Acceptance of anger refers to a willingness to stop struggling with or avoiding angry feelings and bring a gentle attention to unwanted anger related thoughts and feelings; simply allowing them to be there, without changing them, acting on them or suppressing them.
Acceptance based strategies teach a young person to observe their anger
and not act on it automatically.
Mindful acceptance is the skill of noticing difficult emotions such as anger without judging, struggling or avoiding them. Mindful acceptance has three goals:
- To be in the present moment
- To let go of control and avoidance strategies that create anger problems
- Create room to choose how to respond to anger rather than react to it
The 4 steps of Mindful Acceptance of anger
Some young people feel trapped by their anger, unable to withdraw once their anger feelings are triggered. Once they have been able to understand their own anger process, a young person can then begin the work of learning a new way of responding to their anger; with active acceptance and compassion.
Eifert et al (2010) state that there are four steps to accepting anger:
The first step is learning to acknowledge anger and note that it needs to be ‘taken care of’ rather than simply be acted upon. Practitioners can work with young people to ensure that they don’t try to escape angry feelings by or make them go away by using alcohol or drugs.
The second step is to take full responsibility for making the changes that can be made. Practitioners can encourage young people to notice when their mind begins to focus on judging how things should be or how others should behave. The technique of ‘labeling’ can be used by young people to help them notice the judgments they make. Labelling thoughts and feelings helps create some space between the young person and their anger. This leaves room for them to make and start taking responsibility the choices they make. The following are examples of labeling. Young people might learn to say to themselves:
- ‘There is my mind judging’
- ‘I’m having the thought that she shouldn’t have done that’
- ‘I’m having the feeling of impatience’
The third step is for young people to be able to recognise any uncomfortable feelings that lie beneath their anger. This about young people discovering what is hurting or scaring them. Young people might have learned to use anger to protect them from feeling hurt, fear and/or shame.
The fourth step is to develop strategies to address these uncomfortable emotions with compassion and patience (see the practice elements from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy below)
H2. Contacting the present moment & G4i. Focusing on the present moment
Both Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) have techniques that help young people contact the present moment. The ACT element below may be useful in introducing the concept of being in the present moment. The DBT approach is probably better suited to people who are in a distressed or overwhelmed state as it is more straight forward and relies less on metaphors
H5. Introducing Acceptance & G3i. Radical Acceptance of Painful Events
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) also have similar approaches to helping young people practice ‘acceptance’. The element from ACT, demonstrates how young people can learn to allow difficult feelings to be present and not take action to avoid or escape them. This is also the focus of the DBT element.
Relaxation techniques can help a young person to manage physical and emotional arousal, making it easier for the young person to deal with triggers and resist the urge to act.
C5i. Relaxation exercises
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) incorporates a range of exercises that help people relax. This includes progressive muscle relaxation and grounding.
Also www.smilingmind.com.au is a free, well-designed meditation program with exercises that can help young people reduce stress and relax. It provides an easy to follow program that will help with the three C’s, “clarity, calmness and contentment”. The program is based on proven techniques and was created by a experienced psychologists. For example, guided mindfulness meditations for age groups ranging from 7 years to adult.
Delaying the decision to act and withdrawing
If a young person finds the energy of escalating anger too overwhelming they may need very practical ways to maintain control and prevent themselves from acting in a way that doesn’t fit with their values.
Two very straight-forward and practical strategies are to:
- Delay the decision to act. This can be a simple as young people promising themselves that before acting they will breathe deeply and slowly count to 10.
- Withdrawing or walking away and postponing the resolution of any conflict. At times young people can find this decision hard to make as seems and ‘socially inappropriate’. Practitioners can prepare young people by helping them realise that staying safe is more important and ‘permission’ to leave any situation where staying could result in increased harm.
In both cases, the young person will need to find a constructive outlet for their angry feelings or there is a risk that it could be internalised and easily re-triggered. One way to discharge anger energy is through exercise such as walking or jogging.
Also these strategies are somewhat of a last resort and don’t resolve the situation in which the young person’s anger was originally triggered.
Family members, friends and others from the young person broader social network like coaches, teachers or employers can be enlisted by the young person to support them in controlling angry feelings and their impulse to act.