Calming the Anger Hot Spot
Anger: the good news and the bad news (0:25)
How we try to deal with our anger (and what happens instead) (1:45)
What would happen if the target of your anger went away? (4:30)
How to take care of your anger – and yourself (7:40)
A last word + a worksheet (15:45)
Calming the Anger Hot Spot
Today I want to talk about a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it seems to be bubbling up in lots of places, and that’s Anger.
Anger: The Good News and the Bad News
Many of us walk around with anger, and there are a lot of good uses for anger, and there are a lot of appropriate times to be angry. So, I’m not trying to minimize or dismiss anybody’s authentic anger or outrage – there is a lot to be outraged about, and there’s a lot of value in that.
What I’m talking about today is anger more in terms of a slow-brewing, simmering, right-below-the-surface kind of emotional hot spot that can sometimes get triggered within us and manifest in ways we really don’t feel good about, and we don’t want to happen.
It can also show up in ways that hold you back from the things you want. Your anger’s manifestations can hold you back from—
A promotion you’re hoping for,
Being put on the team that you want to be on,
Retaining the job that you have,
Relationships that are important to you, or
Connections that have value in your life.
How We Try to Deal with Our Anger (and What Happens Instead)
So, how do we deal with that kind of anger?
Here’s something that a client presented to me, and we’re going to use their scenario for our talking point today. She said—
“Beth, I love my work, but I have so much anger towards my director that it’s impacting our working relationship. This anger that I feel causes me continual anxiety and stress, and I’m pretty sure it’s damaging our relationship and my reputation within this company.
“I’ve tried everything! I’ve tried to hide it; I’ve tried to mask it. I try to pretend it’s not there, and I try to get over it, but I keep having these emotional hot spots, and my anger keeps coming out again and again and again. I feel like it happens every time I see his face or hear his voice. Beth, what can I do to get rid of this anger?”
I hear statements like these from my clients all the time, over and over again. Why?
Because anger is one of those key emotional hot spots that gets manifested whenever we’re feeling our ego is getting attacked in some way, right?
Maybe we feel like we’re being found out. Maybe we feel embarrassed. Maybe we’re feeling really vulnerable or insecure. Perhaps somebody is operating in a place that’s really not aligned with our personal values, and so we feel our values are at risk.
In the work environment, most of us try to suppress or deny the anger we’re experiencing because … well, it’s not really appropriate. But through that suppression – through that denial – more anger and more resentment get generated. From that suppression, anger sneaks out sideways when we’re least expecting it, and that’s what I call an emotional hot spot.
Ultimately, suppressed anger is one of the primary ways that our relationships get destroyed, our careers are stalled, and our reputations go in directions that we were not intending.
What Would Happen If the Target of Your Anger Went Away?
I always ask clients, “What would be the best possible thing that I could do for you to get rid of your anger once and for all?”
And they all point to the target of their anger and say, “If [ target ] were obliterated, I would be fine.” Of course, they don’t use that example. Things they say are—
“If my director were fired tomorrow, I’d be great!”
“If I never had to work with so-and-so again, that would be perfect.”
“If that customer would just start shopping somewhere else, I’d be in great shape.”
You see, many of us carry the false belief that the anger is about the target. But in reality, the target is simply justifying our anger and the energy of the anger we feel in our body.
And wouldn’t it be lovely if simply saying good riddance to the target of our anger was enough to make it so that we never had to have that feeling again? But that’s not how it works.
So, I want you to think about this right now…
Is there currently someone in your life who, when you think about them, you feel so much anger toward their very existence that it creates an obstacle for you? It puts a roadblock on your pathway to success or happiness or feeling valued – whatever it is.
Is there someone who, when you just think about them, causes you to feel the kind of energy that you’ve labeled as anger?
I’d bet there is – I have one or two of those people myself! We all do.
But here’s the truth: that person is simply showing up as a messenger for you with what they’re trying to help you see.
They do not know it, of course, but what they’re trying to help you get in touch with are the emotions that are beneath your anger. There are secondary emotions that we often do not want to deal with. Predominantly, those are sadness and fear and everything that falls out underneath them.
You’ve probably heard me say many times before that the only person you can ever truly manage or change is yourself.
So, if the person you’ve identified as the target of your anger were obliterated tomorrow, guess what would be left?
You and all those feelings beneath your anger. It would all still be there; that’s the simple truth.
How to Take Care of Your Anger – and Yourself
So, how do you take care of yourself and your anger?
