Updated: Apr 28
We all experience people and situations who grind our gears, but how do we deal with it in a healthy way?
I used to really struggle with anger. I was afraid to feel it and didn't know what to do with it. I'd seen the unmanaged effects of the emotion as a child, and thought it necessarily had to lead to terrifying expressions of rage or violence. It's an emotion that still frightens me, perhaps because it is strong and can give me a sense of being out of control. So what to do with it? it's a question I have asked myself many times, and would like to share some of what I have come to learn with you today.
It's much easier to be calm and grounded when you're by yourself or around your kind of people. The real spiritual test is whether you can maintain that level of grounded calmness when others factor into the equation. Not everyone has been taught the skills to manage their emotions. The unfortunate consequence of this is that their discontentment and anger can spill onto those around them: the angry driver who tailgates the person in front of them, the person in the supermarket queue, loudly complaining about the amount of time the cashier is taking, or the person who never stops complaining. There will always be people who behave in ways that grind our gears, simply because we are not in control of everything and everyone around us, however much we might like to be sometimes!
Perhaps these people are usually better grounded and calmer, but events are just getting on top of them right now; or perhaps they are always that way and they don't know how to manage their anger, because like many of us, they were never taught. Hell, we have all probably been those people at times. I know I have acted in ways that make me uncomfortable to look back on at times, but I'm human, and because of that I get a free pass until I know better. Trying to see myself in the other is really an exercise in compassion. Trying to acknowledge that the person who is behaving like an ass, is a human like you or I, and they may be having a really rough time trying to hold it all together right now. We all know life can be difficult, and we never know the challenges that are facing others right in front of us. When I was suffering with depression my temper was short, and I know I didn't always manage to control it as best I should. I have compassion for that version of me and I hope that whoever was on the receiving end of my irritation managed to understand that they were subject to one of my bad days, rather than personalising it and making it about them.
Here is an idea which I did not initially realise was a fact: we all have a choice in the way that we respond to people who let their anger spill onto the rest of us*. [*unless we are suffering with unresolved trauma/ptsd and are triggered- in which case we need to seek professional help to be able to regain control of our unregulated nervous systems.]
The easy option is to allow the low vibrating negativity to affect us and pull us into that anger: reacting with more anger towards the person in question, or allowing their behaviour to irritate us, as we silently mutter with resentment. That is 'reacting' as opposed to responding. If we aren't mindful or conscious, this is usually what happens.
The other way is more challenging, but only at first. Practiced consistently, it becomes more natural. The other way is to recognise that the angry person is suffering, and detach from them, defusing the anger within us. In practice, it means allowing the person in the queue to complain and trying our best to focus upon other things; accepting the tailgater is driving dangerously, not allowing it rattle us, but to continue driving at a safe pace, perhaps turning off if we get the chance to 'lose' the dangerous driver; suggesting to the complainer that they might suggest some constructive solutions in a polite and firm manner, rather than letting them dominate the airtime with their complaints.
The key to responding as opposed to reacting is buying ourselves some time- an adequate pause, in between the person's behaviour and our own response. If we get triggered before we've even given it any thought, that's when we are being reactive and have already 'caught' their anger, like a harmful virus. The key to creating the pause is meditation or other mindfulness practices. Once we have a pause, then we have time to choose. If we choose the more challenging path of 'response,' then we also need the tool of 'letting go' to help us. Even if we choose to respond over react, we may still feel annoyed, irritated or angry. That is natural and not something that can be avoided. We can still feel the emotion, and acknowledge it, but we don't have to allow it to govern the way we react. What this sounds like in my mind is something like this:
"God that person's annoying. Why can't they just shut the hell up? I'm so angry at them right now. I wish they'd shut the hell up. But.. does this need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said by me, now? Probably not. Ok I'll let go. I'm choosing to let go of the anger. I'll just put my headphones in and breath instead. Me shouting at them will achieve nothing- just more anger."
I acknowledge the way their anger has 'spilled' onto me, but I choose to stop it in its tracks, by letting go of it, by breathing deeply and letting go. It requires practice and becomes more challenging if we are already carrying residual anger from another situation. I find the more I meditate and the more I practice this in real life situations, the more ingrained the behaviour becomes. It is a case of neuroplasticity. The brain has a remarkable capability to rewire and heal itself. Just as we might work out our physical muscles in the gym to become stronger, we can do the same thing with the mind and learned behaviours.
It is one thing to avoid externally reacting to the anger, but once it is inside of us, we are still left with the feeling and the problem of what to do with it, or how to move it through and out of our system fully. Why is it important to let go of resentment and anger when it feels so much better to sit in self- righteous indignation? Anger and resentment is harmful. It is toxic to the system, ramping up the effects of the sympathetic (fight, flight or freeze) nervous system and causing tension patterns to become locked into the body, which in turn creates energy blockages and stagnancy. If unresolved stress stays in the body, it makes all manner of illnesses more likely. It causes disease. So, in choosing to let go of the anger, we are choosing our own health and wellbeing over the feeling of being 'right' or some kind of perceived moral high ground.
To heal from an emotion we must feel it. So denying it, or trying to mask it with alcohol, drugs, food, T.V, social media use, etc. might be a short term fix, but it's not going to work in the long run. So, we have to let ourselves feel the anger and use it to drive some constructive action, such as going to the gym to work it off, letting off some steam by talking to friends, or by doing some yoga kriyas/meditations which are designed specifically to move energy and stuck emotions through and out of the body.
So we've discussed people who grind our gears, but what about situations? Because we unfortunately don't run the show, things don't always go the way we want them to go. This is where the nifty tool of 'acceptance' comes in. When I have what might be called a 'bad day,' where everything I try to achieve comes up against a brick wall, and things go wrong and wires get crossed, I also have a choice. I can get mad. I can chunter under my breath, swear, complain and get angry and frustrated. I can demand solutions. I can argue with people and shout to get my way and remain in this state of agitated suffering for the whole day if I so choose. Or, I can take a few deep breaths, accept that today I am just facing some challenges, but if I wait patiently, they will all work out in the end, because let's face it- things usually do. Especially, if they are the minor annoyances that face us on a daily basis like it's raining when I want it to be sunny, my computer has crashed or not working or the store doesn't stock what I want. Minor things in the grand scheme of life. Sometimes situations aren't minor. But it turns out the same principal applies. If we practice these responses, the brain gets used to them and we can live a life that is dialled down , less reactive and much less full of unnecessary anger and resentment.
I hope you found some of this useful today. If you want any more tips on what to do with anger or resentment you're struggling to shift, then just send me a message or leave a comment. I'm happy to share some of my experience, strength and hope.
Much love and light to you all. May you go about your day free of the burden of anger.