Last week I had to deal with a legal situation that had been dragging on for years. I went to a settlement hearing to try to get the best possible outcome without going to trial. Although ultimately I was able to achieve that goal, I walked away feeling profoundly angry about the situation that had brought me there.
Without giving details you can trust that I was not permitted a fair due process, and I was at the mercy of the plaintiff because of their power and immunity. Overall I was unfairly treated, and there was nothing I could do about it. This kind of anger is the hardest to cope with because underneath it lives a deep feeling of powerlessness. The only other time I have felt this kind of anger was when my marriage unexpectedly ended against my will. It wasn’t fun then, and this most recent bout of frustrated anger didn’t feel any better.
Anger is an emotion that lives on the surface. Underneath it can be anything from sadness to fear, but more often it’s a sense of powerlessness that lurks below. The feeling of not having control over an outcome can have deep effects on the psyche if left unprocessed and unresolved. A good example of this type of powerlessness can be seen with children who have very little free will because of their dependency on the older people who care for them. If you’ve ever been in a store where a parent refuses to allow a little person to have what they want you’ve probably witnessed a power struggle. The child feels powerless to get what they want and throws a tantrum to release the angry tension of not getting their way. The adult version of this is exactly what we’re talking about, just with a different look to it.
So how do you deal with a feeling of anger when you can’t scream, cry, curse or get vindication in some physical way? You use the following coping methods until the anger dissolves, and you can get to a more rational and calm place in your mind and body.
Vent to a good listener.
Being heard is a helpful first step toward becoming less angry. This isn’t a process of sharing your story after it’s been resolved and you feel calmer. This person has to be able to tolerate your frustration and have a willingness to let you “have your moment.” This may take multiple conversations, but over time, if you share with the right person you’ll feel heard and that in itself is a form of vindication.
Remember your integrity.
If you’ve ever behaved irrationally when angry you know that what follows shortly after is a feeling of shame. Not because you’re a bad person, but because you’ve acted in a way that isn’t in line with your normal character. Anger can drive you to a dark place when it gets the best of you, so remembering your own values and how you want to be perceived will help you walk away or let the moment pass without a reaction.
Give yourself a moment of self-pity.
Try not to tell yourself you shouldn’t be mad. Feeling angry is perfectly normal in many situations, and although it’s an emotion that can lead to negative outcomes, it’s also very human and natural. Give yourself some time to be a victim and feel upset about the situation. This isn’t a free pass to take the “poor me” show on the road, just a bit of self-compassion for what you’ve been through.
Use the 24-hour rule.
There’s a kind of unspoken rule that when you’re mad you should wait 24 hours before taking action. This is because anger is very fiery and it goes as quickly as it comes. Being patient, breathing through the heated moment, and taking a day to reflect will serve you well in the long run. Wait 24 hours before sending an email, calling, suing, or doing whatever you feel compelled to do.
Accept the powerlessness.
The most important piece of the anger resolution puzzle is your inner ability to accept what you’re powerless over. This is a tenet of any good 12-step process and that’s because it works. Realizing that you cannot control all outcomes, people, or situations will release you from even trying. You may want to believe you control things that you don’t, but the sooner you can accept your powerlessness as a natural part of life you’ll suffer less with anger.
There is no reason in the world that you should expect to not get angry. People who never get angry are denying themselves one of the most natural and human experiences. Anger serves as a source of motivation for making a wrong right, and it is what drives us to protect ourselves and the things that are precious to us. Welcome your anger in, but just don’t let it stay too long.