Monday, July 1, 2013

The Secret to Anger Management

.....without using it's turn signal
Have you ever tried to look on the bright side of a challenging situation, only to have it backfire, with you feeling more angry, resentful or frustrated?

Have you ever held anger inside you, only to channel it at some poor innocent bystander or your kids or your mom or your spouse?

Has there ever been a time when anger languished in your mind, festered and grew whilst you tried to see the positive in a difficult situation, only to find it come back to the surface when you met that situation or person again?

The first of these three scenarios happened to me just last week.

Just over a week ago my husband completed his job as a Head Of School. A job that twelve years ago brought us cross-continent from Hong Kong. He said farewell to his colleagues and school community and within 36 hours had taken a plane to Boston to facilitate a group of senior educators participating in a course at The Harvard Graduate School of Education. One of the bonuses of this trip was that I planned to join him in Cambridge MA for a few days......... I just had a few things to do first.

In 48 hours I  packed camp bags, calmed pre-camp nerves and delivered my 12 year old, Jacob to the airport to meet his fellow campers to fly to camp. Along with that I helped to organize a shiva* after a close friend's mom  had died. All this was at the culmination of a very busy, emotional 6 weeks that I wrote about in Sunshine and Rain and other posts I list below. 

I really, really needed this break. I was ready to spend time with Jonny, sit in cafes, write a blog post or two, visit Harvard and walk a lot. I was ready to unwind and contemplate the huge changes in our lives and take time to  refresh and rejuvenate.

The night before my flight to Boston, I realized I didn't feel too well. I was sure I was just emotionally and physically exhausted and that a good sleep and the upcoming visit would buoy me up. When I finally reached the hotel room. I took one look at the crisp white sheets and knew there was nothing I wanted to do more, than climb beneath them. It was 3.30 pm.

I did not leave the hotel for over 3 days. I could not even move from bed for the first two! I was completely overcome with exhaustion from a nasty virus, that had no fever but left me hot and cold, sneezing and bunged up. I slept and woke with little awareness of time. Jonny checked in on me with copious cups of tea (don't worry we had brought a huge supply with us) and tried to help me rationalize the situation. 

"Thank goodness there was nothing I needed to do." 
"Oh the beauty of a hotel room. Someone else made the bed and I didn't have to make dinner or do laundry. " 
"I just have to sleep and recover, no carpools, grocery shopping or blog posts."

 I tried very hard to repeat this mantra to myself. If I had to be sick, this was a good place and time to be unwell. 

But in my viral-ridden mind I wasn't grateful, I was angry and all the rationalizing did not make me feel any more appreciative for how lucky I was to be ill in a hotel room.

Then I remembered a quote from the Facebook page of a new Twitter friend. Abby Wynn is a psychotherapist with a lovely, comforting Irish lilt who calls her FB page  Abby's Energy Healing Page. On it I had seen the following about anger and fear...

.. don't hold onto it, wallow in it, soak in it or 

drown in it. Feel it and move on from it, ....

In each of the situations I posited at the beginning of this post I wonder what would happen if you actually stopped and felt the anger. Really felt it. Felt where it was sitting in your body -perhaps in your stomach,your fists, your head?  Actually focused on what exactly was making you feel that way and why it was making you feel that way.

What I realized, finally in the hotel, was that I actually needed to recognize and feel that anger, not try to rationalize it and push it away.
Instead of telling myself how lucky I was to be sick in a hotel room I allowed myself to feel angry that all the things I had looked forward to about this trip had not happened. In truth I had a good old cry. I cried out so much emotion that had built up from the last month (or two), it actually felt cathartic. 

Once I had truly acknowledged what a bummer it was, the anger dissipated and I came to a place of acceptance. 

I didn't hold on to it, wallow in it, soak in it or drown in it. I let it go. 

Abby Wynn continues with this message in the same post on her FB page, I referenced earlier...

'Just because I’m choosing to live a positive life, don’t just think

 everything is perfect. In amongst negativity around me, I hurt, I 

cry, I feel lost but deep down in my heart, something is telling me 

“It’s all going to be ok”. It’s in that, I trust.' ~ Unknown

And believing deep down that everything is going to be ok is what lets you acknowledge these strong feelings and then let go of them with long deep breaths!

Has a situation like this ever happened to you? How did you cope? How did you move on?

I hope your summer plans are going well. 

Please let me know how you are doing. Leave me a message below. (Please don't worry if your comment does not show up immediately. I am moderating all comments before they appear on the post, due to a huge amount of spam appearing on the blog.)

And if this post resonated with you, please re post it on your FB page.

Thanks and take care.

Talk to you soon.


You might also find these posts helpful:

*Shiva, the First Seven Days of Mourning

Shiva is observed in the home as an intensive mourning period for close relatives.

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Literacy (HarperCollins Publishers).
After the burial, mourners return home (or, ideally, to the home of the deceased) to sit shiva for seven days.
Shiva is simply the Hebrew word for seven. During the shiva week, mourners are expected to remain at home and sit on low stools. This last requirement is intended to reinforce the mourners' inner emotions. In English we speak of "feeling low," as a synonym for depression; in Jewish law, the depression is acted out literally. For info please go to the link below.

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  1. That was an expensive virus - even if it was paid for by Jonny's work. And of course there will be many more trips to Boston. I understand your point but here there was clearly no one to blame. Anger when someone has done you an injustice is much harder to let go of. I find situations such as yours more about deep disappointment and frustration than real anger. The part about embracing it and even wallowing in it before moving on still stands.

    1. Thank goodness for air miles! I was disappointed but I was really angry too.

      Yes dealing with anger you feel towards someone is harder. The rest of Abby's quote actually addresses this:-

      "don't hold onto it, wallow in it, soak in it or drown in it. Feel it and move on from it, make a change if you have to, speak out if you need to, but don't come from a place of anger towards yourself or others."

      I do not think for a minute that letting go of anger is easy. but I know for sure that if you don't recognize and name the feeling, accept it and address it, you definitely can't move on from it and that's when you suffer more than the person who angered you in the first place.


  2. Gilly: Thank you for sharing this-You are so correct we need to take the steps suggested to deal with the anger and the important thing is to move on. Often that is the hardest to do.
    I was feeling bad that i was unable to contact u folks and get together- this past week was a doozy for me. Anyway let us plan on catching up next time u are here.
    G-d be with you

    1. I agree moving on, by letting go of the anger is really difficult particularly when the person or situation that angered you re -ignites that emotion over and over. But I also think that you suffer more than the person or situation making you feel that way,so finding a way to move on is for your benefit not theirs.

      Please don't feel badly about connecting.I couldn't move anyway! I think and hope there will be many other opportunities for us to get together.

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment Rama -best to you.

  3. Hi Gilly,
    Your wrestle with anger and frustration in a Cambridge hotel room on a much needed get away reminds me of this quote I recently found.

    “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of dirt* and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
    ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times


    *Another word used here in original.

  4. LOL Jessie for changing the word to dirt.Thank you for keeping my blog suitable for ages!!

    The quote is great and the challenge to look and not be squeamish about it, is really the crux of truly examining and acknowledging those feelings when often it would seem much easier to put them away.But they always come back and often are blacker than before.

  5. Not all bad-I still got so see you in the evenings which is more than i accomplished on many nights as a Head of School. Just wished you could have been well enough to enjoy being there as I much as I enjoyed knowing you were.

  6. I have read your blog very carefully. It,s really informative and enriched with important information. anger management