Firstly, what actually are circuit breaker techniques? Essentially, they’re an anger management for when you’ve reached a boiling point and are about to unleash your rage on the subject of your anger or when you’ve already lost your temper and you’re in the middle of a heated exchange – whether that be personal or professional or even just at the DMV.
How do you break the ‘anger circuit’ once you’ve blown your fuse?
There are a number of techniques from variety of different disciplines that allow us to do this, according to mental health guru Emanuel Perdis, three of which include mindfulness, gratitude and distraction. We’ll expand a bit on these now.
Mindfulness is a wide-reaching area and a technique of anger management that has received a great deal of attention lately. Emanuel suggests, “this practice is analogous to shining a torch on the very behaviour – or the feeling behind the behaviour – and sitting with it. We somewhat treat it like a hurt friend who has reacted when their sore spot – their injury or wound – has been prodded, examining that angry feeling with compassion but also with detachment.” You want to be looking at yourself as a person experiencing an angry feeling, rather than as an ‘angry person’. “You’re almost looking at your emotional state like it’s a changing weather pattern, with your anger being a rain cloud moving across the sky.”
Another key technique that also derives its practice and inspiration from Buddhism is the concept of gratitude. Tony Robbins once said that “You can’t be grateful and angry simultaneously.” Withdrawing from a situation and saying or repeating a mantra of gratitude – as some say a Catholic rosary – can have an enormous anger-diffusing effect, according to Emanuel. Practising gratitude can often lead to the emotional charge of anger subsiding quite naturally.
Finally, distraction is a technique that works for many people. “Distraction is often associated with ‘toddler taming’, and is used by child behavioural care workers,” Emanuel points out. “Nonetheless, it is also an effective technique for the adult. Because often what's happened with us as adults is our inner child has been wounded, it sets off a ‘temper tantrum’ that expresses itself as anger. We can therefore apply the technique of distraction equally effectively with adults.”
Emanuel adds a caveat for all the techniques mentioned, which is that “there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all circuit breaking technique”. Every person’s psychology and personality is different. Where some may find greater success with one technique over another, some may also find that one technique doesn’t work at all with their specific temperament or personality. It’s advisable, therefore, to try any and all of these circuit breaker techniques to find out which fit best.