The holidays are over. And while that sadly means saying goodbye to the twinkling lights, our favorite Christmas tunes and heart-warming good cheer, it also means no more trekking through over-crowded shopping malls, deliriously rushing through a blur of holiday parties and barely surviving angst-ridden family dinners.
Christmas does bring a feeling of “peace on Earth, good will toward men,” but it also reminds many of us of one simple fact … People can make you crazy sometimes. Like downright, batshit nuts.
The guy who cut you off in traffic. That friend who loves to argue for fun. Your sibling who takes every opportunity to undermine you. ARG!
Whoever it is, you know the feeling … being so annoyed with someone that you want to scream. You think to yourself, “How on Earth could anyone act like this intentionally? What is wrong with people!?”
And your anger is reasonable, even healthy—to a point. When you’re disrespected or treated unfairly, it’s important to see the situation for what it is and completely natural to want it to stop
But here’s a question for ya … how’s that anger working out for you? Does it actually make you feel better? Does it stop the “offender” from acting this way? Do you get the results you want in the end?
Probably not. Because we usually do one of two things when we’re angry:
- Express our anger in a fit of kicking and screaming that puts the other person on the defensive and makes everyone say things they don’t mean
- Push it way down inside where it wreaks havoc on the mind and body, spoils every joyful moment and sometimes even makes us physically sick
Nobody’s getting anywhere!
So how can we manage our anger in a productive way that allows us to speak our minds and save our relationships?
Here’s how …
How to process anger in a healthy way
It is possible to handle your anger in a way that is healthy and productive. Just follow these steps next time you feel like you might lose your cool with someone:
- Recognize that you’re angry. Like they say, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one. It’s that simple.
- See your anger as a red flag that something (you!) needs care. Say to yourself, “OK, my anger is here to tell me to pay attention to what’s happening here and to take some time to engage mindfully.”
- Take a moment to ‘fill your own cup’ so you can deal with it as the best version of yourself. Do what you gotta do to get centered and calm. Try breathing exercises, yoga, a walk, a chat with your bestie, a pumpkin spice latte—whatever works for you.
- Now, turn your attention back to whoever is making you angry and ask yourself:
• Could their actions, irritating as they are, be coming from a place of vulnerability or desire to do good in some way?
• Is it possible I don’t know something about their past or present that might be making them act this way? Maybe they have a loved one that is dying or are going through a divorce. Or maybe they were abused as a child.
• What have they done that shows they’re not all bad? For example, maybe your boss is a real jerk at work, but he heads the company fundraiser for cancer every year.
In other words, look for signs of your aggravator’s good side and how they might be worthy of some compassion. Why? Well, because believe it or not, most people’s actions come from a good place, even if it takes a real bad form.
Also … it’s going to make it a whole heck of a lot easier for you to stay calm and fix the problem—or at least keep it from driving you nuts—if you can see the person’s behaviour for what it really is, a brief moment of weakness.
So maybe you’re at an office party and your boss tells a greatly exaggerated story about a small mix-up on your part, embarrassing you in front of all of your co-workers and making you feel like a screw-up. Your first thought may be, “What an drunken a**wipe! I’m going to go over there and set this straight!” Which inevitably will get you in some serious hot water.
But instead, you take a walk (and a red velvet cupcake) with your best buddy to the water cooler to talk it through. Pretty soon you’re laughing it up, because you’re friend tells her own “boss” story and reminds you that the big cheese has been a little off lately.
Then you ask yourself—could there being something going on with your boss? You remember hearing that he is going through a separation with his wife … and maybe he just needed a good laugh. It’s not OK that you were the butt of it, but it makes it easier to see that he wasn’t intentionally trying to embarrass you. Then, you remember just last week when he bought everyone on the team coffee.
Flash forward, you still have your job and a calm, confident tone when you talk to your boss the next day and he apologizes and appreciates your professional way of handling the situation.
BOOM. Problem solved.
But, will it work on THIS guy?
OK, I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, yeah, Caitlin, that all sounds nice. But you don’t understand … this guy I’m dealing with at work is the worst. Ever. Not a decent bone in his body. He lies. He cheats. He undermines people and laughs at their problems. And he has no problems. There’s no good justification for his actions. He’s just a total jerk.
Well, you’re right. His behavior isn’t right and he’s hurting people and he’s a big meanie.
But you’re also wrong.
I’ve worked with all kinds of people of every economic status, background and upbringing and I can promise you this: The darker they seem on the outside, the deeper the pain is on the inside.
We can’t possibly know his whole story or how he justifies his actions. But I can almost promise you that his behavior is coming from a need to stop feeling pain of some kind or to follow a rule that he’s been taught will make him better.
In the words of Kahlil Girbran:
Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food
even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it
drinks even of dead waters.
You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but
a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root,
“Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance.”
For to the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.
Think about this … in 2015, Quantum Communications interviewed 49 ISIS fighters, and asked them why they had joined ISIS.
The ISIS members from the U.S. and Western Europe—who long felt isolated and rejected by Western culture— said they joined because they wanted personal recognition and sense of belonging and they felt ISIS could fill those needs.
Those who joined ISIS from a Muslim country were more motivated by the perceived plight of the Syrian Sunnis. They felt they needed to “assist their Muslim ‘brothers’ and wanted to protect those they knew and loved.
So joining this notoriously violent organization for both groups stemmed from pain and a desperate desire to do something good.
It doesn’t mean they have the right to murder and destroy, but it does mean that shutting down their cause won’t happen by simply killing them. Instead, if we understand the reasons for their behavior, we can more effectively and compassionately solve the issue.
Could your nightmare colleague really be worse than an ISIS member? He could be motivated by something positive, even though his means to that end seems really, really awful.
This doesn’t mean that you let those who make you angry continue to treat you and others badly. You should stand up, set boundaries and speak your truth.
But you’ll make a much greater impact on their heart (and yours) if you come at the situation from a place of compassion and understanding that they have good in them too.