Conscious, deliberate, purposeful control works well in the external world outside your skin wherever the following rule applies: â€œIf you donâ€™t like what you are doing, figure out a way to change it or get rid of it using your hands and feet. Then go ahead and do it.â€
Unfortunately, this rule does not apply to internal events that occur inside your skin, such as angry feelings, painful thoughts, and other emotions.
Rather than trying to change these, you are far better off refocusing your attention and expending your energy on the three areas where you do have control: your choices, your actions, and your destiny.
You are the Only One Who Has Control Over the Choices You Make
You alone have full responsibility for the choices you make. Understanding this can feel both sobering and liberating. For example, you cannot choose whether you feel hurt or angry. However, you can decide what you do with that hurt and anger.
You can choose to dwell on your hurt and anger, run from it, or bury and hide it. You also have the option of doing noting about the feelings and thoughts. You can decide to let them be or actively meet them with compassion and patience.
As you learn to recognize that every moment of your life is about choices, you free yourself from being a slave to your impulses, your resentments, and your anger. In essence, youâ€™re free to choose how you respond to triggers for anger and what you do with your emotional pain and anger when you feel it.
Itâ€™s your choice whether you behave in a kind, forgiving, or accepting manner while recognizing your painful feelings; or whether you give in to your impulse to either deny your anger or act on it.
Where You Have Response Choices
Take a look at some specific areas where you have the power to choose your response choices:
- Meeting your hurt and anger with compassion and forgiveness versus struggling with it to deny it.
- Hearing what others have to say (even if you disagree with them) versus refusing to listen and giving them advice they donâ€™t want.
- Speaking words of acceptance and understanding versus words of judgment and blame.
- Letting go of old hurts, resentments, and painful memories versus holding on to them.
- Practicing patience with others and yourself versus blowing up in anger and frustration.
- Acting in ways that uphold your humanity and dignity as well as that of others or acting in ways that shame and degrade.
- Moving forward in your life with anger or struggling with it and remaining stuck.
Exercise: Brainstorming Alternatives To Anger Behavior
For this exercise, recall an upsetting situation that brought on feelings of anger, blame, rage, and other unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Once you have the scene clearly in your mind, go ahead and list the main triggers (whether people, thoughts, or feelings), bodily sensations and emotions that you felt, and, finally, how you coped or behaved in this situation. Be as specific as you can.
Take a look at how Melinda, a nineteen-year-old retail sales clerk, completed the first part:
People Trigger: My mother criticized me.
Feeling Trigger: Feeling frustrated and hurt.
Emotions and bodily sensations: Irritable, Anxious, Heart is racing and pounding in my chest, Surge of adrenaline, Tense in neck and shoulders, Feeling sad and humiliated
My anger behavior (how I coped): Acted cold. Told her to â€œshut the hell up.â€ Called her â€œa miserable old hag and a lazy, good-for-nothing bitch.â€ I left and drove to my friendâ€™s house and vowed to keep away from my mother.
Spent time venting with friends about how much of a witch she is. Spent a lot of time trying to think about reasons why my mom has to be so mean.
Brainstorming alternative choices to anger behavior:
- Start with the triggers and see how they ultimately led to self-destructive anger behavior.
- Rewind the tape, and for each trigger, see if you can brainstorm other choices, apart from anger behavior, you had available to you in that moment.
- For a hint, take a look at your coping strategy. Youâ€™ll want to come up with fundamentally different choices than the ones you listed under coping strategies and anger behavior.
- As you do, be aware that there is no right or wrong answers here. These are your choicesâ€”what you do and can do for yourself.
- Later on, youâ€™ll be guided through this process more deeply. With practice, youâ€™ll find that you do have a broad range of choices when anger and hurt show up. Acting on anger is one choice among many other choices.
After Melinda analyzed this scene, she then went back and brainstormed other choices she had available to her.
The complete brainstorming part of this exercise is:
I had absolutely no control over what my mom decided to say. My motherâ€™s choice of words and her actions are not my responsibility. She can say or do as she wishes.
I can choose to simply listen. Iâ€™ve heard this stuff before. I donâ€™t have to let my triggers by engaged. I can just let the words be words without reacting to them.
The frustration and hurt I feel are my own. I can simply notice what my body is doing here. I can decide not to push the feeling away, but not to use it as fuel for anger. I can just let it be, and experience it for what it is.
Emotions and bodily sensations:
There is really nothing I can do about what my body is doing right now. What Iâ€™m feeling is unpleasant, but I donâ€™t need to run from it. I can choose to sit still with the energy and do nothing to make it go away. I can allow the energy to go away on its own.
My anger behavior (how I respond):
- I can see that I have lots of choices here.
- I can choose to listen to my mother or leave.
- I can choose to respond to her in a calm voice by letting her know that I feel hurt and sad when she says those things to me, even though Iâ€™m enraged inside;
- Or I can confront her with a loud voice, name-calling, screaming, and leaving.
- I can extend compassion to my mother and let her know that I do love her, even though her words drive me crazy. Or, I can act in ways that do not reflect my love for her as another human being.
- I can decide not to run from my mother, because this relationship is important to me.
- I can choose to carry the hurt and pain with me to my friendâ€™s house, or let it go.
- I can choose to gossip and vent with my friends about my mom, or I can choose not to do that.
- Venting really did nothing to resolve the situation with my mom.
Above all, Melinda began to appreciate that how she responded to this situation was her own responsibility. Only she could do things to meet her needs and uphold her values. The same is true for you. The choices you make can lead you to anger and misery or the life you want to create and nurture.