Let's play a game. Raise your hand if you grew up believing that anger was an inappropriate emotional response to any situation? Were you taught that it was not okay to express anger? If you said yes, you're not alone but I'm here to tell you that anger is a normal part of the human experience. To deny it, to stuff it down or ignore it is definitely inappropriate and can actually lead to more emotional problems than you had before. Not only that, but denying your anger can even manifest itself as physical problems. Yikes!
Last week I mentioned a mind numbing blow that definitely stirred up a hornet's nest of rage and anger from within me. How do you feel about having to smile graciously and treat someone you feel has wronged you with nothing but the utmost respect and decorum when what you really want to do is quite the opposite and then some? I've felt intense anger much of the time for the past couple of weeks and in the moments when I stop feeling angry I go back to feeling powerless. So how do you keep your cool during the times when you really want to explode?
Stop thinking! That sounds easier said than done, doesn't it?! Thinking is the fuel that feeds anger or any single emotion for that matter. Thinking keeps the emotion alive well beyond its shelf life which in reality is actually only a few minutes. Usually our thinking runs rampant to help us escape the discomfort of our negative emotions. If we can stop thinking for a few minutes and embrace that hot, uncomfortable, painful energy, we can realize that the pain does pass and that we really can survive it without reacting to it.
I'm not saying this is easy by any stretch of the imagination but having a conscious awareness of what's going on inside your head and choosing to do something different in the moment will make all the difference in the outcome of the situations you find yourself in. Remember Atticus Finch? He is a shining example of someone who responded to hate with dignity and chose not to perpetuate it. This is the only way to knowing true peace in the world.
The second part of this anger equation is how to begin moving our emotion in a more positive direction and discontinue the ping pong match that goes on between the feelings of powerlessness and anger so that we don't slip into depression. Believe it or not, rage is a positive step up from feeling powerless and feelings of revenge feel better than rage. Anger feels better than revenge so to tell someone who feels powerless that anger is inappropriate is doing nothing but keeping them trapped in their feelings of powerlessness. Telling someone that anger is inappropriate does more harm than good in this situation so now you get the idea.
Okay, here's where thinking can help improve the situation. We've already determined that we can't change the situation but we can choose thoughts that help us feel better about where we are and regain some of our power back. This doesn't have to be monumental in any way but by choosing to do this one thing, even if it's only for a few minutes at a time, it actually has the power to tip the universal balance in our favor. What happens then is nothing short of magic because the outer world begins to change with the new thinking. I've seen the power of this in my own life so I already know it works.
I can hear the collective "How do I do that?" question. Have conversations with yourself. It doesn't have to be out loud in fact, keep it to yourself. This can be done in the shower, during your commute or any time you have some down time. I find it useful to do this even when I feel angry because it helps diffuse the situation and keeps my head clear.
Conversations I have with myself begin with a lot of 4 letter words at first and that's perfectly okay. In time, my conversations will begin more positively and that's all that matters. Once I get past the 4 letter word stage I can begin to say things like the following:
This is only temporary.
There are plenty of people who have been in similar situations who were the same age I am.
They made the same changes I want to make and were very successful.
It's okay for me to make changes.
Only I get to choose what's best for me.
I see a more positive situation coming to me where I feel more freedom.
I enjoy the people I work with because they are easygoing and I feel easygoing too.
I can laugh at the situation a little bit and not take things so seriously.
Life doesn't have to be serious, it's supposed to be fun.
With conversations like this, that negative energy I once felt begins to lift. I feel more light hearted and hopeful because there is a knowing that comes over me. This feels like your mom or a good friend giving you a big hug and telling you everything is going to work out fine and you know what? It will. I will generally start getting little signs that things are looking up. The universe is funny that way. Try this and watch the magic that will begin to transform your negative experiences and you'll realize how much they had to teach you. You may even find yourself developing gratitude for them.