Happy Birthday to me! This month as I turn 50, I’ve been reflecting more than usual on what’s important to me. This includes permission to feel the full range of human emotions and allow them to guide us into action that supports our values and the impact we want to have in the world. Read below to find out how you can use your superpowers for good.
When I was a kid, every Friday night my eyes were glued to the TV lost in my favorite show The Incredible Hulk.
I loved David (Bruce) Banner. Watching him transform into the Hulk mesmerized me. I knew exactly how that felt.
By each episode’s closing credits, I was in tears. Six-year-old me wondered if I would end up on the run my whole life just like Dr. Banner if I didn’t learn what to do with my anger.
Now soon-to-be 50-year-old me is still figuring out how to deal with my anger. Working on it. Although I do my best not to, I’m quick to flip off the guy in the pickup that cuts me off making the left off of Devon onto Nagle. Lots of issues get me lots of riled up.
It’s no surprise that my career focus shifted to Emotional Intelligence. Sheesh, I’ve been studying it since I was six.
Below is the short piece I wrote for Tiara International last January. At the time I thought it was a rage hangover. Now I’ve come to terms with the fact that the world still doesn’t look like I want it to look and sometimes it makes me mad.
Luckily, I now have a process to deal with my anger and am able to not only empathize, but help others deal with their anger and all of the other not-so-fun emotions that come with being human
With a new President and our first Madam Vice President, I felt a sigh of relief and a feeling of optimism that I hadn’t felt in a long time. At the same time I felt irritable, out of it, and needed more sleep than usual.
In talking with friends and colleagues, I realized that I wasn’t the only one. Anger seemed to be coming out sideways. Friends commented on having similar experiences and not having a place to put their rage. Others were having intense arguments with family members.
It dawned on me…were we experiencing a rage hangover?
There are countless ways anger creeps into our daily lives. Anger is a universal and complex emotion. It can show up when your cell phone goes missing, watching the news, or in a conversation with a friend. It can derail a relationship and it can also fuel a political movement.
For women expressing anger has a whole other level of social implications. In her best-seller Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly quotes Dr. Kerri Johnson, UCLA on a study of gender and emotion. It’s okay–even expected–for men to express anger, but when women have a negative emotion, they’re expected to express their displeasure with sadness.
So how do we harness the fuel of anger and also mitigate its costs, especially when the emotion itself is not socially acceptable to express?
Let’s break down one example of anger and look at it through an emotional intelligence lens.
This weekend I lost it when a wine glass fell off the shelf shattering everywhere. Leave it to my inner Bridget Jones to make an even bigger mess in the middle of cleaning the kitchen.
Suddenly there’s the sensation of a fast furious flame, like a lit match just after it’s been struck. It’s the feeling that typically accompanies anger with me. I’m not just frustrated with the mess, I’m mad at myself for being a klutz and making an even bigger mess to clean up.
I dropped the F-bomb a couple of times (just keeping it real). By the third f#*k, I noticed it:
Wait a second, I’m having a natural stress response here. I paused. I took a deep breath.
My focus shifted to the floor. My eyes scoured for more glass shards. That crafty glass made it all the way into the hallway. By the time the glass was cleaned up, the flames and the self blame were gone. I felt back to normal.
So let’s break it down:
- Glass breaks
- I get upset
- I notice the sensations
- I move my focus to cleaning up the glass
- The anger passes
Seems pretty simple, right? The situation was temporary and it passed pretty quickly. Simple, however, we know isn’t always easy. Dealing with a temper and anger has been a lifelong process for me. It’s taken years for me to understand that my initial reaction (and the accompanying sensations) don’t hold the power to rule me. Like everything else in life, it just takes practice.
We know other anger experiences can be more complex, but learning the basics can help us manage other situations.
Before we start, let’s look at the first thing we do have under our control: our breath. A simple technique like Box Breathing is the key to getting present:
- Take a deep breath in for a count of four.
- Pause and count to four.
- Now exhale for a count of four.
- Pause for another count of four.
Repeat the above four times.
That’s box breathing in a nutshell. Super simple. Super effective. Used by Navy Seals and yogis alike.
Sometimes it only takes one simple action to bring us back to the moment. That moment can mean the difference between getting derailed by an emotion, or using it as fuel.
So yes, breathe.
Now that we’re all present, let’s process what’s really going on in our situation:
What are we feeling right now in this moment?
Are you angry or are you just peeved? Maybe you’re even furious? Getting specific about how you feel will not only help you connect to the emotion more accurately, it means a better chance that you’ll be able to pinpoint the cause of the anger. What do you know about the reasons for feeling the way you do? Was a value stepped on? Is there a need that’s not being met?
What can you let go of?
We know the expression ‘No use crying over spilt milk’. It’s true. Will you remember the guy that cut you off while you were merging onto 94 next year? Probably not. Just let it go. If you can’t seem to let it go, it’s time to do something with that excess anger energy.
What are we willing to do about it?
Now that you’re more clear on what’s causing the anger, consider next steps. What action can you take right now that will address what you’re feeling in a healthy way? Maybe it’s making art to express your perspective. Maybe you want to volunteer for an organization aligned with your values. Decide what action feels the most inspired and take the next step.
Anger is important emotional data. It points us to our values and can also protect us from potential danger. It also usually arrives with a motley crew of physical sensations, hormonal changes and automatic responses that can derail us when we’re not paying attention. Taking the time to manage those automatic responses will allow you to access the power of anger and do something valuable with it.
As Academy Award winning director Ang Lee has said, “Sometimes, you have to get angry to get things done.”
Some resources to explore:
To learn more about how Emotional Intelligence coaching and trainings could benefit you and your organization, click here.