A difficult skill to master is letting go of old, stale anger. In this article, I will share with you a great anger management tool I teach my clients to release their anger.

Old, stale anger is anger that we hold onto, often because no one has taught us to do any differently. This type of anger is called a grudge.

When learning to manage your anger, it is important to understand the effectiveness of metaphors. 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. Recent brain studies show convincingly that the brain doesn’t seem to differentiate between what is real and what is imagined. The researchers 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 feelings such as anger.

For instance, when I was younger, I thought of myself as a bucket when it came to strong emotions. The problem with that metaphor is that a bucket can overflow, sometimes quite rapidly. And when it overflowed, I would lose my temper. 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 you – 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 holes in it, allows the bad stuff – anger, irritation, anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame – to pass right through me. The net holds onto the good stuff – positive emotions, others’ kind deeds and compliments.

Last week, I came up with a great new metaphor – curling. Curling is where one person slides stones, or rocks, across the ice in an attempt to gain points, not unlike shuffleboard on lanes of ice. The stone is heavy – 40 pounds  of granite – and each one has a handle. Each turn begins with the curler pushing off a wall, sliding across the ice, stone in hand, and gently releasing the stone prior to crossing a line.

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Curling as a new metaphor for releasing anger

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 moves in synch with the stone, just as your anger stays with you – the two of you linked as one. And yet, the curler has control over WHEN the stone is released, 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 moving with anger and ever so gently…releasing it and allowing it to continue on…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 to mange your anger. Excellent metaphors are a powerful tool to add to your tool belt to effectively manage anger