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ANGER AND IMPULSE CONTROL
Posted by:   |  Aug 19, 2019

In general, impulsive behavior can be defined as the tendency to act automatically or habitually with minimum effort. The impulsivity is a mindless action driven by the need to satisfy an immediate urge or need, yet without foresight and deliberation.

Governing our impulse allow us to overcome or resist an urge, temptation, that may harm oneself or others. In other words, the impulse often creates negative consequences. To avoid the negative consequences, it would be important to recognize the impulse soon enough (sensations, feelings or thoughts), pause and stay in the uncomfortable space patiently before taking an action that we might regret later.

Each angry situation is an opportunity for impulse control. Each time you are able to be aware of your anger calmly respond to it, it improves your impulse control mechanism and brings you closer to master your anger as well as other impulsive behaviors.

Impulses and emotions typically have specific conditioning, that under certain circumstances give rise to action tendencies relevant to the specific situation. Anger, like hunger, sex and pain is an impulse that creates a powerful urge to respond with limited perspective and flexibility.

Anger is an impulsive response to a threat that initiates steps of self-defense. Accordingly, when getting angry, blood moves out of your brain and goes to your hands. Anger automatically mobilizes physical actions without thinking. It is not surprising that during anger episodes we “lose our mind,” and become physically powerful, yet mentally weak.

The gap or the space is what between the impulse, metaphorically can be the spark, and the aggressive behavior, metaphorically can be the flame. The biggest challenge is to be aware of that space and pay attention to what is happening in that gap. Most people have no conscious awareness of the spark that comes before the flame. They automatically engage in emotional behavior. Individuals that are more psychologically oriented and that practice meditation regularly and for a long time can be aware of what is happening during the gap.  They can, to some degree, just observe the feelings without engaging with it and reacting.

Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When we experience anger, we are often tempted to automatically justify the anger and react to it. When we do that, we create a vicious cycle that only adds fuel to the flame that amplifies our anger. But what if we could interrupt that pattern? It’s as simple as training ourselves to pause. Instead of reacting quickly as we’ve been prone to do, we can stop, take a deep breath, and simply pause. This creates the space we need to collect ourselves and respond with awareness. When we improve our awareness and attend to the details of the sensory experiences and the space between those experiences, it helps regulate our emotions and relieve stress. Learning to pause helps us to accept difficulties, delays, and irritations calmly and mindfully.   

Noticing and pausing are the first steps toward slowing down the flow of anger. Your goal is to increase the gap between the stimuli and the response, between the anger feeling and the action—even if only by a nanosecond. In that gap, you stay with your anger without being hijacked by it and reacting impulsively. Though not easy at first, by learning to pause and practicing it, you will be able to separate anger’s trigger from the cause as well as your response.

The reality is that evolution did not provide us with the tool to counter the fundamental part of our emotions when it reaches an elevated level. We all have that degree that I called “the point of no return,” which we are no longer able to restrain ourselves and react – the trigger is too overwhelming and the emotion is too strong that is pushes us to react.

So how can we sense our anger impulse, sense it arising, progressing and dissolving? Evolution also provides us with the prefrontal cortex that separates us from the rest of the animals.  It provides us additional ability to self-regulation and impulse management. The prefrontal cortex engaged in complex attentional and organizational skills, including following rules, reasoning, withholding impulses, and making decisions.

You are able to pause by learning to recognize the early signs of that anger you and stamping it out before you explode. Acting deliberately to quiet angry impulses stimulates the brain to release endorphins, chemicals that inhibit pain or discomfort associated with the “fight-or-flight” response, and derail aggressive reactions.

The impulse control processes is intentional and requires cognitive resources and conscious awareness. Rather than reacting to our impulses automatically, we can stop, take a deep breath and stay in the space between stimuli and response. Once we do that, we can expend our perspective and direct our efforts to evaluate alternatives and improve our reactions.

By improving your self-awareness and mindfulness, you bring attention to your core self while attending to the present moment. Try to observe what is taking place inside of you, watch your thoughts, emotions and urges along with how your body feels when you’re impulsive. Be mindful with judgment. At first, the process of mindfulness may not be easy, but with practice, you can begin to learn more about your triggers and identify what precipitates your impulsive behaviors.

Another way way for impulse control and emotional regulation is labeling your urges, thoughts and emotions. Labeling involves identifying and naming a particular emotion. Putting feelings into words activates reasoning and helps you tap into self-control. It actually lessens the intensity of the emotion. Labeling gives you practice identifying what you’re feeling, neither suppressing it nor going into great detail about what you’re experiencing. As Dan Siegel says, you “name it to tame it.”

Too often, we find ourselves identifying with our negative emotions. We say to ourselves, “I am angry person,” or “I am a worrier,” thus treating the hindrance as fixed. This sets us up to repeat the same patterns. Labeling emotions in a descriptive, nonjudgmental way moves you away from identification and attachment. It enables you to break through to a higher level of consciousness.

When you notice an urge, name it in your mind and better vocalize it. For instance, “here is anger and wanting to criticize my spouse.” After identifying the urge, practice mindful self-coaching: “I need to relax” or “try to stay calm” or “express my feelings without lashing out.” Use a supportive, compassionate and encouraging voice. For instance, if you’re struggling with impatience, you might say: “Waiting is hard for you but see if you can be a bit more patient right now.”

Individuals need to be aware as to their reactive-responsive orientation toward different situations and should accept their responsibility for the way they act, especially their impulsivity. They can also understand that it is within their power to change their automatic destructive reaction. By reacting, you are captivated by the situation. You suffer from roller-coaster of emotions based on the situation at hand and. You will be dominated by circumstances and events and feel like victim that is only option is to react impulsively. Yet, if you become responsible, self-aware and mindful, you can change your victim mentality to empowering mentality.



Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in New York City
License # : 000697