Of course I’m angry! How to avoid the slip-n-slide of emotional “inevitability"
Are you predictable when it comes to how you react to certain situations?
Your co-worker said they’d handle something and they didn’t.
That guy cut you off and you got stuck at the traffic light.
Your spouse didn’t do all of the dishes after you cooked dinner.
Your kid didn’t do what you asked them to 5 times.
The electrician didn’t show and you’d stayed home expecting them.
How do you react? Do you SEE RED?
For how long?
Anger often comes on the scene first: when something different than what we were expecting happens; when something scares us or hurts our feelings; or when people do something we would “never do.” Underneath it all? Some level of fear.
Trouble is, we often hang out in this swirl of red hot emotion and ride the slip-n-slide all the way down the hill – and sometimes off the cliff. We might even throw others on with us and crash together.
It’s like there’s no other way.
And we feel CERTAIN, even RIGHT, about this.
So, we let the emotions ride us, come what may.
As it turns out, our emotions are not beholden to the laws of gravity, nor do we have to be controlled by them.
After the alarm is sounded and we get that burst of anger, we are actually in a moment of CHOICE.
Take this one down the negativity track? Or, PAUSE and take a more constructive, positive path?
When we stay in the anger, while we may tell ourselves that “WE’LL SHOW THEM,” we actually suffer, and our ability to produce good next steps are limited. Outcomes tend to reflect this, especially when relationships are involved.
If you’d like to experiment with this concept of CHOICE vs. emotional inevitability, here’s one thing you might try:
Feeling the anger churn inside you?
Notice it and name it: I’M ANGRY!!
Take a few deep breaths and consciously seek to steady all of the parts inside you that are feeling riled up.
Notice what’s “activated.” Your heart beating fast? Your stomach all tight? Your limbs shaky?
Pause, and gently breathe into these parts that are on high alert.
Every pause pokes a hole in the slip-n-slide.
If you’re feeling calmer, you have more options. Here’s just one you can try:
Reach for empathy.
For yourself: what would be the most loving and compassionate thing you could say to yourself in this situation?
For the “other”: Put yourself in the shoes of the other(s) involved. Speak from their voice: “I feel ____________ in this situation because _________.” You may be guessing on their behalf, but in guessing you move past initial assumptions.
Making this shift from “seeing red” to “pausing and choosing” can be very tough.
But it starts with knowing that your reactions – especially those that come AFTER an initial negative burst -- aren’t inevitable.
You can shed the predictable reactions and surprise yourself, your family, or your colleagues, by pausing and choosing a new way the next time anger busts in.