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Anger Management


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“Anger is the energy that people use in order to act.  But when you are angry, you are not lucid, and you might do wrong things” ~Thich Nhat Hanh.

Dr. Nafisa Sekandari and Sr. Hosai Mojaddidi

Anger, as an emotion, is a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by all humans at times, and has functional value for survival.  Anger alerts our body to take corrective action when we or someone we care about have felt wronged or mistreated.  Although anger as an emotion is normal, it’s what we do with this emotion that can lead to destructive actions.  Uncontrolled anger can have a negative affect on our physical, mental, and  social well-being.

“Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one”.  ~Benjamin Franklin

Anger is oftentimes a cover for deeper, underlying emotions such as fear and loss of control. We may feel justified when we are angry and feel we know the source of our anger but oftentimes, it’s less about the other person and more about our perceptions.  Personal perception plays a big role in eliciting anger.  If a person perceives to lose control of a situation, they might get angry despite what the reality of the situation might be.  We often notice when we are happy, a similar situation may not stir the emotion of anger inside of us as when we are irritated, feeling down on ourselves, etc.

“When anger rises, think of the consequences” ~Confucius

Although anger can at times be constructive, most times it clouds our judgment and creates stress in our lives.  If anger leads to aggressive behavior toward others, it can lead to permanent harm to personal relationships.  Prolonged or excessive anger, deep resentment, and even mild anger has been linked to cardiovascular problems and heart attacks.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned”. ~Buddha

We must learn to pay attention to our anger and explore the underlying emotions related to it such as hurt or fear.  Learning to feel empathy for others and taking the perspective of others is often helpful as well.  For example when driving and experiencing road rage, you can view what might possibly be going on with the other driver.  If you view the driver as ignorant and lacking proper driving skills, you might become enraged but if you view the driver as being sick or elderly, you might not be so quick to lose your temper.  How often have you made mistakes on the road that you did not intent to?  Maybe drove a little too slow while answering your phone or slowed down to hand something to your child in the back seat.  We can imagine the person in front of us making such unintended mistakes as well and therefore not be so harsh in our judgment.  Simply assuming the good intentions of the other person oftentimes has the ability to cool our fires.  Another way to slow the speed of your rage is to think about your expectations of others.  What are you expecting that you aren’t getting?  Is the expectation reasonable?  Can a compromise be made in meeting your expectation?  Can you forgive the short comings of the person you have expectations from?  Many individuals have difficulty forgiving others and would rather hold onto the anger out of revenge and spite or fear they may forget.  Claudia Black, a psychologist says it best when she says “Forgiving is not forgetting, it is remembering and letting go”.  Sometimes we just need to let go of our anger and make the choice to be happy.  Holding onto to anger for the sake of revenge is a useless and destructive habit.

“For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness”.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unexpressed anger can have destructive consequences not only emotionally and socially, but physically as well.  According to a New York Times article, chronic anger can be more dangerous than smoking and obesity in shortening your life.  Additionally, chronic anger can also rob you of the chance to be happy and simply enjoy life.

 

“Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.”  ~Buddha

Anger management strategies

1.) Learn to recognize your physiological reaction to anger (e.g. increase heart beat, sweaty palms, clenched fists, face feeling flushed, etc.)
2.) Take a time out and count to 10 backwards when you feel the anger building up.  Breathe deeply 4-5 times in order to allow yourself time to come up with an appropriate reaction or plan to deal with the situation. Also keep in mind the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who said: “The best of you are those who are slow to anger and swift to cool down.” (Tirmidhi)

3.)  Learn to communicate your feelings and be assertive rather than aggressive.  Express your feelings using “I” messages (e.g. “I am feeling upset right now because I feel what I’m saying is being taken out of context”).
4.) Learn constructive ways to channel your anger out (e.g. walk away from the situation and clear your head, exercise, meditate, write in a journal, speak into a tape recorder, talk to someone that is not related to the situation in order to get a clearer perspective, etc.). The Prophet (peace be upon him) has also advised us about the benefits of doing the following:

  • Making Wudu (Ablution): “Anger comes from Satan and Satan was created of fire; and fire is extinguished only with water; so when one of you becomes angry, he should perform ablution.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)
  • Changing Physical Position: “When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)

5.) Accept that you can’t change the world or anyone else…you can only change your reaction.  When you give up the idea that you can somehow change a person’s behavior or thoughts you become empowered and in control.  You realize the only thing you have control over is your reaction to the person.  You can choose to laugh about the situation, ignore it, make a joke out of it, or get angry.  All those emotions are under your control and your choice.

6.) For chronic anger, you might want to look into an anger management program to learn strategies and coping skills in better managing your anger.  Talking to a trained mental health professional is another recommended option.

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger”. Buddha

This is why we are advised in Islam to fight our emotions and hold back our anger. Abu Hurayrah (may God be pleased with him) reported that a man said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), “Advise me.” He said, “Do not become angry.” The man repeated his request several times, and each time the Prophet (peace be upon him) told him, “Do not become angry.” (Al-Bukhari)

Furthermore, The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The strong man is not the one who can overpower others (in wrestling); rather, the strong man is the one who controls himself when he gets angry.” (Ahmad). And in another tradition he said, “The strongest man is the one who, when he gets angry and his face reddens and his hackles rise, is able to defeat his anger.” (Ahmad)

These words of wisdom, as with all advice in the Quran and Sunnah of our Prophet (peace be upon him) are meant to help us live better lives.  As the above quote by Buddha states, it’s not necessarily that God will punish us for being angry in the literal sense but that we get punished by our anger.  Chronic anger eats away at us physically and spiritually.  For this reason we are encouraged to control our anger.

mentalhealth4muslims.com

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Anger – The True Enemy?

