On the last bank holiday weekend, my niece and great-niece came to stay. How lovely it was to spend time with family after such a long time apart.
My great-niece was in tears when my cat, Manuel, tried to bite her. He was in pain due to a leg injury and, as six year olds are want to do, she unfortunately touched him at this very spot causing him to hiss.
All was soon well and I explained that he wasn’t being angry or mean but that he was just lashing out as he was hurt.
We fell into a conversation about when hurtful things make us angry and I shared with her that anger is always a cover for being hurt.
That, rather like Manuel, we will lash out with anger to protect ourselves when necessary.
So, if you find yourself angry at any time, a way to gain clarity is to ask yourself: ‘Why am I angry? What is hurting me?’ Then add: ‘What is it in me that becomes angry (hurt) at this person/situation?’ And also: ‘What is it about this person/situation that makes me angry (hurt)?’
This is because it is easier to change yourself and your reactions to people and situations than it is to change the external world.
Tempting as it may seem to retire from the world and live on a desert island, I have actually tried this and the truth is that you always take yourself with you.
Self-evidently it is a good idea to remove yourself as much as possible from trigger people and situations but this may not always be entirely possible as we live in families and communities and work with others.
So, to help you here is a useful exercise that you can do any time you are angry:
Let’s take an example — someone has made a derogatory remark about your appearance.
What is important in this exercise is to keep personal language about the other person out of the second column.
Keep it to ‘I feel that I am not valued for who I am’ NOT ‘he/she should value me for who I am’.
This pushes the problem on to them and stops you from looking for solutions.
An added tool to get you away from anger is to then ask:
‘What else could this mean?’
Sticking with the example of the hurtful comments about your appearance then this could also mean (for example) that:
- The other person has different values that govern how they think people should look.
- The other person did not think before they spoke. It may have even been a poor attempt at humour.
- The other person was simply being clumsy and did not intend to hurt you.
You may, having thought about it for a while, concluded that the other person is out of line by making such personal comments and that this cannot be ignored.
However, you will then take your power back as you can choose when and how to address this.
It allows you to take control back, and, in an uncertain world, that is the best defence you can possibly give yourself.
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