From hurt feelings and strained relationships to ruined days and bad moods, getting angry with others hurts us and those around us. Instead of getting angry, try getting creative.
Recently, I was reminded of a client from several years ago who struggled with anger. This woman talked about anger and irritation coming up in many areas but particularly while driving. Whenever someone cut her off or slammed on their brakes, she would immediately react and start to insult their intelligence and yell and cuss at them. Often, she would end up being short, irritable, and unhappy the rest of the day.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that all of us have done that. No, I'm not saying all of us have necessarily yelled at other drivers while in our cars. I'm suggesting that in different ways, all of us get angry with others.
Who do you get angry with? Strangers, a spouse, children, friends, or coworkers?
Instead of yelling, do you make quieter comments or even stay silent as those remarks go through your head? Or do you disguise your anger (consciously or not) with disgust, condescension, sarcasm, mocking, or blaming. Such disguises can even fool the person feeling them.
Ok, we recognize that getting angry is pretty universal and it hurts the people on both ends and the relationship. So what? What do you do about it?
Let's jump back to my client. I gave her a specific challenge: start coming up with three alternate reasons for what people do. We walked through one example together: what are three innocent, reasonable explanations for why someone slammed on their brakes in traffic that morning?
After a good ten minutes or so and some coaching, she came finally had her three reasons.
They might have just sneezed and were trying not to get in an accident.
They just received some devastating news on the phone.
They are having car troubles and are on their way to the mechanic.
She could honestly see someone reacting by hitting their brakes for any of those things. More importantly, she could see herself perhaps doing that if that was her.
When you find yourself getting angry, give that same approach a try. It'll be difficult that first time you look for three reasons your spouse might be acting distant or your boss goes off on you but keep with it! After a big of practice, you'll be surprised how quickly you can start coming up with those three reasons.
Remember, this isn't about saying their behavior is acceptable (just like slamming on brakes and cutting people off isn't acceptable driving). It's about is seeing them as a person struggling with a situation just like we might. It's about finding three ways to give them the benefit of the doubt that we would want given to us.
As you start giving others the benefit of the doubt, they become people and not problems. When you do that, you make room for healthier relationships, lower stress, and a happier life. And those are things we all could use.