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I recently came across a simple way of dealing with angry emotion and preventing it from escalating to aggressive behavior.
This technique is called “The Traffic Light System”. As the name indicates the image of a traffic light is a good visual prompter to de-escalate a situation while preventing from anger emotion to grow. The simple idea is that we are all familiar with the traffic light system and its importance in driving carefully and responsibly on roadways. We can apply the traffic light colors to our anger.
Stop! Don’t lash out! Use breathing techniques and count down from 10.
The color red represents stopping, and is useful when individuals begin to lose control of their emotions.
Just as a driver who runs a traffic light risks getting a ticket or causing an accident, an individual risks personal injury, or inflicting injury on someone else by running an anger traffic light.
Yellow offers an opportunity to think and find an appropriate solution to their problem. At that stage, you wait, and think and ask “What is wrong?”, “What can I do?”, “What are the consequences?”, What am I feeling?
With green, you have the permission to go and move forward in a responsible way. You keep calm and go assertively without losing your temper.
To summarize the traffic light technique, try the following visualization: imagine a set of traffic lights in front of you – whenever you feel yourself starting to get angry, see the lights on RED, reminding you to stop what you’re doing, breathe deep and slow, pause, then see the YELLOW flashing, think, analyze the situation, consider your options, breathe deep (again), as you mindfully choose your course of action (select your metaphoric “gear”), then see the traffic light change to GREEN so you can go forward with care and calmness.
As you can see the traffic light system is simple (not easy) and effective. It encourages moving slowly from stage to stage carefully: identifying your angry emotions, prompting you to slow down, minimizing bad decisions, taking constructive actions and de-escalation situations.