Anne was in for a visit; she’s a DC resident, and was happy for our dry heat. . .except for the heat part. The pool seemed the answer to the triple digits. We were floating in the cool water when Anne said, “I’m trying to be a good person, but I’m angry.”
“What about?” I asked. Anne doesn’t get angry often. She told me a story about a slight that seemed to pile up on a precarious pile of patience and had toppled all her resolve.
“That seems a good reason be angry,” I said.
“Well, really good people don’t get angry, or if they do, they handle it better,” she said. I was a bit surprised at this news. I know a lot of people who aren’t handling anger all that well.”
“So what do you want to do?” I asked, curious.
“I want to get over anger faster.” Anne said. “I tell myself to get over it. I remember that The Secret says when I think negative thoughts, I’ll attract bad things into my life. That makes me worry, and then I get angry about being angry.”
I’ve never been a big believer in The Secret since I read the book and it seemed to miss the logic path and head into the ditch of materialistic consumerism. I wasn’t going to discuss it with Anne now.
“Suppose you spend that time being OK with being angry. Not justifying why you are angry, just being OK with the fact that you are angry. Anger is a legitimate emotion, sometimes necessary to solve injustice. It’s what you do with your anger that is important, isn’t it?” I asked Anne.
“I’m still angry and then I get angry that I can’t move on,” Anne said. I understood that. If you turn on a timer and demand of yourself not to think of 100 white horses, they will prance through your mind until the timer rings.
“How about if you tell yourself you are OK with being angry, that there was a reason for it at the time, and start to wonder what’s next? That checks the anger off the list, and lets you wonder about an action instead of focusing on your emotion? Beating yourself up for being angry doesn’t seem to help get rid of it.”
Anne was doubtful. “What if I start thinking about getting even with the person who made me angry?”
“That’s another step. That’s a choice. But first, be OK with anger. Or frustration. Or not knowing. Once we allow ourselves to have negative emotions, they have a tendency to lose importance. Brooding over our lack of charity doesn’t leave much room in our heads except brooding.”
Anne was cheering,”So I can spend some time being angry, and then decide what to do?”
“Sure, ” I said. “First, give yourself permission to be angry. Don’t punish yourself or beat yourself up for having an emotion. When the emotion is acknowledged, it falls into proportion. Then you can decide what to do. You can measure what needs to be done and what the consequences will be. You can weigh your action with the consequence and make a choice. But it starts with being OK with emotions, even strong ones.”
“So if I feel angry, and am OK with that, how long does it take to get over it?” Anne said.
“I don’t know. It depends on what you are angry about, and how angry you are. But the more you beat yourself up over the emotion itself, the more contorted your reaction is going to be.”
Anne floated on her back in the pool, slowly paddling toward her drink in the shade.
“Being OK and letting go doesn’t sound easy, though,” she said.
“Letting go anything that jacks up our adrenaline is hard,” I admitted. But it’s the whole idea about being in the moment, and non-attachment. It’s recognizing what isn’t working and being OK with it’s not-workingness, and not attaching more importance to it.”
“In that case,” Anne said, “I want to attach importance to supper.” And we did.
--Quinn McDonald is a writer and a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches life skills and writing.