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BEING A WISE FRIEND TO YOUR ANGRY SELF, PART 1

In my last post,  CRITICISM AND ANGER, I discussed how sometimes when we are criticized we find ourselves getting angry.  At such times, it’s a good idea to have a well-practiced strategy to summarize the criticism that has been made and then to respectfully call for a break in the discussion to consider all that has been said.

Once you have removed yourself from the anger arousing situation, what are valuable things that you can do to take advantage of your cooling down period? In coming posts, I will discuss a variety of ideas, but today we will focus in on being a wise friend to your angry self.

Wisdom and Anger

If I was wise, how would I respond to a friend who was angry?  If my friend, Steve, was angry, I would gently invite him to take a walk in the country or park.

Illustration by Eric Sailer

If he agreed to a stroll, as we went on our way I would listen to him in a caring manner.  If he said he’d rather sit and talk in a quiet place, or not talk at all, I’d offer to do that with him.

Similarly, when I become angry, if at all possible, I take myself for a walk and my friendly, supportive self listens in a caring way to my angry self.

Illustration by Eric Sailer

My friendly self doesn’t try to get my angry self to suppress any anger, but rather, to freely express it, but only in private.

Over the years, I have found that whenever my friendly self spends time interacting with my angry self, after awhile my angry self calms down.  During the calm spell, I am far more open to reason.

Illustration by Deanna Martinez

Now, as you try this out with yourself, please keep in mind that your angry self does not seek to suppress any anger to reach this relatively calm state.  It will occur naturally without any effort at all. Just listen to yourself in a caring manner, and see for yourself what happens.

Once you are in a state of relative calm, you can begin to respond to the conditions that led to anger in a more reasonable manner.

There are some wonderful metaphors that can help you through this process of reaching a relative period of calm.  Thich Nhat Hanh, in his fine book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, reminds us that if we are wise, we do not seek to suppress our anger or wage war against it.  Instead, we can learn to view anger as an organic feeling.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

“The practice” Hahn writes, “is to transform yourself.  If you don’t have garbage, you have nothing to use in order to make compost.  And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you.  You need the suffering, the inflictions in you.  Since they are organic, you know that you can transform them and make good use of them.”

Another Hanh metaphor I like has us thinking of our anger as a potato that we have picked out of a garden.  When we first take it out of the soil it is dirty and hard.  It is not quite ready to provide us with an excellent form of nourishment.  It is much better to take some time to clean it up and then to have it sit in a warm oven for awhile.  Then it soon turns into something delicious.

Similarly, when anger first arises, it is very likely to be a poor form of nourishment.  In fact, it can even turn out to be poisonous.  You have to clean it up first, and then find the right place where it can best be turned into a valued experience.

Now, as you go through this calming period, you will notice your angry self chattering away, saying things like, “That idiot who made me angry is a stupid jerk.”  Other derogatory statements about the source of your anger may come to mind.  Perhaps you will think about how you can do harm to the person your mind is insulting.  This is part of the anger process.

At such times, see if you can observe your angry self in a nonjudgmental manner as this is happening.  If you can’t, there is no need to punish yourself.  Anger is a strong emotion.  Be as kind to yourself as you can throughout this process—just like a good, compassionate friend would.

observing sensationsFrom time to time, see if you can take a few seconds to observe the physical sensations you are experiencing.  The chattering in your mind may make this difficult, so if this does not happen, again you are not encouraged to punish yourself.  Just gently remind yourself that observing the physical sensations you are experiencing could be useful to do if you can.

Now, once you take maybe an hour or so to be a good pal to your “angry” self, even if you have calmed down at this point, if at all possible, don’t leap into trying to come up with a resolution to your angry conflict.  Give yourself a full week, whenever possible, to plan your next discussion with the person with whom you have an angry conflict.

Take advantage of this relacalmtively calm period to map out a strategy to address the concerns raised during the anger arousing situation.  If you come up with some ideas that sound promising, I encourage you to NOT commit to any one idea just yet.  Instead, afterwards, see if you can enter into some different activity unrelated to the conflict such as playing with the kids, doing some housework, watching a movie, going bowling, calling your mother, etc. It is best to take a break from the conflict for awhile and have a night to sleep on it.

This break from formally trying to figure out what your next step should be can be valuable for coming up with creative solutions.  During this period, you’re not badgering yourself to go step by step in any process.  You are aware that you have plenty of time before you will be expected to have a plan to move forward.  There is a reduction in any sense of pressure.  Moreover, your mind does need some rest.  The processing of anger arousing conflicts can be exhausting.

discussionToward the end of the week, if the conflict isn’t too personal, consider discussing what happened with some people you respect and trust.  Two or three heads are usually better than one.

Finally, shortly before meeting again the person with whom you are having the angry conflict, see if you can work up a heightened sense of determination to achieve your desire to resolve this conflict.  Keep in mind that the stress you have been experiencing is normal and fulfillment is not found in easy comfort, security, and routine, but rather in the continual growth in wisdom through what is learned from negative and positive experiences of an active, changing life.
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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

CRITICISM AND ANGER
BEING A WISE FRIEND TO YOUR ANGRY SELF, PART 2

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

7 Comments

  1. When the student is ready, the teacher appears! I have been struggling for weeks with some very hurtful, demeaning comments made by my supervisor. Thank you for reminding me of the futility of rumination, and pointing me back to the path that works!

    • Hi Theri Starr,

      It was very kind of you to let me know that you found my last post helpful. Please keep in mind that although a single post can really make a huge difference in a person’s life, many of the ideas are best learned over a series of several months, or even a few years. I continue to learn new helpful ideas about dealing with conflict and peacemaking on a regular basis even though I’ve been at this for over 35 years.

      To help with this ongoing process, I’m hoping that you will continue to follow the blog. This can easily be done by clicking on the FOLLOW US button to the right of any of my posts. By doing so, you will get a little notice at your email address whenever I publish a new post.

      You may also find it helpful to flip through some of my earlier posts from time to time. By doing so, some of the ideas that you have found helpful will become refreshed in your mind and you can then apply them to some events that are currently going on in your life.

      Finally, I have written a trilogy of novels that are particularly helpful for integrating the ideas presented in the blog into a person’s life. You can learn about the novels by clicking on the button that says NOVELS on the top of any of my blog posts.

      Thanks again for your kind words,

      Warm Regards,

      Jeff

  2. Yet another very poignant post, Dr. Rubin. One thing I would like to highlight is about the necessity to give compassion to ourselves (and ideally the person we’re angry with) when we are angry. Often when I’m irked about something, or even sometimes for seemingly no particular reason, thoughts of calling the other person names or thoughts of hurting the other person will arise in my mind. At this point the moral voice in my head will say ‘woah there Jack…you don’t really want to hurt that person’ and then my angry side will scream back ‘yes I do!’ In the past I’ve felt feelings of shame toward myself for having such strong feelings of wanting to hurt another physically or emotionally. I realize now though that these emotions are just like big waves crashing ashore. They wash in and they wash out and that’s all. We’re not monsters for having these feelings. Feelings are just feelings. What really matters is how we act. And carrying out Dr. Rubin’s technique for allowing time to and space to allow the anger to subside and figure out what the best course of action to take would help ensure that we act in a way free from the rollercoaster ride of emotions that far too often (when acted upon immediately) leave us disappointed and upset with ourselves and leave others even more upset with us.

    One question though, Dr. Rubin. If you have friends or respected ones who can give you ideas as to the best way to handle certain situations, why wait til a few days have passed before asking them for advice? Maybe they could help calm you down and make you see that your anger is unfounded thus alleviating your anger far more quickly than if you dealt with it yourself.

    • Hi JSR,

      I like your metaphor of emotions being like waves crashing ashore. I also like your question. As you point out, many of us do have friends or respected ones who have been helpful to us when we confide in them very shortly after an anger episode has begun; and yet my last blog post suggests that we should wait until a few days have past before asking them for advice.

      My suggestion is indeed somewhat misleading. Here’s what I was thinking at the time I wrote the post.

      Let’s say I become angry with my friend, Ed. I confide in another friend, Joe while I am still very angry at Ed. Joe may be also a good friend to Ed. As I express my anger to Joe about Ed, I could say some unkind things about Ed. This may put Joe in a very awkward situation because he likes both me and Ed. Joe might not like being put in this situation. Also, it is possible that Joe might go back to Ed and, in his frustration, tell Ed about some of what I said, and could even exaggerate some of the unkind things that came out of me while I was so very angry. Additionally, while I am putting down Ed to Joe for doing something I think is wrong, Joe might say to himself, “Wow, it wasn’t so very long ago I did the same thing that Ed did. If Jeff feels that way about what Ed did, Jeff has to feel the same way about me. So, Jeff’s been hiding his true feelings about me.” Now Joe can begin to get angry with me, but keep it inside, even though my temporary angry feelings toward Ed does not capture my “true” feelings at all, which are far more complex and rich than any angry outburst can capture. Finally, some friends know you well enough to know that what you are saying while you are angry soon passes and deep inside is a very thoughtful and decent human being. Other people that you may view as friends may still really not be fully friends just yet. They can turn on you and use what you say against you, or might lose respect for you, mistaking what you say in anger as a reflection of an immature person. Your reputation could be harmed unfairly.

      For these reasons, I thought it best to encourage my blog readers to wait until they have some time to calm down before confiding in friends. However, if you have thought about what I’ve written in the above paragraph while you are in a calm period and if you know some people that you are confident can be trusted to be helpful during the earliest period of your anger experience, I agree with you, JSR, that your strategy can potentially be a wise and helpful approach.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment,

      Jeff

  3. DOES VENTING ANGER FEED THE FLAME? | Name Calling, Insults and Teasing
    September 11, 2013 - 2:33 pm

  4. Thanx 4 the good advice: but if a person can’t take a step to look upon one’s self, maybe he can make a recording… It’s amazing the ideas, and our drives! Can this really all be me?!

    • Good suggestion, Yasmine. I can see how a recording could be very helpful.

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