We’ve all been there at some point – furiously ranting and ruminating to ourselves about all of the reasons a person or setback is evil, thoughtless, stupid or useless. We repeat the same negative thoughts and stories over and over in our heads, blinded and blocked by our angry, negative feelings.
In this state we are operating with tunnel vision, emotionally disconnected from our true selves and deeper feelings, and unable to access true wisdom. This disconnection caused by anger only serves to increase our suffering.
Anger is the classic default emotion most people feel when experiencing anything displeasing. Unfortunately, anger itself is not a very illuminating emotion and often blocks true awareness and insight from occurring. The key to using anger properly is to consider it as an important clue that sits on the superficial surface of our problem.
The practice of self-compassion can help you cut through anger and other negative feelings, uncovering and resolving what’s truly going on inside. Try following these simple steps to come to more acceptance, understanding and self-connection.
1. Recognize that challenges are a part of life
It’s typical and normal for people to have temporarily or permanently tough areas in their life. It might be chronic clashing with your in-laws, grappling with a physical ailment, a difficult boss, the continued complications of a divorce, or the legacy of a difficult childhood. A large part of what makes these common problems so challenging is our attitude towards them.
Unless we’ve managed to make peace with our persistent challenges, we often hate these areas of our lives and feel in active conflict with them any time they present themselves. It’s a rinse and repeat dynamic that can spring up every time we get triggered in these areas.
One of the most important ways of staying connected through that anger is by summoning self-compassion for yourself and the struggle or disappointment you are dealing with. You are not a failure because you have this challenge; challenges are a natural, inevitable fact of life. Usually, once you reconnect and regain closeness with yourself, you also experience nearly instantaneous relief from the pain of the anger.
It also helps to try to intentionally cultivate compassion for the other people involved, and the difficult emotional state they are in – regardless of who is right and who is wrong. Imagine the stress and pain of being the object of anger, or the cause of anger, and allow yourself to feel compassion for that situation. We have all been there.
Stepping outside of battle mode to extend this compassion to yourself and others is the healing balm that can blunt your anger, and prevent spiraling into greater disconnection and upset.
2. Understand that anger is a shield
Anger is a defensive emotion, used to inflate our egos, make us feel powerful, and defend against the more vulnerable, tender feelings underneath. Recognizing it as such can help us learn to question our angry internal rants.
Usually, it’s as simple as asking yourself, “What am I really feeling besides anger?” Or, “I wonder if I’m also feeling hurt, or afraid somehow?” I find that when I ask my clients these kinds of questions, there is almost always a huge sigh and sense of relief as they spot the true source of the wound.
You’ll know when you’ve touched on the right underlying feelings. There is an immediate internal softening, and your formerly iron grip on your point of view will start to relax a little. Often, recognizing the more profound emotion underneath is all that is needed to reconnect to our true selves, and for productive conversation and resolution to begin.
3. Reconnect with what’s real
It’s easy to stay stuck in the righteous indignation of anger, and in fact, many people make a lifetime habit of this. But unless we question these superficial emotions, we gain very little insight, and we are blocked from processing or moving through the underlying emotions.
To practice self-compassion, we must humble ourselves enough to admit that underneath all our powerful arguments against the thing that’s enraged us, we are actually deeply disappointed, sad, heartbroken, grieving, terrified, or in some other vulnerable state. These emotions – concealed by our surface anger – are the more meaningful, poignant ones we can really learn from. Practicing self-compassion may prompt a new release of emotion, like sudden tears of relief, but this is where the critical stage of processing, digesting and understanding our true reactions happens. This is where the magic happens.
Using self-compassion to reconnect with what’s underneath anger lets us review our situation from a place of calm, loving power. We give ourselves the necessary affirmation, validation, acknowledgement, and permission to feel the REAL feelings underneath. When we validate our experience of those underlying emotions, we gain a better understanding and acceptance of our true selves, and foster a more profound and authentic connection.