Good day, team.
This week, I’d like to respond to some of the comments I received from subscribers about last week’s anger challenge. Some people wished I had written more about what to do once the anger occurs.
My intention in last week’s challenge was to encourage people to observe what’s happening when they become angry. For me, that’s the first step and also part of the answer in dealing with anger. If I can observe it, then the part of me that is observing the anger is not under its control. Noticing this observer can begin to offer me a more neutral view of the stimulus that’s made me angry in the first place. I try not to suppress or rush into “fixing” the anger when it happens to me. There’s often much within it that I can learn from about myself and others. Allowing myself to experience it and inquire more deeply helps me understand much more about the stimulus response mechanism that is at the heart of the experience.
However, in an effort to be responsive to my subscribers, I offer some practical suggestions for how to deal with anger once it’s upon us.
- Feel your feet. When anger arises, it can be like jet rocket fuel coursing through the veins of an old Model-T Ford. What to do with all this explosive energy? I feel my feet. It immediately draws the energy down through the rest of my body, and the intense energy that collects in my chest and throat is more evenly distributed. It also creates more space in my chest for breathing, which decreases the anxiety that can come from shortness of breath and constriction in the throat. This practice takes some of the heat out of the fire and allows me to breathe.
- Change the focus. When I’m angry, all my energy gets laser focused on the subject I’m angry about. If I can change my focus, even for a split second, it provides a different perspective and viewpoint. In the example I gave last week of wanting to vent all of my anger at the gas station attendant, I was able to change my focus for just a moment. As I drove into the gas station, I noticed that the sun had come out, and after a morning of rain, it was a welcome sight. This observation altered my mood just enough to begin to pull me out of it.
- Try not to bundle. When we are angry, we tend to bundle unrelated things onto our current situation. Last week, I observed my thoughts starting to bundle as I was driving around looking for gasoline: “Why can’t I find any diesel gas? This would never happen in Europe! Why do American oil companies have such control over us?” and on and on and on. You can imagine all the other things I could have bundled onto that moment. Luckily, I was able to notice that I was doing this. When I drove into the gas station and saw the attendant smiling at another customer, it interrupted my chain of thought. His smile helped break up my angry thoughts, and I stopped myself from bundling something else onto the situation. I realized that this guy was not responsible for American oil companies and increasing my anger wasn’t going to help me get the gas I needed. This awareness also allowed me to respond in a more civil tone to him when he asked if he could help.
- Remember what’s important to you. Anger makes us believe the only thing that’s really important is what we’re angry about. If you find yourself getting angry with your partner, for example, try stepping back to look at whatever is making you angry in the grand scheme of things. I don’t mean you can’t honestly communicate what’s bothering you, but seeing whatever it is in relative terms often decreases its importance and the burning desire we have to shout about it. Approaching the situation calmly and with some perspective gives you an opportunity to frame the message in a way that it can really be heard and received. I remember a friend telling me about how she was yelling at her husband about something while she was doing the dishes, and all of a sudden a glass broke in her hand. Her husband immediately ran to her side to help her wrap her hand to stop the bleeding. In that moment, the anger was immediately replaced by love and concern.
- Be honest about what’s really going on. When I’m really angry with someone, I ask myself the five whys. Here’s an example:
- I can’t believe he did that to me again! Why?
- Because he always does that to me. Why?
- He’s trying to compete with me. Why?
- He doesn’t respect me. Why?
- He doesn’t respect anyone. Why?
- He doesn’t respect himself.
If we take the time (and use that angry energy) to do some deeper inquiry into why we are feeling angry rather than just fight back, we have an opportunity to see what might be underlying a situation. Often once we have this deeper information, the anger can begin to dissolve.
- Be honest in your communication. Taking responsibility for our anger is key. Nothing is more frustrating than to be in a room with a bunch of angry, resentful people who aren’t saying anything. Owning up to our feelings is critical when anger overtakes us. I would much rather have someone say, “Look, this makes me really angry, and we need to talk about it!” Rather than have someone sneer at me or make negative comments about me to someone else. Having the courage to say it like it is, but in such a way that we can be heard, is paramount to making our way through the anger in a much healthier way. We can clear the air rather than harbor the elephant in the room.
No one is comfortable with anger. We generally want to get rid of the energy as quickly as possible because it’s volatile and can be destructive. If we can’t express it, we want to fix it. But often the part of me that wants to fix it becomes angry when I can’t fix it and then that anger gets bundled in with the rest.
Being patient with the process of observing anger is actually harder than dispelling it. But the process of inquiry never lets me down. My inner world contains an entire universe that is worth exploring. And sometimes, the energy of anger is just what I need to propel me further into that unknown territory where the heart of the matter truly lies.
As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke advised, “Live the questions.” And if that doesn’t work for you, I hope the above suggestions will.
Have a good week!
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