In a balanced world, it’s not hard to argue for the necessity of
anger, nor for the healthy expression of it. In many of my talks, I tell people that I think anger is an okay
thing. “In fact,” I say, “I feel
completely comfortable expressing it on a daily basis.” Yet, how many times has it held me
back, stopped me in my tracks, and led me to make choices that were (ahem) not
in my best interest?
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get a handle on this anger
thing. Not to rid myself of
it. I don’t think that’s possible.
There has to be a way, I would
tell myself, I can achieve some…mastery over it. How do I get to a place where I’m running my anger instead
of it running me?
My answer came in this realization: anger, above all, is a
reflector. Put aside everything
else you know about anger, and think about how it functions. When someone makes you angry, your
internal dialogue is “I can't believe so-and-so did that to me.” That thought ticks you off, and it
leads to another thought: “Why would so-and-so do that to me?” Then, if you’re anything like me, it’s
not much of a leap to, “Why would so-and-so think it’s alright to do
something like that to me?” and, the Pièce
de résistance, “Why would so-and-do want to hurt me like that?”
Each of these thoughts bounces off the anger reflector and hits you
again, knocks you around, batters you.
Each ensuing bruise, each scrape pisses you off all the more. Thus, begins the spin. One “why me?” question begets another,
and so on, and so on, until your whipped into an emotional frenzy. And worse, your mental bandwidth is
jammed with an ever-growing swirl of thoughts around this one…issue. Pretty soon, you’re consumed, and deaf
and blind to everything around you, a captive of the reflector and the perfect
storm it creates.
The key to mastering my anger, I’ve found, is in simply
understanding that the reflector exists.
Once I got a handle on that, I could start seeing when it would pop up. “Wait…is this the reflector?” This single question has given me
enough pause in potentially combustible moments that I can at least make a
choice. I can choose to talk to
so-and-so, for example. I can
choose ask myself a new question, ala Byron Katie: “Is that really true?” Usually, I choose to chuckle because
when I take an honest look at the situation, I find that often I’ve
misinterpreted or misunderstood something…or put a meaning on it that the other
person never intended. I give
myself the gift of a moment of choice…to be hurt, or not to be hurt?
It’s taken me a long time to get here, but once I understood this
aspect of anger it…helped. The
reflector still pops up, and there are still times when storms brew. Nowadays, though, they’re more
cloudbursts than full-fledged gully washers. My mind is clearer, I don’t get stuck as often as I used to,
and my relationships—with others and with myself—are better for it.