I was taking a relaxing walk on the causeway, where there is a beach on both sides of the road. Because it’s such a beautiful natural area, it’s also very popular – especially on the weekends. Though drivers are supposed to yield to pedestrians and cyclists, I watched as one driver nearly collided with a pair of cyclists.
Thankfully no one was hurt, but what really fascinated me was how one of the cyclists reacted. She began shouting insults and swear words at the young driver, attacking him personally for his mistake, continuing even after he apologized.
I couldn’t help but wonder what else was going on for that cyclist. Surely all of that rage wasn’t just related to that brief incident. Perhaps she’d had a similar experience where she hadn’t escaped unharmed, or maybe that happened to someone she loved. Maybe this was the last straw in a series of examples where she felt ignored and unseen.
This can be a big trigger for many of us. Some situations can flip a switch inside us to re-feel old anger. Today’s anger is compounded by our past and times of not feeling heard. Because no matter how strong your family dynamics, all parents are human and get distracted sometimes, and so we’ve all felt unheard.
Road rage is a common outlet but it can also come out in conversations at work and in our personal lives. And we don’t just re-feel anger from childhood, it also builds up in relationships we’ve formed later in our lives. So when you find yourself blowing up about a co-worker criticizing a report you wrote, or your spouse hanging up his or her coat, your reaction might have little to do with that current event.
Over time, anger can build up into resentments, which are deep, long-held feelings that poison our thoughts into wanting justice or revenge. Resentments affect all our relationships and our well-being as they linger and lurk, often leading to self-destructive behaviors.
One method for letting go of resentments (adapted and borrowed from 12-step programs) is to send positive thoughts to the other person, that they be granted all of the good things you want for your own life. You concentrate on this thought every day for two weeks – and it’s even more powerful if you write it down. What usually happens is that by the end of the two weeks, you genuinely want those things to come true, and you no longer want bad things to happen to the person.
Forgiveness is a decision to let go of our vengeful thoughts. Forgiving ourselves and others can be extremely powerful and healing. Some of its many rewards are better emotional and psychological well-being; reduced anxiety, stress, and depression; improved and strengthened immune system; increased self-esteem and self-confidence; and healthier relationships.
Forgiveness lets us face what’s important, accept and let go of the past, and move on. This is not always easy, so we must be gentle with ourselves in the process. A therapist can help uncover and work through the other feelings underneath anger, like fear, sadness, or hurt.
There are also self-care practices that will keep you in a good place to begin with, so these situations don’t knock you off balance or you’ll be quicker to get back if they do.
Meditation is like insurance so when things do come up we’re coming from a more grounded, healthier perspective. We can have more of a bird’s eye perspective rather than being caught up in the situation we’re reacting to.
Meditation doesn’t have to take long – even one minute in the morning can have an impact. Guided meditation resources like Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, and Health Journeys take out the guesswork and support you in building your own practice.
At the end of the day, write a list of things you are grateful for. This puts us in a state of mind when we start affirming the good things in our lives, and helps us notice the little wonders and miracles throughout the day.
A grateful heart grows even greater when it’s shared, by telling other people what we appreciate about them. A handwritten letter is ideal, but a text, phone call, or email will still get the message across and make both people feel good.
If you ever find yourself reacting with anger, look within at your own well-being and consider which of these practices could be helpful. We don’t need to fear anger; we can learn from it and use it to define our boundaries, process our past, and strengthen our relationships with self and others.