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How Meditation Can Help Reduce Anger

Learn how meditation and mindfulness can help reduce anger from anger management expert Dr. J. Ryan Fuller in this Howcast video.


The first thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to anger management, especially when we're talking about approach using mindfulness technique, it's not so much that we're trying to control anger, but rather learn how to experience or accept the anger and behave in ways that are in line with our goals and our values. So I found clinically that teaching clients mindfulness exercises, in fact, can be quite helpful at teaching them to learn to validate their experience of anger, get to know what sort of brings it on, how to predict how long it's going to stay, and then to sort of increase their self regulation, and that is their willpower about how to behave while they're experiencing anger. So there are a couple of schools of cognitive behavior therapy or behavior therapies that have been used, that take a mindfulness approach and it can be applied to anger. The first is one called dialectical behavior therapy or D.B.T. And that was originally created and developed for borderline personality disorder. And borderline personality disorder, there are lots of these folks who, in fact, struggle with issues around anger.

So while the D.B.T. overall helps all of their symptoms, we do know that when utilizing the core mindfulness skills, it do seem to learn to do a much better job with their anger. And so, a few of the things you can focus when you're practicing mindfulness from this standpoint is first learning simply observe the emotion. So that's without judgment, just noticing what's there. The second is, we want to teach clients to learn how to describe what is going on. Again, without judgment, but to experience it and describe it. And then finally, we want to get them to participate. And that means sort of becoming one with it or accepting it, sort of mindfully experiencing it and then instinctively behaving or participating with what wouldn't be the most effective strategy given the situation. So we have observe, describe, and participate. Now, A.C.T., acceptance in commitment therapy is a behavior therapy that also uses sometimes mindfulness techniques to allow clients to experience their emotions without judgment and to begin to distance themselves from it so they still can act or behave in ways that help them achieve their goals.

So again, these two forms of anger management are not about necessarily changing the emotion and reducing the intensity immediately by using mindfulness, rather opening up to the feeling in ways that we can improve our self-regulation so that we're not behaving in maladaptive ways and doing something that would be self-sabotaging. One of the ways in A.C.T. that you can do that is very similar to what I said in D.B.T. is you can first notice the emotion that's there, then name it and neutralize it. Create some distance, recognizing that you are not the same thing as your emotion, rather your experiencing the emotion, which means a couple of things. It's not part of my identity and it's temporary. This is going to come and go. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. So by using mindfulness, we learn to become aware that emotions are temporary and they don't have to dictate what our next behavior is going to be. If we practice these skills again and again, and over time we can learn to experience them and still behave in ways that are very adaptive.

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