Do you have a short fuse?

Have you found yourself getting worked up over people, situations, events, the news?  Yes – we can all get a bit grumpy at times, and sometimes, others will get grumpy at us, even our loved ones. 

On Saturday I was parking my car and realised after I’d taken the key and hopped out, the front of the car was sticking out and could cause problems for someone else coming into the carpark.  I got back in the car, moved forward and then reversed back.  I noticed an older man in his car, part way into the carpark, waiting for me.  I hopped out for the second time, locked the door and motioned that I wasn’t going out.  His response was aggressive, both in his facial expression, gestures and the lip-reading that I was able to decipher.  How would you respond to him if it were you he was directing his grumpiness towards?    

In his book, ‘High Performance Habits’ by Brendon Burchard, one of the tools high performers use is seeking clarity, and it’s important when getting yourself clear to differentiate between emotions and feelings.  His view is that emotions are generally instinctive or reactionary, whereas feelings refer to your thoughts about an emotion, or an interpretation.    

From what I’ve read there are schools of thought on the benefits of releasing anger, or having a hissy fit and there’s just as much written on the destruction that anger causes.  Here in New Zealand our angriness is regularly in our news with our domestic violence statistics.  I believe it’s important to learn how to cope with anger in healthy ways so that it doesn’t hurt or endanger others. 

Where am I going with all this?   I was inspired by this parable by Tara Brach which popped up online last week, and I was reminded of it on Saturday during my carpark occurrence:

“Imagine you are walking in the woods and you see a small dog sitting by a tree.  As you approach it, it suddenly lunges at you, teeth bared.  You are frightened and angry.  But then you notice that one of its legs is caught in a trap.  Immediately your mood shifts from anger to concern.  You see that the dog’s aggression is coming from a place of vulnerability and pain.  This applies to all of us.  When we behave in hurtful ways, it is because we are caught in some kind of trap.  The more we look through the eyes of wisdom at ourselves and one another, the more we cultivate a compassionate heart”.

We never know what may have caused someone’s outburst, or our own for that matter.  However what we already know is that it may frighten, hurt or offend someone else, especially when it’s an instinctive reaction or response. 

There are many different ways to access a calm state when we begin to feel our anger rising and it can be uplifting and enlightening to explore some of these ways to find a strategy that works for us. 

How did I respond to the gentleman?  I smiled and carried on with my business.  You see – it was his problem, not mine.  I had no idea what he might have gone through that morning … maybe he was tired, or perhaps someone had just had angry words with him?  It certainly didn’t have anything to do with me.  And more importantly, what right did I have to create a problem for me by getting myself upset?  In my view, the secret to dealing with anger is to recognise what’s going on within me, either when I’m angry, or when anger is being directed at me, and make an informed decision about how I’m feeling, rather than reacting.  If you’d like to learn more about these skills I’d love to have a conversation with you.