In my post on Monday I talked about a blog posting by Dr. Robert Pearson about anger that I found provocative — as it framed anger as a “feedback energy” from which we can gain insights into our own reactions to perceived threats, slights, and attacks.
Framed this way, you can begin to understand that once you recognize that you’re angry (and often bodily sensations are the first sign), you can ask yourself “what is it that I feel blocked from doing?” or “why is this person’s attitude so threatening to me?” Taking even a moment or two to reflect on that can sometimes help you cool down enough to respond with skill, rather than fury.
I found a comment from one of Dr. Pearson’s readers to be equally provocative. She wrote, in part:
The issue is not whether we are really under attack. It’s what feels jeopardized inside us by our experience. Self awareness and reflection, as well as self management (consciously choosing how we react given a specific set of emotions in a specific situation) are the critical places to begin.
This is opposite what many think of when they feel angry – that the other party is ‘wrong’ and ‘needs to stop.’ The attention is best focused on self, what is at risk (from the self’s point of view), and what the wisest choice of reaction would be.
We are smart beings, and when we use the emotional data we receive to help us make wise choices, our behavior reflects our inner intelligence!
I especially liked her suggestion that we can “consciously choose how we react given a specific set of emotions in a specific situation” because it emphasizes that we do indeed have some choice. That is, no matter how conditioned we are to react in a certain way to triggers (tailgating the guy who cuts us off, perhaps, getting sarcastic with the clerical worker who has trouble with detail, or lashing out at someone who makes a condescending remark in a meeting) we can always choose to react differently and cultivate an entirely different set of responses.
Perhaps the next time you feel fury arising because of that condescending remark, you can decide to simply focus on your breathing or the sensation of fury in your body (is it a burning in the chest? A tension in the jaw? An image of punching someone that flashes across your imagination?). Perhaps the next time the clerical worker makes a mistake, you can decide to be kind, rather than give her the third degree. And maybe the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, you can simply drop back to a safe distance behind him, rather than getting as close to his bumper as you possibly can.
The more often you respond in these ways, the faster they’ll become your habit and the more clarity you’ll gain about your own triggers for and responses to anger.