What is Mindfulness?
If you’re on Jordanna Rowan’s blog, you probably already have a definition of mindfulness. But, to be sure, let’s define it for the sake of this post.
Mindfulness, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In a nutshell, mindfulness is having a strong connection to one’s own mental state and overall thoughts. If you’re living a mindful life, you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings in each moment.
That can sound overwhelming — being completely aware of your thoughts and emotions every second of every day?! Sure, it does sound overwhelming. But once you start practicing mindfulness it gets easier and, if applied correctly, becomes second nature.
What is Anger?
This seems like such a silly question — anger is when you get mad! It’s when something causes a fire to burn in you (and not the passionate kind). That’s it, right? Wrong! There’s so much more that goes into the emotion of anger. I asked my therapist, Jolene Feeney, to give me a solid definition of anger, and here’s what she said:
“Basically we have primary and secondary emotions. Our primary emotions are the immediate emotions that we feel given any trigger. The secondary emotion(s) are the emotions that follow, however, often we have a terrible vocabulary for emotions and stick to common descriptors such as anger.
For example, your boss asks you to pick up the quality of your work. You feel angry. But is that really the first emotion? If you take a mindful approach to your emotions you may find that you actually feel embarrassed, or hurt. The secondary emotion is the feeling about the feeling. Maybe you feel angry that you felt embarrassed or hurt. Maybe you felt angry that your boss was able to embarrass you or hurt you. This can go on and on.
If you Google 'anger iceberg', you'll see a great illustration of other emotions that tend to get lumped as anger when people don't have a good vocabulary and awareness of emotions.”
As you can see, anger is much more than just anger. It is a complex secondary emotion that is difficult to understand at times, much less manage.
If you’re living mindfully, can you still struggle with anger? Yes! Just because someone is practicing mindful living does not mean they’re perfect. For me, I’ve always struggled with anger so I know I’m always going to have to work on that, even as I transition to a mindful lifestyle.
To summarize my own battle with anger, I have, for most of my life, defaulted to anger without learning what the primary emotion was that I was feeling. When this would happen, I wouldn’t talk about it or even think about it. It wasn’t until my (wonderful) therapist Jolene introduced me to mindfulness and Brené Brown that I started to really think about what was going on in these situations. A perfect example is my road rage. I struggle with road rage in that I get really angry at other drivers (don’t worry — I don’t pull guns, I don’t get out of my car, nothing crazy). But it doesn’t start there. Usually, I’m just frustrated because I want to get home or wherever I’m going and I get angry that people are stupid drivers and don’t know how to merge on the freeway, which makes my commute longer.
Because anger is a secondary emotion, if you’re successfully taking a mindful approach, it’s going to be much more difficult to reach anger or an intense version of anger. If you’re living mindfully, you will be able to catch those immediate or primary emotions before you reach anger, alleviating the urge to show or even feel angry about a situation.
Of course, this isn’t to say that mindful living will remove anger from your life entirely. Nobody’s perfect even when it comes to living mindfully. You will have moments or even days where anger creeps its’ way into your mind. The important thing is to remember that that’s ok, and then evaluate the situation after — why was anger able to creep in? What primary emotion was I feeling that led me to anger? What can I do next time I’m feeling *insert primary emotion here* to stop myself from reaching anger? That, my friends, would be a mindful approach!
Ok, now you have studied mindfulness a bit, learned how to implement it in many aspects of your life, but you’re ready to focus it on anger. If you’re at this point, you have a solid idea of how mindfulness can successfully be implemented in your life. Use that knowledge and apply it to situations where anger tends to arise.
The first step is to start living mindfully. There are plenty of books and online resources out there to help you get started (Rising Strong or Daring Greatly by Brené Brown are two great books to get you started; Brené Brown also has a wonderful TED Talk; Get Your Shit Together course from Jordanna is a great, affordable course (seriously, $5) with daily prompts to help you along your journey; the list goes on…).
There’s no handbook on how to use mindfulness to alleviate and/or control anger since each person is different and will have unique experiences. However, I hope you’ve found a good starting place!
Best of luck to each of you on your mindfulness journeys and feel free to reach out to me if you need some encouragement, advice or just someone to listen.
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