I recently read that 60% of Americans lose their temper at least once per week. I'd like to tell you I wasn't in that number but alas, my kids would tell you otherwise.
Of course losing our temper is what happens when we fail to keep our anger in check. Something (or someone) pushes our buttons and, unable to contain our anger, we explode. The result is never pretty. Last week I was asked to talk about anger on Better TV. Despite my occasional outbursts at my kids I wouldn't say I am a particularly angry person. Which got me thinking, why are some people constantly angry while others seem perpetually serene and calm? And for the majority of us who fall somewhere in the middle, how can we process the emotion of anger in more constructive ways?
First let me repeat what I wrote in my book Find Your Courage. Anger, on its own, is neither good nor bad. Rather it's a natural emotion that arises when we perceive an injustice to ourselves or others. The problem does not arise when we have anger. It arises when anger has us. It's how we respond to it that determines whether it is helpful to our relationships (by addressing valid issues that threaten to undermine them) and good for society (by working to end injustice) - or damaging to our relationships, destructive to our circumstances and plain old bad for our health (think heart disease, depression, ulcers... I'd go on but it doesn't get better!). In other words, our response to anger ultimately creates more suffering for us and others, or less. It all hinges on how we process and express it.
Learning to manage anger isn't easy. It takes a heightened level of self-awareness, a good dose of discipline and a robust commitment to honoring the dignity of others and our own. Below are a few strategies that will help you the next time you find yourself feeling as mad as a hatter.
We human beings are emotional beings. Forever evolving, forever wrestling with those uncomfortable emotions like anger, forever on a quest to rise above them and be firmly in control. The reality is that living life to the fullest requires us to experience the full spectrum of emotions. They all serve a purpose and yet they can all hijack our happiness if we aren't honest enough with ourselves to own the primal fears that drive them.... of looking foolish, of injustice to ourselves or others, of being inadequate and insignificant, of being unlovable or rejected, of being vulnerable and hurt, of losing those we love, of losing control, of being mortal.
In the end, there is no magic bullet to remaining forever calm, contained and cool when something or someone has really pushed your buttons and frustration, resentment, anger and outright fury begin to well up in you. Learning to regulate our emotions is a lifelong pursuit. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back. So just as I will work to forgive myself for not always being a patient and calm mum, I encourage you to forgive yourself for the many times you have failed to control your temper. Forgive yourself for not managing your anger, rising above your fear, overcoming your insecurities and responding calmly and bravely to your challenges. And while you are at it, forgive those around you who've done the same. After all, the greatest remedy for everything that weighs your heart is forgiveness.