“I started my morning behind some idiot going 25 in a 35. Followed in quick succession by my boss putting yet one more thing on my plate. And ending on a great note with cracked eggs cuz that bagger put them in the wrong place. Arggh!”
How many times have I said, “Oh, that made me so mad!” I wish I could blame my anger on the things that happen, but in the end, I know that I can choose how to respond to those things. It’s just so hard to temper my anger (pun intended) when things don’t go the way I’d like them to go.
I can move from event to response in a heartbeat. I tried pushing anger away for a while, but it would sneak up on me anyway, making itself known. I realized that neither extreme was helpful. I figured that pausing and noticing that I was not pleased with something might be a good way to start. After that acknowledgement, I could make a conscious choice about what I wanted to do with that awareness.
The first choice we have is whether or not the situation merits anything more than an acknowledgment of displeasure. Some things are not worth our anger or our energy, and we might want to let those things go. Examples could include things that happened by accident, and things that don’t effect us too much.
It is not easy though, to let go of even some of our anger. Sometimes we might feel that even though things aren’t the way we’d like them to be, we at least have our anger. We might want to question whether there is any value added by holding on to all of our anger. Other than muscle tension and elevated blood pressure, what do we really gain?
We can use imagery to help us if we’re willing to let go of something that might have led to anger in the past. We can imagine the situation that bothers us on a leaf that is floating on a stream. We can then watch as the leafs flows away and out of sight. Or we can imagine that we are putting that situation in a balloon, tying it up, and watching as the balloon floats through the ceiling, through the roof and disappears into the atmosphere.
If we feel that a situation merits a response, we can first look at our beliefs about that situation. Sometimes, we can unknowingly add fuel to the fire with beliefs that aren’t based on facts. For example, we may assume that something has happened on purpose, when it was actually accidental. Or we may be personalizing a situation that was not intended as a personal attack. I know that I have done both!
We can then explore the most effective ways to express our emotions. We can look for a way to let others know how we feel that provides the best chance of our being heard and understood. Then we can examine the ways that the situation might be changed for the better. There is a great technique called the “I Message” that I have used effectively to achieve both.
When you use that tool, you tell the other person in the situation, one specific thing about which you are displeased. To do this, you might start by saying “When you”, followed by that specific thing. You then let them know how you feel. You would begin with “I feel”, followed by how you feel about that. The end of the conversation would be a request for a specific way you would like that thing to be changed, with the words “I’d like”. For example, I might say to my child, “When you leave your clothes on the floor, I feel overwhelmed. I’dlike if you could please put them in the laundry basket.”
Communicating in this way has worked very well because it prevents our listing every offense ever committed by that person, labeling them as bad for having done what they did, and giving them an unrealistic future expectation. It can also be helpful when both parties involved in a situation express themselves, followed by each person rewording what has been said to convey understanding. Then both people can brainstorm to arrive at a compromise – a mutually agreeable win-win solution that offers benefits to both parties.
When we were angry or frustrated as infants, all we had to do was cry and scream to make our needs known. All of a sudden as toddlers, we were told to “use your words” It was difficult then, and it can be difficult even now. Sometimes we grown-ups just might need a good “tantrum” to let our feelings out. Every now and then, it might feel good to yell into a pillow, punch out bread dough or write a cathartic “railing at the universe” letter! Then we might be more able to make conscious thoughtful choices when things don’t go the way we want them to go.