Yesterday, I stubbed my toe fabulously. Took half of the sucker off on rough concrete. It sucked. My automatic reaction to the pain was anger. I had to tell my kids to get into the car while I sat in the driver’s seat and seethed. I was angry that my shoe broke, and that I was walking across a parking lot barefoot. I was angry that I was so bad at walking, angry with myself. As the pain slowly eased, my anger did as well. As I drove with blood running down my foot I was reminded that our automatic reaction to pain is anger. Not just physical pain, but emotional pain as well. To hold that understanding in the forefront of my thoughts is a big perception changer.
I can remind myself of this, when faced with anger coming from others. If I understand that it stems from their emotional pain; I am instantly able to find a way to empathize with them. If I am focused on understanding why they are feeling pain, when faced with an angry idea or statement, then it is easier to let it go. When I put myself in a place where I am seeking to discover the reason for someone else’s hurt, I am no longer on the defensive. I am not attempting to prove my point, and I am not delving into feelings of insult myself. I am engaged and open to new information. It’s brilliant…if I can remember to always approach anger in this way. It definitely is not an easy thing to train myself to do.
Our pain comes from all sorts of feelings. Disappointment, loss, and failure can all contribute to painful associations, but the most prominent player is fear. When people are afraid of something it causes emotional pain, and when struck with a painful memory the first go-to defense is anger. If I can train myself to react to anger focused in my direction with logical comfort and concern, it can have a huge impact on my ability to communicate better with other people. It helps to gain a greater perspective from the different emotional spaces that people come from.
It’s not always possible to react to another person’s venom logically, even if we understand where it is originating. I know several people that I doubt I could talk out of an angry fit by offering my empathy. In many cases, it is the far better choice to simply walk away. It might be a useful tool however, to approach those explosive types of people after they have calmed down, by expressing my understanding of their pain. Even people who tend to get worked up are more willing to listen when they are approached as an aside to their previous outburst.
It would be wonderful to live in a world where no one was hurting, and thus no one felt that they needed to lash out in order to protect themself. The way to promote this idea of living is by reacting with kindness in the face of anger. It is not an easy thing to do, but I am sure that it is a good practice for all of us. I am reminded of how in awe of people who have reacted this way I have been in the past. It is simple to look at other people and admire their behavior, believing that I myself have nowhere near that sort of discipline. The harder step is to remind myself that I am more than capable of behaving in that manner, and that the world will benefit from my effort to do so.
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