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Contrary to popular sentiment, anger is not the bad guy. Like all emotions, anger is the body’s way of getting our attention when we feel threatened or endangered, both literally and hypothetically. Trying to rid ourselves of anger is a losing game, not the least of which because of the fact that anger cannot be destroyed.

We’ve all heard the hadith from Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam on how a strong man controls his anger, as well as his admonitions to just avoid getting angry at all. True as it is, we suggest, however, that the issue of anger is far deeper than just avoidance. We know, as a matter of fact, that Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam himself was angry sometimes , most often when he saw injustice being committed.

In his book “The Forty Foundations of Religion”, Imam Al-Ghazali says about anger:

“Breaking the power of anger is among the most important aspects of religion…By “breaking it”, I do not intend “removing it”, for indeed its root does not disappear…”

One cannot defeat an enemy without knowing full well the identity of that enemy. Anger is not our enemy, any more than sadness, happiness, or love are enemies to us. Anger is merely a tool at our disposal, and like any tool it can be used mindfully or mindlessly. The true enemy is our inability to accept our reality and embrace all the parts of ourselves so that we may move forward into change, whole human beings.

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Learning to Respect Anger

In a commentary on Imam Al-Ghazali’s aforementioned book, the author says, Anger is like a hunting dog that does not oppose the hunter who trained it. Anger is led, like a hunting dog, by the intellect and sacred law, abiding by their guidance. This is only possible after a great deal of spiritual struggle against the self and becoming habituated to forbearance and resisting those things that cause anger.”

Taken in this light, we can see that our anger serves us, so long as we do not allow our anger to control us.

Al-Ghazali cautioned, however, against trying to remove anger from oneself entirely: “…if it disappears, it is necessary to obtain it, because it is…a preventer of bad deeds, and a multiplier of good deeds.” There are many situations in life which call for anger, including righting a wrong committed, ensuring justice is delivered in a court of law, and protecting the rights of orphans and widows, to name a few.

There are some instances, however, where anger must simply be ignored, and in these instances, responding to one’s anger will only make matters worse. The correct response, according to Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam  is to seek refuge in Allah from Shaytan for Shaytan loves to stoke the fire of anger and to make wudu. He also said we should sit down if we feel angry while standing, and lie down if we still feel angry while sitting. (Sunan Abi Dawud 4782)

Anger, however, does serve a purpose in some circumstances, but before one can determine if showing one’s anger is beneficial to the matter at hand, one must look under the anger at the deeper emotions.

What Lies Beneath

When we pull back the layers of anger, we will find that there are numerous other feelings just lying in wait, including guilt, shame, hurt, loss, longing, hunger, helplessness, anxiety, unworthiness, and emptiness.

Ask yourself: “Am I angry because I’m actually afraid?” Or maybe you’re angry because you feel devastated? Maybe you feel angry because you feel dishonored or ashamed of yourself.

In these circumstances, it is your nafs pushing you to respond. Aside from calmly expressing your feelings, the best reaction is no reaction at all, except the aforementioned recommendations of Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam.
Jalaladdin Rumi said,  When you see the face of anger, look behind it and you will see the face of pride. Bring anger and pride under your feet, turn them into a ladder and climb higher. There is no peace until you become their master. Let go of anger, it may taste sweet but it kills. Don’t become its victim. You need humility to climb to freedom.”

However, if your anger is coming from a place of worry for the well-being of another who is oppressed, or the concern for your own valid rights (your pride is not a right), there are ways to train yourself to express your anger in a healthy manner.

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Controlling and using anger to our advantage

There are two main routes to controlling one’s anger: knowledge and action.
First and foremost, we must understand that under all our emotions, far below the surface of the anger lies denial of the qadr (destiny) of Allah .

 

Al-Ghazali says: “There is no cause for your anger except the denial that a thing occurs by the will of Allah rather than by your own will…the anger of Allah upon you is greater than your own anger, and the grace of Allah is greater…”

Having come to terms with the deepest root cause of our anger, the next step is action, both for the acute anger at hand the chronic underlying issue. First, as stated previously, sit down or lie down, seek refuge in Allah (say “authu billahi min ashshaytan arrajeem ”), and make wudu. When you are in a clear state of mind to consider better alternatives to acting in anger, you can more fully consider the consequences of your actions.

Dealing with chronic anger, however, requires a life more devoted to restraint in general. This can be obtained through frequent sunnah fasting, and limiting one’s intake of too much food, too much leisure, and too much halal sexual pleasure.

 

Too much of any good thing is bad.

There are times, however, when one’s anger become so powerful, and the emotions underneath so muddled, that we need help from an outside source , and it is our responsibility to seek that help .

Allah gave us a broad range of emotions so that we could experience life on this earth to its full potential, both the pleasure and the pain, the sadness and the joy. Let us not make one of those emotions a scapegoat so that we do not allow ourselves the full depth of experience Allah has created us to feel.

Let sadness wash over you, as sadness does. Allow joy to warm you and leave you peacefully. Accept grief and the gifts it brings to your life. Anger is the hard shell of the egg that is your deeper, connected self. Crack that shell and life becomes vivid in all its colours and forms.

May Almighty Allah protect us from Shaytaan and keep us with the Sunnah of holy prophet peace be upon him

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