The Powerful Pause | Center for Growth Therapy

The Powerful Pause

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Anger Management Therapy in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Mechanicsville, Santa Fe

The Powerful Pause

Our lives and relationships, it can be very difficult to pause and be intentional about our responses to stressors. It is easy to underestimate how our emotions fuel our reactions to difficult and unexpected moments. Strong emotions can snap us too quickly into harmful actions or angry words. When we fail to practice pausing, we risk weakening our interpersonal bonds and experiencing consequences from our reactions— internal regret or shame, worsened health, and even the loss of important relationships. Break this pattern by harnessing the “powerful pause.”

Anger Management Therapy: It’s Hard to Pause

Modern life is full of triggers to act fast. Many of these triggers exist outside of ourselves, in the environment around us. Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with opportunities to spend money on impulse. Brands intentionally play to our emotions in their tear-jerking or inspirational ads, and micro-target us on social media for the best chance of parting us from our hard-earned income (especially effective when sandwiched between photos of people who appear somehow happier or more beautiful than we feel). Many of the foods we eat are loaded with habit-forming sugar, salt, and fat– and are available on any street corner or can be delivered right to our doors on demand. Alcohol, cigarettes and even marijuana are everywhere too– along with ads that make them seem like the perfect way to relax or escape emotions like stress, anxiety, boredom or sadness. Through repeated exposure, our brains learn that these compounds give us a rush, change our body chemistry, and alter how we feel. For many people, it becomes increasingly difficult to break habits or practice the "powerful pause" before reacting to our triggers. By implementing this tool often used in anger management therapy, our emotions are less likely to dictate our behaviors.

Some triggers for impulsive reactions originate close to home. Many uncomfortable emotions arise from even quotidien relationship distress, the worries of parenting, conflict with friends or family members, and tension with coworkers or managers at work. The isolation and fears associated with living through our first global pandemic has caused documented upticks in alcohol and drug abuse as well as domestic violence– two tragic indicators of too-fast reactions to difficult emotions. Moreover, those of us who have had traumatic experiences in the past may be emotionally triggered by seemingly everyday sights, sounds, smells or interpersonal encounters that suddenly send us into a spiral of emotions.

When flooded with these unpleasant emotions, our bodies and minds often scream to “put out the fire” however possible: by trying to shut down the trigger or by drowning the emotional reaction. Difficult and uncomfortable emotions like fear, shame, sadness, and anger can lead us to react strongly as we seek to protect ourselves from pain. We may react in ways we are not proud of in our most cherished relationships— becoming defensive, passive aggressive, or accusing. In an effort to turn off the trigger, when hurt or angry we may attack those we otherwise love and care for: kids, partners, spouses, friends or coworkers. In an effort to drown the emotional reaction, we may hit “purchase,” pour a drink, order candy or fast food to be delivered, or find ourselves looking for hits of validation on various dating apps. These reactions can happen so quickly, they may seem automatic.

Anger Management Therapy: Hit the Pause Button

Practicing the powerful pause is the first step in rewiring the well-worn reactions to emotion that can harm our health and connections. It can help us to shift out of habits that we want to leave behind and open up a sliver of space for us to choose something different.

First, identify the specific behavior that you want to change. Perhaps you want to practice the powerful pause before having another drink, calling that toxic ex, yelling at a partner, heading to the fridge, or giving in to any other urge towards a self-harming habit. Noticing that old urge is the cue to practice the pause.

The powerful pause might be just a moment or two at first– mere seconds, a beat or two to breathe between trigger and reaction. It’s completely normal to practice the pause a handful of times without being able to immediately change the outcome of our reactions to triggers. At first, even a small delay should be considered a win– that’s a big shift in an old process. Remember, these reactions are often well-worn grooves in our neural pathways and may even be encouraged by our environment. The goal is to give ourselves just a little more time between trigger and reactiontime we might use to think and choose our next actions or words. We want to open up space to respond mindfully to a triggering event or emotion, rather than to react impulsively or engage in an old undesirable habit. Over time and with repeated practice of the pause, the ability to delay will increase until it’s enough time to mindfully choose a new course of action.

Anger Management Therapy: What happens in a powerful pause?
Well, there are options— try out a few of these and see what works for you:

  • Count slowly from one to ten.

  • Breath slowly in and out 3 times. If you have a preferred breath technique, use it here.

  • Try to identify exactly what emotion you are experiencing. Name it to help tame it.

  • Visualize a peaceful moment or a supportive person rooting for you. Think of the ocean waves. Think of your best friend or someone you admire.

  • Pray. For a non-denominational favorite, try the Serenity Prayer*.

  • Mindfully notice your body. Scan it for tension, then practice relaxing your muscles.

  • Ask for a break in the difficult conversation. Go outside. Walk around the block.

The powerful pause can be used in difficult moments with others or when we are alone. When we feel hurt, betrayed, sad, afraid; when we feel our thoughts racing or stuck in distressing loops; when we notice that our body is agitated (heart rate elevated, breath fast and shallow, physical discomfort, adrenaline surging with the urge to run or argue) this is the moment to fight the urge to speak or act. Instead, practice breathing slowly and use one of the interventions listed above to delay the reaction and help return the body and mind to a calmer state.

Practice the powerful pause. When we give ourselves the gift of time, we can create a safer plan to care for our emotions in ways that align with our goals for ourselves, our health, and our most cherished relationships.




*Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

To speak with an anger management therapist to help you learn techniques like the powerful pause please reach out to 215 922 5683 x 100. We offer in person therapy in Philadelphia, PA, Ocean City NJ, Mechanicsville VA, and Santa Fe NM, as well as virtual sessions in GA and FL.

InPerson Therapy & Virtual Counseling: Child, Teens, Adults, Couples, Family Therapy and Support Groups. Anxiety, OCD, Panic Attack Therapy, Depression Therapy, Grief Therapy, Neurodiversity, Counseling, Sex Therapy, Trauma Therapy : Choose from over 30 therapists. Therapy in Philadelphia PA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM, Mechanicsville VA