Let’s call a truce. Our collective pain and stress are showing, and not in ways adding to a solution we certainly hope for.
Rude comments, zings and flings abound, whether in social circles or on social media, giving a clue to the mounting tension people are experiencing. I hear from store clerks who receive the brunt of people’s frustrations on a daily basis. These are challenging times for sure, but we can be empowered by making what’s hard a little easier.
There’s no doubt we’re living in uncertain and stressful times. The appearance of yet another virus variant, along with floods, mudslides and road closures disrupting the supply chain all add to the unease and stress that’s mounting—and often showing up as anger.
Anger isn’t just rage. There’s a whole anger family of emotion, often starting out smaller with feelings of irritation, annoyance, frustration or resentment.
Crazy as it seems, I have great compassion when I see people acting out with anger, sarcasm and rudeness because their pain is showing. They’re not just jerks; they are hurting.
Years ago, I learned an adage that’s served me well—an angry person is a person in need.
Angry people used to scare me and I avoided them at all costs. And it wasn’t just other people’s anger that frightened me. I was afraid of my own anger and learned to quickly suppress it until it couldn’t be contained any more. When it exploded, the anger was usually completely unrelated to the incident at hand and I felt out of control. For me, anger feels messy and vulnerable. Others experience it as power.
We all experience anger. It’s there to protect us and cause us to take action when things are out of balance or we’re in harm’s way. Yet, emotion researchers reveal anger is often a cover or secondary emotion, acting as a protector for our more vulnerable feelings like fear, sadness, embarrassment, stress and grief.
As we learn to discover what more vulnerable emotions lay beneath our anger, we’re empowered to deal with the real feelings needing attention. Fear, uncertainty, sadness and grief feel pretty vulnerable. Like quills on a porcupine, we’ve often subconsciously conditioned ourselves to protect them with anger because we feel more in charge of things. But this isn’t really true. We may think our anger keeps us from being emotional but the opposite is true.
Discovering the truth behind anger taught me to be curious enough to find out what emotion laid beneath angry behaviour. Learning to do this for myself took courage, awareness and practice. My anger usually isn’t anger at all but one of the more vulnerable feelings I used to avoid.
I recall being confused when my grief showed up as anger. Having experienced a death in the family and being quickly drawn back to work, I found myself feeling irritable and short on patience.I felt like every annoying person in the world had been sent my way.
This was uncharacteristic for me and I didn’t like myself. I warned others they’d better beware; I was acting like a mad cow. As much as I tried to laugh at myself, my irritation grew and I didn’t even like being around myself. I tried to be nice but my edges were showing.
In realizing feelings of grief hid beneath the irritation, I was able to make space and attend to the feelings of sadness and loss covered over by all of the quills of anger. I needed to cry and feel sad. In attending to my grief, I felt better and so did everyone around me, I’m sure.
While anger can have a purpose of mobilizing us to create change when standing up for injustice or unfairness, when we develop a habit of anger, it is harmful to our health, happiness, and relationships. When we fail to attend to the more vulnerable emotions hiding beneath, we’re unable to heal what truly needs our attention.
Learning to pause and get curious about what might be lurking beneath feelings of irritation, annoyance, resentment, or anger, helps us address the issues at their core. Working with our vulnerable feelings helps us to become more skillful in our emotional lives. Becoming aware of our emotions, and learning to make space and turn toward those vulnerable feelings makes us stronger.
Next time you feel anger or irritation, pause before you act, and check inside to see which of the more vulnerable feelings might be hidden beneath. In this, we’re able to address our discomfort at its source and not add fuel to the fire.
Let’s remember to be gentle, patient, and kind with ourselves and one another as we navigate this world together. Let’s create a kinder world for ourselves and others.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.