In my last post, CRITICISM AND ANGER, I discussed how sometimes when we are criticized we find ourselves getting angry. At such times, it’s a good idea to have a well-practiced strategy to summarize the criticism that has been made and then to respectfully call for a break in the discussion to consider all that has been said.
Once you have removed yourself from the anger arousing situation, what are valuable things that you can do to take advantage of your cooling down period? In coming posts, I will discuss a variety of ideas, but today we will focus in on being a wise friend to your angry self.
Wisdom and Anger
If I was wise, how would I respond to a friend who was angry? If my friend, Steve, was angry, I would gently invite him to take a walk in the country or park.
If he agreed to a stroll, as we went on our way I would listen to him in a caring manner. If he said he’d rather sit and talk in a quiet place, or not talk at all, I’d offer to do that with him.
Similarly, when I become angry, if at all possible, I take myself for a walk and my friendly, supportive self listens in a caring way to my angry self.
My friendly self doesn’t try to get my angry self to suppress any anger, but rather, to freely express it, but only in private.
Over the years, I have found that whenever my friendly self spends time interacting with my angry self, after awhile my angry self calms down. During the calm spell, I am far more open to reason.
Now, as you try this out with yourself, please keep in mind that your angry self does not seek to suppress any anger to reach this relatively calm state. It will occur naturally without any effort at all. Just listen to yourself in a caring manner, and see for yourself what happens.
Once you are in a state of relative calm, you can begin to respond to the conditions that led to anger in a more reasonable manner.
There are some wonderful metaphors that can help you through this process of reaching a relative period of calm. Thich Nhat Hanh, in his fine book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, reminds us that if we are wise, we do not seek to suppress our anger or wage war against it. Instead, we can learn to view anger as an organic feeling.
“The practice” Hahn writes, “is to transform yourself. If you don’t have garbage, you have nothing to use in order to make compost. And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the inflictions in you. Since they are organic, you know that you can transform them and make good use of them.”
Another Hanh metaphor I like has us thinking of our anger as a potato that we have picked out of a garden. When we first take it out of the soil it is dirty and hard. It is not quite ready to provide us with an excellent form of nourishment. It is much better to take some time to clean it up and then to have it sit in a warm oven for awhile. Then it soon turns into something delicious.
Similarly, when anger first arises, it is very likely to be a poor form of nourishment. In fact, it can even turn out to be poisonous. You have to clean it up first, and then find the right place where it can best be turned into a valued experience.
Now, as you go through this calming period, you will notice your angry self chattering away, saying things like, “That idiot who made me angry is a stupid jerk.” Other derogatory statements about the source of your anger may come to mind. Perhaps you will think about how you can do harm to the person your mind is insulting. This is part of the anger process.
At such times, see if you can observe your angry self in a nonjudgmental manner as this is happening. If you can’t, there is no need to punish yourself. Anger is a strong emotion. Be as kind to yourself as you can throughout this process—just like a good, compassionate friend would.
From time to time, see if you can take a few seconds to observe the physical sensations you are experiencing. The chattering in your mind may make this difficult, so if this does not happen, again you are not encouraged to punish yourself. Just gently remind yourself that observing the physical sensations you are experiencing could be useful to do if you can.
Now, once you take maybe an hour or so to be a good pal to your “angry” self, even if you have calmed down at this point, if at all possible, don’t leap into trying to come up with a resolution to your angry conflict. Give yourself a full week, whenever possible, to plan your next discussion with the person with whom you have an angry conflict.
Take advantage of this relatively calm period to map out a strategy to address the concerns raised during the anger arousing situation. If you come up with some ideas that sound promising, I encourage you to NOT commit to any one idea just yet. Instead, afterwards, see if you can enter into some different activity unrelated to the conflict such as playing with the kids, doing some housework, watching a movie, going bowling, calling your mother, etc. It is best to take a break from the conflict for awhile and have a night to sleep on it.
This break from formally trying to figure out what your next step should be can be valuable for coming up with creative solutions. During this period, you’re not badgering yourself to go step by step in any process. You are aware that you have plenty of time before you will be expected to have a plan to move forward. There is a reduction in any sense of pressure. Moreover, your mind does need some rest. The processing of anger arousing conflicts can be exhausting.
Finally, shortly before meeting again the person with whom you are having the angry conflict, see if you can work up a heightened sense of determination to achieve your desire to resolve this conflict. Keep in mind that the stress you have been experiencing is normal and fulfillment is not found in easy comfort, security, and routine, but rather in the continual growth in wisdom through what is learned from negative and positive experiences of an active, changing life.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.