Life doesn’t always turn out the way we’d like. When situations take an unfavorable turn, we become upset, frustrated, or angry. When others don’t agree with us, live their life the way we think they should, or act in a manner we find disturbing, anger is a typical response. With the exception a few extreme circumstance, an angry reaction rarely improves the situation or endears us to the other party.
For the most part, humans have very strong opinions about how life should be, how others should behave, and about what circumstances should occur and how they should eventually conclude. We expect a certain outcome that aligns with our beliefs or with the efforts we put forth. When situations don’t progress or end according to our plans we experience angst as to how the outcome will affect us and/or those we care about. For example, the recent presidential election has a portion of the country frightened and angry about what the future holds with our new president. Unpredictable weather on our wedding day causes concern for the overall success and enjoyment of our special day.
In another regard, we are quick to complain when an individual is not behaving way we want them to or the way we think they should be. This anger evolves when we label and judge people based on our criteria of what we believe to be right regarding their attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, life-style choices, etc. A harsh assessment of the other party leads to harsh feelings as well. (Thoughts create feelings.)
When anger arises in these areas it’s an indication that frustration or fear is lurking beneath: frustration that we cannot control our circumstances and fear as to how that situation will impact us and those around us.
Anger also arises from hurt: if someone criticizes the way we look we may take personal offense. Their perceived cruelty and lack of regard for our feelings is disconcerting. We feel disrespected and our natural defenses take over, fueling the need to correct them, put them in their place or retaliate with an even more hurtful comment teaching them that we will not tolerate their ill-mannered behaviors.
In each of the above examples, anger gives us the momentary feeling of power in a situation where we feel we have lost authority. However, any person or situation that can cause us to react in a manner not beneficial to us actually has more clout that we do. Thoughtful consideration of what feelings and reply are most advantageous actually restores our authentic power.
Consider the following alternatives to anger:
Compassion: a compassionate response can be the perfect solution to anger. Compassion consists of both understanding and empathy. We can view the individual whose behavior we find unacceptable from a place of understanding. Each person has a right to live life according to their beliefs, dreams, needs, etc. If someone is struggling or acting inappropriately, rather than becoming irate because they are not living up to my ideals, I can remove the “shoulds” (unspoken expectations) and in my heart grant them permission to have the experience they are engaging in, knowing that it is a necessary part of their life’s journey. If they are struggling, lost, or in pain, I can choose to feel compassion or sadness for their suffering, hoping that they soon pass through their current challenge to a more joyful place. Being patient and always treating them with kindness (which may include setting some reasonable boundaries) during this time are all components of being compassionate. Choosing this alternative response softens one’s heart and prevents anger from manifesting.
Humor* is another powerful tool for diffusing anger. We take life far too seriously. We take personal offense to what others are saying or doing rather than remaining emotionally detached. After all, their behavior is a reflection of their internal environment and has nothing at all to do with me. We become agitated when things don’t go according to our plans yet in reality a life that conforms precisely to our dictates teaches us nothing. We worry and obsess over that which we have no control over or that which in reality is relatively unimportant. (Ten year rule: will this matter in ten years? Will I even remember it? If not, then it’s not important now.) Humor puts any serious situation into its proper perspective. It diffuses fear and angst; it acts as a protective barrier to emotional pain as we recognize that what is transpiring has nothing at all to do with me; and it makes light of that which in reality has no significant value.
So when others behave badly, find it in your heart to forgive them for their indiscretions rather that judge them. When life hands you the exact opposite of what you requested, make light of it. After all, this life is only temporary so why get so bend out of shape when it doesn’t conform to your ideals? Rain on your wedding day? Break out the umbrellas and boots and dance in the puddles!
*Just a note of caution: humor is not intended to be directed at the other party. One can find humor in the situation or make light of their own reaction or behavior. Humor must never direct it at the other person. To do so is disrespectful and may very well make the situation far worse than it is.
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