We all know that anger is a normal, healthy emotion. What do we do with it when we feel it? It is one thing to sit with an uncomfortable emotion long enough to feel and release it; it is quite another to repeatedly respond to invitations from within to re-experience an anger-inducing situation until it dominates our thoughts. “Anger is a warning bell that alerts us that something needs our attention,” states Dr. Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University. “It’s that rumination that seems to be destructive.”
I turn to my best friend, Eve, for perspective when I feel angry. Sometimes an uncomfortable issue challenges us to take action; sometimes the appropriate action is to do nothing. How do we tell the difference? Conversations with people we trust often allow us to step out of the problem and into a solution.
I recently experienced a misunderstanding with someone that I had no idea how to resolve. She is an acquaintance who routinely takes small bits of conversation and twists them into fiction. Then she repeats it to other people. By the time the story circles back around to the people involved, it is stretched so far out of proportion that any action seems futile.
As Eve and I talked, I explained the details of the most recent incident involving our acquaintance. Consequently, others were upset at me and at innocent bystanders who knew nothing about the conversations and events surrounding this particular situation. I asked her to help me explore different options so I could make the best choice and move past the conflict that now involved several other people as the result of an awkward and unnecessary misunderstanding.
“What are you saying to yourself as you think about your options?” Eve asked.
Ouch. I didn’t like that question.
“I’m telling myself I should have known better than to say anything to her,” I sheepishly admitted. “And then I recalled other times when I said or done something I regretted in the past.”
We can get stuck when we connect present events to feelings and regrets about past experiences. I wanted to get unstuck.
“Well, how’s that working out for you?” she laughed.
“I’m tired,” I admitted. “I feel beat up.”
I logically understand that I have absolutely no control over other people’s reactions or perceptions. My words, my actions, my behaviors, thoughts, attitudes, and reactions are the only choices within my realm of responsibility. Other peoples’ words, thoughts, actions, and decisions are none of my business … even if their words, thoughts, actions, and decisions are about me. But that realization doesn’t prevent the sting from stinging.
“Your life doesn’t just ‘happen.’ Whether you know it or not, it is carefully designed by you,” explains Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. “The choices, after all, are yours. You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear. Just remember that every moment, every situation, provides a new choice. And in doing so, it gives you a perfect opportunity to do things differently to produce more positive results.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when someone’s made decisions about your choices without asking you for more information,” Eve observed.
“When my friend, Caryn, feels angry, she asks herself two of the best questions I’ve ever heard,” I explained.
Caryn’s Question #1 for discerning whether or not a problem needs additional mulling over is “How important is it?” The first time she asked me that many years ago, I stood on emotional ground where I could not distinguish mountains from molehills. “How important is it?” helps me gain perspective.
Question #2 is “Why does it matter?” There are certainly occasions when it is important to invite a dialogue when confusion or misunderstandings erupt. However, issues that make me feel riled up often dissipate quickly when I ask myself, “Why does it matter?” Things that seemed crucial in the moment often don’t matter in comparison to the grand picture of events, especially if my ego is bruised or I wanted to get the last word in.
My friend, Jon, also asks, “Does it matter right now?” This is a particularly important question to consider when I have multiple projects scheduled close to one another on my calendar. When I ask myself this question, it forces me to put an unresolved issue away for another time so I can focus on the important tasks in front of me right now.
“So, once you answer those questions,” asked Eve, “what are you going to say to yourself now?”
I love the power of affirmations. Eve gave me permission to growl and I growled about the matter that was upsetting me to gain some perspective. Fully aware that my present thoughts dictate future outcomes, I want to make sure I allow time to get centered again.
I closed my eyes and said, “I call for and abundantly receive Divine guidance and direction.”
“If you’ve got one affirmation,” said Eve, “that generally means you’ve got two.”
“I express unconditional love and see good everywhere and in everyone.”
“I used to think all of this positive stuff you talked about was a crock of [not very nice stuff],” laughed Eve. “I thought all of the Law of Attraction ideas you talked about were strange, but now I know there’s something to this ‘what-you-think-about-you-attract-more-of-it-into-your-life’ kind of thinking.”
“I didn’t know that,” I replied. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You didn’t ask.”
I will remember to ask good questions in the future.