Feeling too calm? Get a Bataka

During the early years of our psychotherapy practices anger management groups used batakas to beat on pillows (and in more “advanced” groups – each other).  Supposedly, batakas released the anger but we never referred anyone to those groups, thinking that practice makes perfect and practicing being angry, much less violent, was not therapeutic.

Many years later neuroscience proved us right, so we were REALLY surprised to find batakas are still being sold on the internet with outdated and debunked descriptions like this:

 “The Bataka Encounter Bats (or aggression exercise bats) are designed to enable children and adults alike to release aggression in a fun, safe way. . . .Batakas are especially popular in therapeutic or educational environment.  The Bataka consists of a coated fabric with a firm foam roller with integrated plastic handle. The handle provides hand protection, so that the risk of injury is minimized.”

Here’s a sample instruction to practice getting angry, easily and quickly:

  • Buy a bataka from an internet site – hey, it’s only $160 . . .
  •  Think of something, someone, anything, anyone that’s bugging you and feel the anger.  
  • Focus on anger at past injustices, present slights – doesn’t matter if it’s directed toward you or someone else.
  • There are opportunities everywhere – get angry at the news, household chores, lack of time, growing old, the weather, politics . . .
  •  Slug away at a pillow or chair.
  • Make anger a habit and trust it to become a quick ‘n easy, automatic response. 

(Warning:   Your brain isn’t having fun, it’s strengthening your neuro-connections to retrieve angry feelings quickly.)

Unless you are being physically assaulted, anger is usually the lid on another emotion like fear or hurt.   Put simply, fear and hurt create vulnerability and covering those feelings with anger gives us a sense of power. 

To reduce anger:

  1. Refrain from trying to explain, justify, or rationalize why you got angry.
  2. Take a brisk walk, mop, shovel snow – movement helps dissipate the neurochemistry of anger and gives you faster clarity
  3. Pick another emotion – rejected, afraid, sad, hurt – even if you aren’t sure, just intuitively pick what feeling might have been covered by your anger.
  4. Think about what triggered the anger.  Is there a pattern?  What were circumstances in your life that created the rejection, fear, sadness or hurt?

Your brain is always creating and strengthening neuro-connections.  Unused or seldom used emotional “connections” lose strength and fade away.  The connections used the most often grow stronger.

You can train your brain to form any emotional habit you choose, with determination, effort and time.

“The actual secrets of the path to happiness are determination, effort and time.”

The Dali Lama

Take a look at the post on Reducing pain associated with anger regulation with a new biobehavioral model.  Click HERE 

“1/4 of a second secret” to stop anger in its tracks

I met some remarkable people working as a therapist in a hospital psychiatric ward.  One of the most memorable was a Vietnam veteran who flew into rages.  He’d lost his lower left leg in battle. But the war or being severely injured were not what made him rageful. He had always raged, even as a child. His father raged as well.

His wife was the main target of his rages.  He would become uncontrollably angry at the smallest of things like forgetting where she left her keys, or spilling a beverage . . .  until he learned the “1/4 second secret” to controlling unwanted anger.

To understand the 1/4 of a second secret you need to understand the fight or flight reaction.

We have an ever vigilant watchdog,  a small almond shaped organ in our midbrain called the amygdala (amygdala from the Greek word for almond) that looks out for us 24/7 and alerts us to any POSSIBLE threat.  

When our brain receives a threat-cue, sounds, sights, smells, touches or even our imagination, our brain wants FAST action. No waiting around for a sign of safety, no thinking things through just FLEE or stay and FIGHT (there is also a “freeze” response but that’s another post).

Our amygdala floods the cells in our body with neurochemical signals to increase blood pressure, raise heart rate, send blood away from major organs to your muscles, constrict capillaries near the skin, increase breathing, and tamper down anything that isn’t crucial to fight or flee for survival. 

Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t discriminate between real threats, imagined threats, conditioned or potential threats.  That’s why things that are, in reality, not threatening can become threat-cues.

Luckily, many people tend to go with flight more easily than fight. But for those whose brain directs them to fight here’s the “1/4 second secret” that stopped the vet’s rages:


The thinking part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, can STOP the fight or flight response. We have 1/4 of a second to interrupt the signal from the threatening stimuli (sounds, sights, smells, touches or our imagination).  In that 1/4 split second tell the amygdala “Stop” or “I’m safe” and take a deep breath.

If we don’t “catch it” in 1/4 of a second a neurochemical cascade will  flood our cells.  Once the cells are flooded it takes 15 – 20 minutes for the neurochemicals to metabolize out of our body (provided no new information saying the threat continues to exist is received).

This is what the vet learned to do:

  • First, he identified the triggers that sent him into a rage.
  • Second, when he anticipated a trigger he used his pre-frontal cortex to say “stop” to the amygdala.
  • Third, if he failed to anticipate the trigger and felt the stress response building he would take a 20 minute walk to speed up  metabolizing out the stress response.

I admired his remarkable determination.  It took him 1/4 of a minute at a time to stop his rage response, change his marriage and improve his life.

Do you have a “secret technique” to control your stress response?

(PA)

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