Bipolar in disorder combined with anger is a very dangerous mix. The disordered person tends to become very volatile and can explode into a rage with little provocation. It is best for the person to avoid anything that might trigger anger until the disorder is in remission, but even then an angering stimulus can trigger another manic or depressive episode with anger as one of the troubling elements.
Bipolar people who have their condition in order have learned important lessons that can be applied to most of our experiences. For example, since we understand bipolar so well that we can function highly during depression and mania, we can also handle more intense states of anger without losing control.
As with every experience, most people can usually function fine when anger is at a very low intensity, but when the intensity of anger increases beyond their comfort zone they begin to lose the ability to choose their response to it. They act in ways that are less than optimal. They may even become a danger to themselves and others if the anger becomes too intense.
Knowing each level of intensity is the first step to mastering anger. We need to learn about the three most important intensities before we can move forward: the intensities that are within our high-functioning zone, the intensities just outside of the high-functioning zone, and the intensities that are too far outside to be safe to work with. How angry can you be before the anger starts choosing your behavior for you?
Knowing about anger at the three intensities requires two important things: awareness of how intense your anger is, and understanding how to function during it. Once we gain understanding we can begin to work on functionality, comfort, and recognizing the value of being angry.
Being aware of anger means we can clearly recognize the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and career/financial elements of the experience at each level of intensity. When we are fully aware we can clearly detail the differences between each level of intensity as described above. For example, at just outside our high-functioning zone, we notice how our breathing and posture change; our focus increases; our emotions escalate; we consider how much the issue matters to us; we become acutely aware of social dynamics; and we calculate the costs and benefits of different courses of action. We also need to become very vigilant for the signs that the intensity has escalated into unsafe territory.
Having the right kind of understanding is critical. You can be expert in the inner workings of an automobile, know all of the logistics of manufacturing, and successfully finance and operate a car company, but if you do not understand the dynamics of driving, you will crash the next time you take the car out of the garage. The most important understanding is to be able to use something for what it was made for.
The same concept applies to understanding anger. You can learn all of the triggers and how best to avoid them, but next time you are angry you might crash and lose your loved ones. You need to know how to use anger to your advantage as well as how to lower the intensity when it begins to be too much to handle. Understanding when to walk away is often as important as when to argue. When you choose to argue, it is important to understand how anger informs you to make stronger arguments. You also need to be aware when anger makes you do or say things that hurt your case.
A functionality-based understanding of anger helps you to use it to your advantage. An important part of that understanding is to have a clear outcome in mind. Anger gives some of us the uncanny ability to come up with the meanest thing possible to say. We are in disorder when we do that, but the same ability can be used to come up with the best thing to say that helps us achieve our goal. Other things that anger brings that could be turned into an advantage include enhanced awareness, focus, energy, motivation, and many more. Do you understand how to use these traits to help you achieve your goals? When you do, you will become highly functional while angry.
When we become highly functional, we also become more comfortable with the level of intensity of anger we have. Once the anger gets too intense, though, we become both less functional and uncomfortable with the anger. We can learn to be more functional when anger rises to just outside of our comfort zone. When anger becomes too intense we lose control and let it escalate into rage.
An important gauge is how comfortable we can make others with our level of anger. If we get our way because we make others so uncomfortable that they back down, we are not really understanding the power of anger. Those who we are in conflict with remain calm when our anger is properly expressed.
It gets really interesting when we look at the relationship between how much people value the experiences and how well they understand and function during them. Those who value the experiences and search for meaning in them function far better than those who only seek to make the experiences go away.
Helping people to recognize their awareness, understanding, functionality, comfort, and value at different levels of intensity changes their entire relationship to anger. Instead of seeing it as something to remove from their lives, they find that they can master their responses to anger and turn it to their advantage as long as they keep it at intensities within their ability to use it.
Substitute anger with any other state and you can use the same concepts to change your relationship to it. What other states do you think the concepts might apply?
Angry man image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 26 Feb 2014