taught us to do any differently. This anger is also known as a grudge, or as residual anger.
When learning to manage your anger, it critical that you understand the importance of metaphor. A metaphor is basically a picture or a symbol used to represent something else. In this case, you are holding a picture in your mind which helps you to let go of anger.
I didn’t give much credibility to metaphors until I saw recent brain research that demonstrated that the brain doesn’t differentiate much between what is real and what is imagined. The authors concluded that the brain is very literal and interprets both reality and imagination quite similarly. This allows the use of metaphor to be quite powerful when dealing with emotion.
An Example of Using a Metaphor
For instance, as a teenager, I thought of myself as a bucket when it came to strong emotions. The problem with that image is that a bucket can overflow, sometimes quite rapidly. And when it became overflowed, I lost my temper. Later, I enlarged the bucket into a swimming pool so I could hold more intense emotions. However, it still filled up and overflowed. A few years ago, a client of mine and I decided that a colander, or strainer, would work well. You pour the hot water and pasta into the strainer. The anger is the hot water, and it flows right through the strainer. The good stuff, positive emotions and compliments, remained with me – in the strainer.
However, in my job, helping people with intense emotions, I needed something faster. So I came up with the metaphor of myself as a fishing net stretched across a roaring river. The water in the river is all the emotions that bombard us every minute of every day – media, loved ones, coworkers, bosses, traffic, and so on. Much of the emotion is negative and thus needs to be quickly released. Remember that emotions are merely messengers. They are not meant to be held. So the net, which has huge gaping hole in it, allows the bad stuff – anger, irritation, anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame – to pass right through me. The net holds onto all of the good stuff – positive emotions and good news.
Curling as Metaphor for Release of Anger
Recently, I discovered a great, new metaphor – curling. Curling is the sport which you only see during the Winter Olympics. Curling is where one person slides stones, or rocks, across the ice in an attempt to gain points, not unlike shuffleboard on ice. The stone is approximately 40 pounds of granite and has a handle. Each turn begins with the curler pushing off, sliding across the ice, stone in hand, and gently releasing the stone prior to crossing a line.
And it hit me, curling is a fantastic metaphor for letting go of anger. The stone is heavy just like holding onto anger which weighs you down. The curler has control over WHEN the stone is released, just like you and your anger. You have a choice as to when to let it go. And only you can make that choice. And I love the visual of sliding with the anger and ever so gently…letting it continue on the ice…without you.
Remember that metaphors need to be called to mind frequently as we must offset the natural negativity bias of the mind. We need to consciously counter the automatic negative thoughts that typically accompany anger and frustration.
Practice using metaphors in your anger management training. Metaphors are among the more powerful tools you can add to your mental tool belt.
To life, love and laughter,