Early-20th century Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenny said, “He who angers you conquers you.”
Anger is one of the most powerful human emotions and it has to be treated with tremendous care. It can be destructive but it can also help us to reach powerful insights.
Though reasons for anger vary greatly from situation to situation and from one individual to another, it often rises within us when we perceive threats to ourselves or those we care about. Sometimes the threats are real and sometimes they’re not.
Other times those who seek to control us will consciously or unconsciously provoke anger in an effort to gain the upper hand. This is what Kenny warned about.
Anger, however, is not necessarily bad. Between the stimulus that causes anger and our response, there’s a gap. We don’t need to respond immediately. We can stand back, assess the situation and then choose our response.
We can also learn to listen to our anger. Often it’s warning us about some sort of danger. The danger may be something within ourselves that needs to change. Perhaps we’re too competitive, having to win at any cost. We need to ask ourselves if this belief is serving us, if we need to do some work on ourselves to gain more equilibrium. Perhaps we’re holding on to erroneous beliefs that we need to challenge, such as our prejudices.
At other times, something is triggering our anger. Perhaps we’re hungry or we’re overwhelmed in a stressful environment. We may need to take a break, go for a walk or have something to eat. It’s also possible that we simply need to get more rest.
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Anger can also be warning us that something isn’t right in our interactions with others. It’s helpful to ask ourselves, “I wonder why that person did that?” Perhaps they’re just having a bad day. Perhaps they’re unaware of what they’re doing. Sometimes, however, they are indeed trying to hurt us and the best thing may be to walk away, if even temporarily.
How do you develop these anger management skills? Counsellors can provide us with the support and guidance we need to understand ourselves and our reactions.
There are also many tools we can use, with or without the support of a professional. I’ve found two very helpful.
The first is journaling. By writing things down for our eyes only, we can reflect on what happened and the possible causes. We may start out very angry at another person, but as we ask ourselves questions and scrawl our answers, the situation becomes clearer. Our thoughts also come into focus. In journaling, there’s no reason to resist our anger. And if we allow it to have its moment, we realize that it’s actually trying to teach us a valuable lesson.
The other tool is to meditate. Though I don’t understand what precisely is happening, studies consistently show that regular meditation allows us to respond with mindfulness and makes us less likely to react in a way that we will later regret.
We lose credibility and respect when we display unbridled anger. And we hand our power over to others.
When we channel our anger with awareness, however, we realize the important lessons it’s trying to teach us. We’re able to more easily tap into our amazing potential and use our innate goodness to make the world a better place.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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