Illustration credit with thanks to Molly Hahn & Buddhadoodles.com
Anger is a feeling we’re all too familiar with. Unfortunately, for many of us that anger turns into the form of name calling, yelling, hitting or worse. That of course is abuse and not anger. Anger can actually be an empowering feeling in many ways as it’s simply letting you know that you don’t like something. Having said that, I don’t think either one of us want to walk around feeling angry all day.
After all, who wants to be reminded that they don’t like something all the time?
Instead the path to a life lived with more happiness and less anger is found in gratitude. But making that jump from anger to gratitude can be daunting and met with a lot of resistance. What if there were some simple steps we could take to get us there? I think there are some and I want to share them with you.
Last week I was invited to speak to a group of people with a friend of mine. It was kind of a last minute request and I felt both excited and nervous about it. I did my best to prepare and even recall mentioning to my wife the morning of the presentation that I was feeling nervous.
My friend and I didn’t have much time to collaborate about how the presentation would go and we only had about an hour to do it. We both have a lot of respect and trust in each other and agreed that we would “wing it”. After all, we both knew the material and it was only the delivery that we hadn’t coordinated.
My friend was handed “the mic” to start off the presentation and I sat closely by just a few feet away. Well the entire hour went by and while my friend did a great job presenting, he was the only one who did so. I never had an opportunity or an invitation to share in the presentation. I suppose we can chalk part of that up to the fact that we didn’t coordinate very well but it was beyond that.
I sat there feeling angry, disappointed, and frustrated. Even worse, I had all kinds of thoughts in my mind. Thoughts like, “he thinks I can’t do this” or “he’s not responsible” or “I’m not going to have an opportunity for others to hear me”. While I sat there in all of my thoughts and feelings I knew the only thing I could do was to be aware of them.
I didn’t want my feelings to define me or my friend and I certainly didn’t want them to be responsible for my actions.
My friend and I had plans to meet after the presentation for a long talk. However, in those moments while he was speaking the only thing I wanted to do was leave. I knew that isolating and not sharing my feelings were not going to lead me in the direction I wanted to be in. So instead I followed the following 5 steps.
As I mentioned, I knew I had to notice what was going on or I wouldn’t be able to make any choices. After all, the first step to making any change is awareness. Sitting in that awareness can be the challenging part of this. I had to sit there feeling my feelings while being aware of my thoughts, all while doing my best to not judge any of them! There was a bit of a struggle trying to figure out what was going on in my head and in my heart as I experience these intense sensations. However, finding out what I’m working with is key to me moving forward.
Stop the Judgment
Judging our thoughts and feelings has all kinds of ramifications and none of which are healthy. Often times we mitigate our feelings by judging them. We decide we shouldn’t feel angry or sad because others have it worse or because the issue isn’t that big a deal. Our thoughts move from not liking something to thinking we are “less than”. As I was sitting there I started having thoughts that my not having an opportunity to speak was personal. I had thoughts that I wasn’t good enough. In those moments I was judging myself and my friend. As awareness set in I knew I had to reserve the judgment. I sat there literally telling myself in my head, “I am good enough”. I said this about 3 times to make sure that the thoughts and feelings I was having were me not liking the situation and not about me not being a good person. When we go from not thinking well about a situation to not thinking well about ourselves or others we’re always in judgment mode.
Tell Your Truth
I did not want to tell my friend how I was feeling or what I was thinking. In fact, I wanted to immediately leave after the presentation and not meet as we had previously planned. Telling others I don’t like something has always been a struggle for me. However, I knew that the only appropriate response was to share my truth in a loving, authentic, and expressive way. So I told my friend how I was feeling and what I thought. He was able to share with me what happened for him and even offered me an apology. It felt so empowering to express my strength, courage, honesty, and openness in this way.
See The Goodness
We’re taught from a very young age to confuse who we are with how we feel. It’s been a struggle to reverse this but it needs to be done if we’re going to live the fulfilling lives we so desire. I had to tell my friend that while I was feeling angry, disappointed, and frustrated I still saw his goodness as well as my own. I get to be whole and so do you EVEN when I experience uncomfortable feelings. I was honoring my feelings AND honoring my friend all at the same time!
This is a completely new concept for most of us. Most of us think that if I’m pissed off at you then you must be a jerk. If I’m happy with you then you’re a great person. This is not how it works. People (ourselves included) are not defined by how we feel! That means I get to be mad at you for something you did (that I didn’t like) and still see that you are inherently a good person. Likewise, I can be angry at myself for something I did and still see that I am inherently a good person. This one step is so crucial to our success as we walk our own paths to authentic living.
Look For the Gifts
I knew that I didn’t just go through all those uncomfortable feelings, miss out on presenting, and have an awkward conversation with a friend all for nothing. What were the gifts of this experience? Looking for the gifts in situations like this is how we allow life to unfold naturally. I wound up finding a couple of gifts from this situation. Ultimately my friend and I sat down for an hour and a half and had a wonderful conversation about life. I learned things about him and he did about me. That conversation wouldn’t have taken place had I left after the presentation. I also had the gift of seeing the goodness in myself and in him. That’s not something I did most of my life. I saw people in black and white. They were either nice or a jerk. Other people became responsible for my feelings which turned me into a victim. Possibly worst of all, I took things personally which only affirmed my own false beliefs about not being good enough. All these were now gifts as I didn’t take the incident personally, I owned my feelings, I expressed them openly and honestly, and I showed up for myself.
This might sound like a cumbersome process. At first, it’s completely cumbersome and why shouldn’t it be? Most of the time we get angry, blame someone else, isolate in the form of abusive behavior or by disconnecting, and ultimately remind ourselves that we aren’t enough. The anger subsides but we’re still left with that thought that we’re not enough. This thought carries us throughout our lives and manifests in ways that are so damaging.
The good news is that while these 5 steps might seem cumbersome today, after time they do get easier. What is automatic for you today when you feel angry will turn to this process as the new “automatic”. Eventually, this will flow so naturally for you that you’ll process your uncomfortable feelings in a matter of minutes instead of hours or even days.
So what do you think? Do you think it’s possible to turn anger into gratitude? Can you find the gifts in your uncomfortable feelings? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
With Gratitude and Appreciation,
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