“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha
There are lots of frustrations in life to deal with, many of which ignite angry feelings and a desire for retribution or revenge. Some inconsiderate driver cuts you off in traffic. The woman in front of you in line at the coffee shop gets the last pastry – the one you had your eye on. Your co-worker takes credit for the report you researched and wrote. Neighborhood kids smashed your car with rocks, causing extensive damage.
You seethe with anger, wanting to lash out at the perpetrator, giving them their just desserts. But will this do anything to change what happened? Or will it only result in you feeling more miserable as you can’t escape the fire of your anger?
No one would ever pick up a hot coal with their unprotected hands. That’s the action of a fool. Fire burns. Yet, when it comes to powerful emotions such as anger, that’s exactly what we sometimes do: We hold onto it. Expecting a different outcome than us getting burned is the definition of insanity.
If the better way to deal with anger is to let it go, how do we go about doing that? Here are some suggestions:
- Walk away. Putting some distance between you and the situation or people that prompted the angry feelings, to begin with, is a logical first step. If you aren’t in proximity to the source of your anger, you’re less likely to lash out and do or say something that will cause harm to another. In addition, by walking away you’ll allow yourself time to cool off so that you can think about what happened more rationally.
- Identify why you’re angry. Take the inconsiderate driver that cut you off. This happens all the time. Why is today any different than another day? What is it about being cut off that makes you so angry now? Is it that you’re already late for work? Is it just another in a string of things that went wrong today, and this is the last straw? Are you upset with yourself for failing to complete a task or due to an argument you had with your spouse, child, or co-worker? By identifying what’s underneath your anger, you’ll be better able to get past it.
- Let it out. Instead of bottling up your anger and holding it inside like captive coal that continues to burn, find a place where you can let it out with a scream, a vigorous physical workout, a good cry. Letting go of the anger before you decide to confront the person that prompted the negative feelings will allow you to behave more constructively and proactively.
- Figure out what to change. Realize that you have three options when dealing with anger: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it. Once you decide that there’s something you can do to change the situation, act on that. It will help you let go of the anger and move on.
- Own responsibility. Secretly, you might be the one who prompted the situation that made you angry. Instead of trying to shift the blame and punish others, take responsibility for your part in what happened. Even if you only acknowledge this to yourself, it’s a huge step. Then, focus on what you could have done differently so that the next time something like this occurs, you’ll act more responsibly.
- Calmly talk with the offender. You’ll need to use the walk-away technique before you confront the offender about what made you angry. When you’ve put some time and distance between you and the person and situation, you’re better able to tell that person how you feel about what happened. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you’re not going to be able to control how that person reacts. The only thing you can do is express your feelings kindly and calmly. This will help you let go of the anger.
- See the anger melting away. The anger you feel doesn’t affect the other person as much as it does you. Knowing this, why hold onto it? Instead, visualize the anger as ice that’s melting away in the heat. Feel the sense of coolness that replaces the anger. This will help you regain peace and kindness toward yourself.
- See it from the offender’s perspective. The person who so angered you wasn’t aware he or she was doing anything wrong. They could have inadvertently done something, not out of malicious intent, just without thinking of the potential consequences. Mistakes happen. People don’t necessarily intend to harm. Recognize that you’ve done the same thing to other people. Have a little compassion. This will go a long way toward your ability to let go of anger.
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