I stare at the text from my colleague. I’ve read it in between getting ready for work and trying to respond to a question from one of my clients. My mind is in a few places at once. I try to stop and focus.
My colleague has sent me some ideas about something at work that could be better. It’s constructive, concise and really helpful.
I sit for a moment. I feel tightness in my chest. I get up and walk about the room. I pull out clothes, I put them back. I pull out something else, I put it back. I pick up my phone and send a message back to my colleague. I thank her for the ideas and agree it’s a great idea; let’s implement it.
She’s right, but it hurts.
There’s still a part of me that says I should be able to do everything on my own. I should know how to make everything work. When something isn’t at its best, I still link it to some kind of internal failure. The best-intentioned ideas from a colleague sound like advice. Advice sounds like criticism, and criticism feels like failure.
Looking back, I know this isn’t the way I want to think. But understanding that takes time and effort. It’s not graceful. Breaking old thought patterns is messy. It sets me back as it unfolds over a couple of days.
For half a day, I’m thinking over and over about my colleague’s text. I’m thinking about how my colleague doesn’t have all the facts. She doesn’t know the 10 things that I’m juggling to make that situation work. She doesn’t understand the different staffing capabilities and resources. She doesn’t understand that I’ve got a million things on my plate.
For the first day, I subconsciously decide to sit with resentment. I let the annoyance build and I even feel a bit of anger sneak in.
Everything is heavy. I don’t enjoy my workouts, my job, my interactions with people. That tightness in my chest is still faintly there. This thought pattern is so ingrained in me that I go about my day and don’t realise the trigger that’s got me here.
It takes me a day and a half before I consciously decide I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want sit with this resentment. I don’t want to choose anger.
I often think that when people are angry, it’s because deep down, they’re angry with themselves.
That might sound like a crazy statement but in my own experience, it turns out to be true most of the time. And I have a lot of experience. In my late teens and early twenties, I was angry a lot.
I poured my anger onto page after page of my journal. First, I raged at the world. I wrote for ages about how someone had done something completely unjustified. How they were rude or ignorant. I wrote about how people were in the wrong and I was left hurt and in pain.
The more I wrote, the more I saw something that should have been obvious; I have no control over other people’s beliefs, actions or re-actions. Me holding onto the idea that I somehow should be able to control them is what made me angry.
For example, when someone at work neglected their tasks and left me to pick up the pieces, I was angry. I was angry that they were self-centred. I was angry that they valued their time over mine. I was angry that they got it easy when I worked my socks off.
The truth is, I was angry with myself. I was angry that I hadn’t learnt to stand up for myself. I was angry that I hated confrontation so instead of speaking with them openly, I mumbled under my breath and got on with the work. I was angry that I didn’t know how to take things less seriously like them. I was angry that I created a stressful life for myself when they created an easy life for themselves. None of it seemed fair.
It took me a long time to understand that the real anger was with the things that I could control, not the things I couldn’t.
I could change my beliefs, actions and re-actions in life. I couldn’t change theirs. It’s as simple as that. If I was going to get over my anger, I had to work through my shit. I had to recognise that over and over again, I was picking up the pieces for other people. I had to own that and come up with a way of changing.
None of it was easy. I didn’t like accepting the fact that I had to take full ownership of my biggest flaws. That’s never fun. But if you want freedom from anger at the world, it’s what you have to do.
Now that a day has passed, I’m ready to really accept my colleague’s text. I’m ready to take ownership. I’m ready to really take on the feedback and do something about it. I’m ready to let go of anger and feel grateful for the lesson. It took some journaling, some meditation, and a little bit of kickboxing. It took time.
I breathe. I feel good again. I feel myself again. I feel stronger.
If you’re holding onto anger, think about what you’d rather be feeling. Here’s my go-to tips:
- Physical release – when you’re angry, you’re holding onto it. Not just in your mind but in your body too. Start to break that up so you can really let go. Go for a run, walk in nature, do some Qigong or Yoga. Do a HIIT routine or punch something (a punching bag, not the person you’re angry with).
- Mental release – pour all those thoughts out. Journal or talk to a friend who can just listen (Let them know you just want to vent. Don’t pick someone who will agree with every angry thought and spur you on more!).
- Reflection – Once you’ve released the anger physically and mentally, you’re more free to reflect on how to improve things. You may need to give yourself time before this step. Go back and release more if you need to. When you’re ready, consider the physical feeling you had during the anger and the feeling you’d prefer to feel. Consider the emotional feeling you had during the anger and the feelings you’d prefer to feel. Consider some things about yourself that you could control in that situation. Consider whether your beliefs, actions or re-actions need to change in future. What steps can get you there?
- Plan – set a goal around improving that thing that keeps coming up for you. Your first goal might be as simple as recognising the trigger. It might be not responding until you’ve done the physical and mental release. Whatever it is, choose one thing and really work on it.
These steps might happen in one day after a trigger or they might happen over the course of a week or maybe even longer. It depends how angry you are and how big the problem is. When I was younger, it would take weeks or months to get over things. Now, it takes a day, maybe two. Awareness is the first step.
If you need help, get it. Life’s too short to live in anger.