The 14th Dalai Lama
We are born to be happy.
When was the last time you were angry? Maybe it was when you were stuck in traffic or when your teenager started to back-talk. Whatever the situation, ask yourself, when I got angry did I say or do anything that, later, when I thought about it, I wouldn’t have said or did?
All of us have had the experience of saying or doing things in the moment of feeling angry that we later regret. We can minimize these times, build healthier relationships with those we love, and feel happier by changing what we do with our anger.
Anger is a natural human emotion. One of my colleagues has said that if anger had a voice it’d say something like, “there has been an injustice.”
Like all emotions, anger can inform our decisions about how to stand up for justice or change a situation – if we treat it with mindfulness.
But most often, we get swept away by anger.
It controls us rather than us being able to remain centered and observe it without being overtaken by it. Anger becomes a wild forest fire, as the Buddha said.
If you want healthier and happier relationships with the people you love, then learn to “get a grip”. Here’s what I mean:
We often want others to be the ones who change. For example, your child does something that frustrates you. You start shouting then expect your child to stop doing the frustrating behavior. Have you noticed how this just escalates the situation? Anger doesn’t bring peace. It brings more anger, hurt feelings, and misunderstanding.
A healthier response is to learn to “loosen your grip” on your anger.
1. Own your anger. Before the next time you become angry, reflect on this: your reaction is your responsibility.
This is hard for folks to hear, but it’s the first step to liberation from you anger and to experiencing happiness: your co-worker, child, partner, parent, neighbor didn’t “make you” get angry. That was your choice. Make a commitment to yourself that the next time you become angry, you’ll own it.
2. Acknowledge your anger in the moment. You may say something like, “Oh wow, I’m getting angry.” Even if you can’t name it exactly just notice something like, “Man, I’m getting bent out of shape” or “I can feel my jaw tightening.”
3. Allow the anger to be there. The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests saying to the anger, “Oh there you are dear one, I see you.”
You notice it and allow it to be there. You are present to it without trying to get rid of it or getting overwhelmed by it. This healthy “observer” stance grounds you, creates a healthy sense of distance between you and your anger, and enables you to stand and watch the anger without getting consumed by it.
4. Breathe. Focus on your exhale and exhale completely. This slows down the stress response that kicks us in to fight, flight, or freeze mode. It enables us to access the part of the brain used for better decision-making.
5. Touch something. Touch the arms of the chair you are sitting on or become aware of your feet touching the ground. This sends a signal to the brain, “Whoa, come back here to the present moment. Get a grip.”
6. Let it go. Become aware of what you are feeling, own it, allow it, and literally grip or touch something. Then envision yourself letting the anger go. Choose to see anger for what any emotion is – it’s like water – it wants to flow. It doesn’t want to get stuck or stagnant. See it like a wave – moving in and then out of you.
7. Ask yourself, “What is the compassionate response?” What action would be an act of kindness toward yourself and for the other? Just do it.
When you decide to practice this, you’ll notice that your change in response will elicit a change in whoever you were angry with too. By you changing yourself you’ve changed the situation and possibly even the other person’s response toward you. Becoming mindful and then ultimately letting go of our anger frees us and enables us to accept our birthright – to be happy.
I have taught these tips to clients for years – from elementary school children to grown adults. I have seen the liberation that can take a hold of the total person. I see it in their faces, eyes, heart, words, and actions – just by practicing these simple steps. Sometimes I have to remind myself DAILY and moment-by-moment of these very practices! Sometimes I mess up and my anger gets the better of me.
But then there is the next breath, the next moment…a new opportunity to choose something different, a more compassionate response. It’s in those moments that a spaciousness begins to be breathed into all of our hearts and our lives.