I was intrigued by this short article from Tricycle.org about the importance of learning to control our emotions. Although I work hard to remain calm and present in my dealings with others, I do not always succeed. I find it all too easy to get wound up by trivial daily irritations, such as technological glitches or the seemingly selfish behaviour of strangers. But isn’t this just a normal part of being human? Or is it truly the case, as the Tricycle article argues, that we should control ourselves in all circumstances?
“If we want to have peace and order in our lives, reason must prevail over negative emotions.”
Anger is a natural emotion. It is highly likely to occur to some degree whenever we are confronted with criticism, frustration or threat. In some cases, it can actually be helpful. ‘Motivational’ anger can be extremely useful when it helps to create an impetus for change. Feeling frustrated with ourselves for yet again eating the wrong things can be the start of pinpointing how we might be able to act differently in order to lose weight.
On the other hand, ‘destructive’ anger, leading to harm for yourself or someone else, can have devastating impacts on relationships, work and overall quality of life. As the Tricycle article highlights, if we allow ourselves to be driven by anger, it can lead to a profound loss of clarity and perception, resulting in ‘irreversible mistakes’.
The essential message, therefore, is that we should not try to deny or avoid feelings of anger – this is likely to make them worse. Instead, by recognising those feelings and taking active steps to manage them, we can retain control and deal constructively with the challenges we face.
This guidance by the American Psychological Association sets out a number of strategies for managing anger. in short, it highlights ways in which we can helpfully change our physical or mental states so that we can process the challenge from a different perspective. Is this easy to do? No. As the Tricycle article explains:
“In order for us to practice the virtue of forbearance, we must have strength, wisdom, and compassion. We must be willing to settle differences or disputes by means of reason and kindness. We must believe in tolerance and restraint as signs of goodness and bravery.”
But the rewards are infinitely worth it. Success in life (whatever that looks like for you), as well as a more peaceful world are the prizes.
The next time you feel anger in any of its forms, try taking a step back to recognise it for what it is. Give yourself time and resist knee-jerk reactions. Ask yourself how useful it is to feel angry at that moment. Take a breath and consider how else you might view the problem. How might you deal differently with whatever you are facing? How can you best help yourself retain control? And, most importantly, is it really a problem at all?
“Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
To me, anger is a relatively new concept to embrace. I have always seen myself as inherently placid. However, in recent times, since practicing to be more mindful, ‘anger’ has come forward as an emotion I am prepared to own up to feeling. It helps me to recognise that something (whatever that might be) matters. That it is important to me.
I believe I felt ’empty’ before starting to exercise anger. I was neither passionate nor angry and therefore neutral. I think being neutral can be as destructive as being angry particularly as it is often internalised.
Very recently, I have been feeling a more intense anger – leading to the afore mentioned knee jerk reactions and resulting in regrettable actions – so I quickly switched the feelings into the more helpful, motivational anger to put myself back on the positive track of where I feel more comfortable.
Feeling angry is hard work and exhausting. So when the emotion comes forward then it is best to work with it rather than let it work on you. Internalising feelings is rarely a good thing but externalising without thought can be equally as destructive.
“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger”