Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is about anger. Whether we like it or not, the state of anger happens to all of us from time to time. More often than not, expressing our anger causes more problems than we started with, and we are usually the ones who suffer the consequences. Times are few and far between when the expression of anger can serve us well, but it is possible, depending on our self-awareness at the time.
This subject came up a number of times last week as I observed people getting angry. I became angry myself on Saturday and thought I would share the circumstances to better understand this subject.
From 8 in the morning until 3:45 in the afternoon on Saturday, I facilitated a meeting for a local board of directors. It was a good day. The group was cooperative, the location was perfect, and we made good progress as we moved through the agenda to create a strategic plan for the team. My only difficulty was a headache that lurked in the back of my head throughout the day. Even after taking some ibuprofen, it would not go away.
Once the meeting was over, I needed to get some gas before I drove out of town to join my husband at our house in the gorge. I drove up to the various gas stations near the meeting only to discover that none of them sold diesel gasoline, which was what I needed. My anger started to rise. I observed the thoughts that fueled my anger: “What’s wrong with these gas stations? Don’t they realize that some people drive diesel cars? This would never happen in Europe where the availability of diesel gas is so much better than here! The American oil companies have us over a barrel, and we never seem to fight back!” By the time I finally found a station that sold diesel gas, I was pretty angry.
So what was happening? I had a big concentration of energy in my upper chest that made me feel short of breath. My angry thoughts about oil companies were being augmented by angry thoughts about having to work on a Saturday, my pounding headache, and the long drive ahead of me — and all of this was compounding to increase my anger. By the time the gas station attendant asked if he could help me, I wanted to shout out, “FILL IT UP WITH DIESEL!”
I didn’t do that, but you can imagine how this angry outburst would have been totally misplaced. He was the person who was going to give me what I wanted, and yet I nearly bit his head off. My anger really wanted to express itself. Anger is like this. Once the state overtakes us, the body feels compelled to get rid of that explosive energy. It often just comes out at the first person we come into contact with whether he or she has anything to do with why we are angry.
Rather than shout at the gas station attendant, I said to him, “Gosh, I’m so glad you sell diesel. I’ve been driving around for a half hour unable to find a gas station that sells it, getting angrier and angrier.” He nodded with smile and said, “I understand what you mean. That would be frustrating for me too.” This got me thinking about what makes us angry and how destructive it can be in our relationships, particularly when it’s misplaced.
I wondered about the kinds of situations that make me angry. I often become angry when my expectations about how something should go aren’t met. I become frustrated and soon after, the frustration turns to anger. I also get angry when people express their anger toward me, and the angrier they are, the angrier I am in response. It’s like having someone push on me with forceful, negative energy; the stronger they push on me, the more I want to push back on them with at least the same amount of strong, negative energy — if not more. I also become angry when I do something stupid or disappoint myself in some way. In fact, I am more forgiving of others when they do things that disappoint me. When it comes to my own actions, I’m much more judgmental, and that judgment can quickly turn to anger.
I also become angry when I see what I consider to be a great injustice done to others or when I observe someone being bullied or treated unfairly. I was reading recently about a man who had been unjustly imprisoned for 20 years for a rape he never committed, and I watched my anger rise inside of me as I continued to read the article.
Angry energy rises up in each of us for different reasons. How can we use that energy in a constructive and useful way rather than in a destructive way? Should we just let the anger explode out accidentally? Or can we learn to use that volatile, fiery energy for better purposes?
In the case of the gas station attendant, I was lucky. I was already observing the anger inside me, and when he asked if he could help me, I was able to control my outburst of energy and explain to him what was happening to me rather than take the anger out on him. But I’m not always so self-aware, and when I’m not, the anger just pops out. When I am able to see that I’m becoming angry or that the state is becoming more and more volatile, I have an opportunity to act from the place that’s observing the anger, rather than the anger itself.
Anger can serve for good purposes, however, when it is used to set a healthy boundary. The story from the Bible of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple comes to mind. From the gospels:
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’
— Mark 11:15–18
I remember reading this story as a child and wondering what this ever-compassionate, peaceful man was doing turning over tables and throwing people out of the temple in a fit of anger? This didn’t seem like his regular personality, and the unusualness of it made an impression on me. He was making a strong statement about the sacredness of the temple and how inappropriate it was to use it for commercial purposes. When our expression of anger sends a loud and clear message that sets a healthy boundary, it can be the right action for everyone involved. But, it’s tricky. As Aristotle wrote:
“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
This week, see if you can observe what happens to you when you become angry. Do you feel that explosive energy rising up in your chest, into your throat, wanting to express itself? Do you have lots of angry thoughts that seem to be fueling your anger? How about your tone of voice? Do you hear your tone changing when speaking to others when you’re angry? Or maybe you cut someone off in a meeting because you’re impatient with him or her and your anger is rising as you get more impatient.
See what happens after you’ve expressed your anger. Do you see the expression on the other person’s face change when you express your anger? Perhaps you have cultivated more passive aggressive ways to express your anger such as making negative side comments to someone in a meeting, texting those negative comments to others or gossiping about someone. Sometimes I observe people expressing their anger by provoking others with negative comments or intentionally being uncooperative to get what they want. All these expressions of negativity often stem from impatience, judgment and intolerance, and if we’re not careful, they can easily turn into an angry expression or invoke an angry response from another person.
This week, see if you can use your anger rather than allow it to use you. Observe how you express yourself when the state of anger has you in its grips, and see if you can moderate it to create a better outcome.
As Ambrose Bierce advised, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
Have a good week!
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