Someone recently confided in me that they were worried about how angry they got and wanted to do something to stop.
This stopped me in my tracks.
The conventional wisdom says that anger is bad (even more so when shown by a woman). The conventional advice is to ‘manage’ your anger, maybe even going to classes to learn how to.
I see it differently
This might sound strange, because I am someone who hates conflict. The idea of being around an angry person makes me shrink and feel smaller. Even watching angry people on television makes me want to turn over. But, I took a moment to think and I responded in an unexpected manner. So unexpected in fact I felt compelled to share.
I said “I see it differently. I see anger as something that in the main is a good thing. It’s a sign post telling you something is wrong”.
All negative emotions are messengers
I would put all negative emotions in this category. Envy, sadness, guilt and possibly all other negative emotions are messengers. They’re telling you where to focus your attention on making change. How helpful of them…
It can be inconvenient, unpleasant and sometimes down right inappropriate
Absolutely it can.
An outburst of anger in a quiet office may be a little career limiting. An outburst of anger that results in violence to another person may get you residence in a prison cell and be morally wrong. An outburst of anger directed at an innocent party when your frustrations lie within or elsewhere is unfair.
Sometimes the action isn’t acceptable, but the feeling is still a messenger. Something to be listen to and acted upon to make positive change.
So, what to do?
1. Respect your battery
It’s useful to know that scientists describe the part of your brain responsible for willpower and decisions as similar to a battery. Every time you use this part, the frontal cortex, your battery goes down. The battery is only ‘recharged’ or reset when you sleep each night.
Imagine you waking up with a full battery and then throughout the day things happen to drain your battery. You make decisions about what to do, eat and say. You use your willpower to avoid raising your voice to a colleague who has frustrated you or stick to a diet.
At some point during the day your battery may run out meaning that one small annoyance becomes the straw that breaks the camels back. You have no willpower left to contain your anger and it so the reaction may be entirely disproportionate to the issue. Seemingly unrelated issues and actions use the same battery and result in an unwanted action
Respect your battery. Where possible reduce the decisions you need to make, if you’re relying on willpower a lot or in a stressful environment recognise this and counteract it with more relaxation. Meditation or simple breathing exercises can be extremely beneficial.
2. Acknowledge, feel and deal
All emotions are valid and a part of the human experience. If you feel a negative emotion rather than burying it deep down inside you (risking it popping up elsewhere) practice acknowledging it. Sometimes we ignore these emotions so much that we don’t even know we feel anger, anxiety or whatever negative emotion. Practice identifying what the emotion is. Then you can feel it fully. Curiosity can help with this. “I’m feeling irritated right now. Why is that? What triggered this feeling”.
When you know why you’re experiencing a negative emotion you are in a better place to deal with it with an action that is proportionate to the emotion.
If you are annoyed with a colleague speak up. Calmly explain how you feel
If you’re feeling envious of a friend use it to think about why and what actions you can take in your life to go after what you desire.
Keeping the concept of your battery in mind if you acknowledge and act upon the minor irritations you won’t be draining your battery by using your willpower. Listen to the message
3. Take ownership
Often annoyance or resentment can be as a result of you feeling that someone overstepping a boundary or been unreasonable. People aren’t mind readers.
Take responsibility. If you feel annoyed about your bosses unreasonable demands practice ways of saying no and setting boundaries. If you feel resentful that you always end up being the one to do something that isn’t your role don’t volunteer. Don’t do it. Stay silent like everyone else.
One way to do this is to ask the simple question – ‘What are my options?’. By exploring different options you immediately stop being the victim and you can decide what action to take. Even when you feel stuck there is always an option. It may be more undesirable and you may not take it, but working out your options allows you to make a conscious decision.
However remember that you can’t force anyone else to change you can only change your reaction to them. Which brings me onto…
4. Seek the silver lining –
People may have different ideas to you as to what is right or normal. Even by asking someone to do something differently you may not be successful.
It can be useful to seek the silver lining, to work out what the benefit to you is.
Someone at work always gets in late and expects others to pick up the slack AND no one does anything about it – Great, next time I need to leave a little early I can do so without feeling guilt.
My boss is unreasonable and unsupportive – Great, I can learn skills in how not to manage people so I will be a better manager when the time comes.
5. Use Your Core Desired Feelings
Last but not least, I also find returning to my Core Desired Feelings a great way to work out how to move forwards from a negative emotion. A way to get out of a potential vicious spiral downwards.
Asking myself ‘Does this make me feel my CDFs?’ can be helpful to make the decision to move forwards from a negative emotion. For example carrying around resentment doesn’t make me feel light.
Asking myself ‘What can I do, right now, to feel more like my CDFs?’ is useful to make a change to take a step that makes me feel how I want to feel.