07/17/2013 03:45 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

How to Deal With Anger

By Anop R.Vora

In day-to-day life, we are bound to come across situations that make us angry: a disagreement with our spouse, frustration at work, disappointment with our children, harassment at a social event, jealousy at a classmate's success, and our own unmet expectations. These and other experiences act as catalysts that trigger anger within us. Some of these situations are within our control; others are not.

Is there anything we can do to manage these situations instead of getting upset? Is there a better way to handle conflicts and problems? To answer these questions, let us try to understand the fundamental process of anger.

For most people, anger has two major components: origination and expression. Anger originates when we allow ourselves to be provoked. When an event occurs that instigates anger, our ego takes over, and we react. The intensity of our expression of anger then depends upon our psychological make-up. Some of us express anger instantly, while others express it over a long period of time -- sometimes over decades.

The initial feeling of anger invokes other destructive emotions, such as hate, revenge, resentment, and the desire to inflict violence. Anger also blocks our ability to reason and makes us momentarily insane. As a result, people lash out physically or verbally, or, on the other end of the spectrum, they become passive-aggressive.

Jain philosophy describes four major negative emotions: krodh, maan, maya, and lobh, which are anger, arrogance, deceit, and greed. Jainism further describes the consequences of these emotions as depicted in the book Saman Suttam, "Anger destroys love, pride destroys modesty, deceit destroys friendship, and greed destroys everything."

A major step is often missing between the origination of anger and its expression: awareness of our anger.

If we recognize the negative emotion of anger as it arises, we can dilute and even dissipate the emotion. How can we identify and control anger? This requires us to pause, assess, and reflect. If we walk away from the situation and take a few minutes, or even a few days, to think through the problem constructively, the rage most certainly loses its intensity.

In Jainism anger is also linked to karmic bondage. The higher the intensity of anger, the stronger the bondage and the more serious the impact on one's destiny. When a person walks away from an anger-provoking experience, he should think about how that anger can harm his future. In addition, whether Jain or non-Jain, a person should use the time to consider the following:

  • Listen to the other person.
  • Allow for the possibility that we may be wrong.
  • Look at the situation from other person's point of view.
  • See if it is a fair criticism. Perhaps you can learn from the feedback.
  • Be gentle to others. We ourselves are far from being perfect.
  • Laugh it off!
  • Ask: Why am I wasting precious time brooding over what can't be changed? It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.
  • Focus on worthwhile long-term goals, and ignore the minor irritations of life.
  • Remember it is a lot easier to change ourselves than others.
  • Think: "This shall pass, too." Remember everything in life is transient.

Introspection on the above points can calm us down and make us think from a different perspective.

Some people may ask: What do we do about "righteous anger," or feelings that arise from compassion and justice? In my opinion, anger based upon noble intentions, compassion, and justice is really not anger, as there is no ego or feeling of revenge involved. People usually express this emotion to improve the behavior of the offending person or situation. A good example is a mother getting angry with a child, or a teacher getting angry with a student, for misbehaving. Clearly both cases involve a harmless emotional response based upon a pure motive.

Some anger management consultants suggest we must express our anger and not keep it bottled up. I do not agree with this, because immediately expressing anger does not provide any permanent solutions to the issue at hand and frequently exacerbates the situation. In contrast, becoming aware of the anger attempts to stop the emotion immediately. The goal is controlling and preventing anger rather than expressing it in destructive ways.

In addition to becoming aware of our anger, we can also utilize a huge reservoir of positive emotions, such as compassion, humility, tolerance, love, and forgiveness. These feelings help us alleviate anger if it occurs. In the Jain faith, we follow the example of Lord Mahavir, who was tortured, beaten, and abused several times but never became angry.

One day, Lord Mahavir was meditating in woods. A shepherd approached him and asked him to look after his cows while he went for an errand, not realizing that the man was deep in meditation. When the shepherd returned, he found that the cows had wandered away because Lord Mahavir had not taken care of them as he had requested. The shepherd got angry and started beating him. Lord Mahavir stayed calm. When the shepherd realized his mistake and apologized, Lord Mahavir forgave him. Lord Mahavir's deep awareness of his emotions prevented anger from originating and thus from ever being expressed.

Stressful situations will come, but it is our choice whether to allow ourselves to get angry or not. The key is being aware of our emotions as they arise.

Anop Vora is a former president of JAINA and the Jain Society of Rochester and is the founding president of International Alumni Association Mahavir Jain Vidyalay (IAAMJV). He recently hosted a series of shows on toxic emotions such as anger for the Jain TV program Mangalam. He has written articles on anger, arrogance, forgiveness, the theory of karma, meditation, and samyag darshan (right faith). He has attended camps on Vipassana meditation in Springfield, MA, and Preksha meditation in Ladnu, India. He has also participated in interfaith programs in Barcelona, Spain, and Monterrey, Mexico.