We all have this one friend, you know, this angry friend who never quite seems able to shake their anger off.
To any direct question we might ask, they most often point blank fire an automatic “No!” “Can’t.” “Won’t.”.
When asked to buffer up their tender answer, their eyes usually draw a hard line, their mouth curls into a half-snarl, their shoulders squeeze ever more slightly together, and we might hear some kind of grunting, “Because I said so!”
Our society is mainly of the view teenagers and young adults are angry. I want to take this general view a lot deeper.
What can possibly turn a loving child into an angry teenager/adult over time?
Let me share with you this story.
It is 3:00 pm in the afternoon and my 11 year old daughter Elena should be home by now. She is in Grade 6 and knows to walk straight home from school.
I look out the kitchen window; she is not there. I call her cell phone; no answer. In my head, I am already yelling at her. The more minutes go by that I am rummaging the situation over and over, the angrier I become. Sounds familiar?
I anxiously call her best friend’s mom and knock on neighbors’ doors; no one has seen her. My feelings take a massive turn. All I want to do now is hug her and say, “I love you”.
When I finally find her, blissfully playing in a friend’s garden, it is as if hot mustard suddenly went up my nose. I am so pissed off I ground her on the spot: no TV, no friends, and perhaps worst of all, I am not even willing to hear what she has to say.
I believed I was right in that moment. I believed my anger was justified. I believed I was teaching my daughter responsibility and accountability by showing her how angry I was. How many times have you tried to teach someone else a lesson by using anger as a weapon?
It has taken me years of personal development work to finally understand the following:
“To anyone consistently behaving like an angry hammer,
everything in front of them starts looking like a nail.”
I was the type of parent who used anger as a hammer to nail everyone and everything in front of her.
One day, my own mentor asked me, “How does your child know for certain, for certain, that you love them?”
For certain? In that moment, I realized that I ignored my child’s feelings because I let anger overpower my heart. It was easier for me to judge and rule than to have compassion for both of us.
I swallowed my truth and it tasted bitter.
I realized that, somewhere along the way, I had chosen to consistently use anger as a hammer to force other people into behaving the way I saw fit. Crappy, isn’t it?
For my own sake and the sake of my children, I decided to change my ways: Stop making anger an identity!
I started researching anger and paying attention to its revealing cues.
Do you know that when we become angry, chemicals are released into our brain?
Do you know how long these chemicals take to burn out completely? No more than 90 seconds!
In brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, Taylor describes the 90 seconds rule this way:
“Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.”
Remember my story with my daughter? How I became angrier the more I replayed the situation in my head? That day, like in most days in my life back then, I had chosen to remain angry.
Does this mean anger is a bad thing and we should never get angry? Absolutely not!
One of the main reasons why anger takes such a bad rap is because most people fail to differentiate between healthy anger and unhealthy anger.
Healthy anger, the type felt during the (up to 90 seconds) chemicals released into the brain, is like a white flag being waved to signal to everyone around that our feelings have been hurt. Healthy anger states someone’s emotional boundaries have been crossed and this person is unsure how to deal emotionally with the breach.
Unhealthy anger, the type manufactured after the released brain chemicals have all burned out, is like a bull horn looking for a shooting target. All the bull wants in that moment is to be right and charge blindly at anything in front of him/her.
In light of this, is unhealthy anger what you really want for you and all the people you love? I for one certainly do not.
Here are the steps I now integrate into my life on a daily basis. May they also empower you to manage your anger effectively and avoid breaching other people’s emotional boundaries in the process.
Seven steps to waving the white flag of anger:
- Listen actively. Pay close attention to people’s feelings coming through the tone of their voice, their body movements, their short pauses, their long silences. Come from a place of genuine curiosity. “I notice you seem angry.”
- Be open. Keep an open space where others can think, say, and feel what they need to think, say, and feel, without the fear of rejection on your part. “Hey, I can see you are hurt. What can I do to assist you?”
- Separate the person from their behaviors. Focus on the contents of each person’s gift (their feelings) rather than the wrapping (their behaviors). “I love you and I am angry at what you just did.”
- Learn the language of other people’s feelings. Stop assuming you know how others feel. Ask them how they feel. “Hey, what’s going on inside?” Then ask, “What does this mean to you?” By associating someone’s feeling to their own definition, we reduce the risk of getting anything lost in translation.
- Stop taking things personally. Realize unhealthy anger is the accumulating results of long, long past events. Ask yourself, “What could have possibly happened to this person to make him/her the way they are right now?”
- Stop wanting to be right. I for one believe being loving is more important than being right. I understand that what we believe and what we do need to match for our sake and the sake of all our loved ones.
- Be compassionate. Everyone is allowed to feel what they feel without guilt or shame. When you realize you are moving into unhealthy anger towards someone (including towards yourself), Stop and Recommit! Listen actively, remain open, separate the person from their behaviors, learn the language of one’s feelings, stop taking things so personally, and do what you feel is right in your heart.
As for my daughter, she did turn into an angry hammer teenager just like I had taught her to be. It has not been an easy road for the two of us and I am pleased to say she is now also learning to apply the same type of changes I am integrating into my own life.
I get we all lead by example. My question to you is, “Which example do you wish to set for yourself and everyone you love?”
About the Author: Anne BEAULIEU is one of Your Monthly Mentors, an international speaker, empowering coach, and thought leader in the field of Emotional Intelligence and the Founder of Walking Inside Resources Inc. based in Vancouver, British Columbia. As an accomplished author and community builder, Anne is a powerful catalyst for positive change and embodies successful life strategies that keep empowering men and women across the globe. Read More…
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