Many of us gravitate towards and feel safe around the “Mary Poppins” of this world – those people known for their sweet, angelic, and “appropriate” behavior. Similarly, we tend to frown upon and judge those who act out their anger “inappropriately.” Somewhere along the line, many of us have subscribed to the story that anger is a “bad” emotion.
You have probably heard this expression: “When you’re angry at someone else, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.” When you’re caught up in the throes of anger and resentment, your mind is often taken over by obsessive thoughts about the offending person(s) or situation. Anger is not a state conducive to peace, love, or healing.
So what to do? You obviously need to remove yourself from any physically abusive situations. Otherwise, do your best not to say or do anything while beset by anger. Plan a time-out for yourself in which you can calm down, and process the situation that is affecting you so strongly.
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests you use time-outs to “take care of your anger”. But how? First, acknowledge and be honest with yourself about the presence of anger and resentment. If you deny the anger or try to wish it away, a mental pattern arises of pushing away, pretending, denying, or stuffing. The more you deny and stuff, the more reactive you ultimately become to future events that press your buttons.
The trick is to acknowledge your anger and resentment without concomitantly feeding those feelings with stories about perceived injustices. During your time-out, take these steps:
- Recognize anger and resentment when they are present, being completely honest with yourself.
- Open yourself to the experience of these hurtful emotions without immediately acting upon them.
- Drop the story line (“he did,” “she said,” “blah, blah, blah”).
- Investigate as fully as you can all the physical, mental, and emotional sensations related to the strong emotion.
- Stay with these sensations until the anger/resentment dissipates.
When you first begin this process, it may seem to take forever and may feel overwhelming. Your mind will probably want to keep yakking about how you have been “done wrong.” You may or may not also experience intense physical discomfort. These are all normal, possible experiences. The key here is to be patient and kind with yourself during the process of opening up to these difficult emotions.
With practice, this process becomes more automatic, takes less time, and, ultimately, leaves you with less anger to deal with.