The first thing is to ask yourself: “Hm. There’s that feeling again. What is it that I feel sad about?” Sadness can be all kinds of things. It can be disappointment, grief, a feeling of being left out, or something else. It can be anything that brings up sadness for you.
Also ask: “What about the situation with this person am I feeling fearful about?” If the person you’re angry about is someone who holds the ability to give you a bad performance evaluation, perhaps it’s fear about losing your job. If there’s someone who you feel like you need in your life, but you depend on them and you want to be more self-sufficient, then maybe your fear is that they’ll leave and you’ll be left on your own.
When any of those types of things – those fears and sadnesses and everything underneath them – are combined, we get anger. And that anger keeps us from having to feel the feelings that are below it, those deeper feelings.
So, what are the steps you can take to work on your anger for yourself without having to do anything to change the other person or the other person’s situation?
Step 1. Accept that anger is not a pure emotion
Step 2. Accept that anger is a combination of two very powerful emotions: Fear and Sadness.
Step 3. Ask yourself two more simple (yet really powerful) questions.
The first question is: “What is in this feeling that I’m having that’s about fear?” or “What am I fearful about as related to this situation?”
Here are some things I hear from clients when they’re asked this question—
“I’m fearful that my director doesn’t share the same goals that I do for our program.”
“I’m really committed to the outcomes that I believe are the right ones, and I came here to work for a director who shares that belief, but he left right after I arrived! I’m super-mad about that because I’m not sure my current director and I hold the same goals. I’m fearful and sad that if things don’t work out, I might have to start my career over again in a whole new place.”
“I’m fearful that I’m beginning to be seen as difficult or shut down, and that is not the way I want to be seen.”
“I’m fearful that this relationship is not going to turn out to be the perfect relationship that I so desperately want. I thought it would be, and now I’m afraid that maybe I’m just not able to be in successful relationships.”
Those are just some of the things that I hear from clients when I ask them that simple-yet-powerful question: “What are you most fearful about within this situation?”
The second question to ask yourself is: “What about this situation is bringing up sadness?” or “What am I most sad about within all of this anger?”
Here are some things that clients tell me about their underlying sadness—
“I’m so sad that the organization is headed in a different direction than the one I feel like I worked so hard for.”
“I’m feeling deep disappointment that the mentor I came to work for left right after I arrived.”
“I am so disheartened that this company that I put on a pedestal – I couldn’t wait to work within its culture and with the work that it’s doing – is really quite different from what I thought it was – and more flawed than I originally believed.
“My heart hurts when I realize that my hope for this relationship may not be fulfilled in all of the ways I dreamed about.”
Notice if your energy begins to shift as you acknowledge where you’re feeling fear and sadness.
4. Find grace and forgiveness.
We spend so much time waiting and hoping for apologies from the people who are the targets of our anger and the people we believe have wronged us. And the longer we wait – without getting – the apology that we believe will set us free, the more our anger grows.
But I want you to remember this: The only person you can manage, shift, or change is yourself. The only person there is any value in holding expectations for is yourself.
So, from both of those two powerful questions and their answers, you’re now going to begin to uncover things you just may want to forgive yourself for. So, here are some examples—
“I forgive myself for deciding to come to work here under someone who I had no idea was heading out.”
“I forgive myself for blowing up at my partner when their behavior wasn’t aligned with what I had set as expectations for them. I forgive myself for setting expectations for someone else that they did not agree to.”
“I forgive myself for shutting down and withholding information when I was asked for input on something that I didn’t agree with.”
“I forgive myself for responding to feedback in a way that was neither professional nor helpful.”
What I’m trying to communicate to you is that self-care and self-management are about giving yourself the apology or the acknowledgment that you really want from someone else. Expecting an apology or acknowledgment from someone else is trying to manage someone else, and—
The only person you can ever truly manage is yourself,
The only person you can truly make amends with is yourself, and
The only person you can truly change is yourself.
A Last Word + A Free Worksheet
Each of us feels anger at different times based on different things that bring up emotional hot spots for us: other people’s personalities, behaviors, or expectations, and our expectations of other people. Many, many things can bring up our anger.
But when you are able to stop, take a breath, and do some self-inquiry, you’ll feel some of the resonance of that anger lift away, and you’ll be able to take some action steps that matter.
Because I know that many of you will want to delve a little deeper into this and maybe even do some self-development into this topic, we provided this really easy worksheet that you can download for free and use as many times as you want.
Now is a great time to explore the dissipation of your anger and engage in this practice.
Until next time!