I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore

I heard a wonderful segment about anger on Public Radio International’s To The Best of My Knowledge Our Knowledge March 26, 2017 show which is worth a full listen. The show features a brilliant discussion with the author of a new book The Age of Anger: A History of the Present which traces the shared feelings of powerlessness experienced by both nationalist movements and fundamentalism terrorists to a disagreement between Enlightenment philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau. The show also explores how anger can be a channel for good and how we may have become addicted to anger. If you have the time, check out the recording.

The part of the show which got my attention was focused on our personal anger, how to look at, and what to do with it. Many of us are feeling angry these days. Whether it is an unjust layoff, personal relationships gone wrong, or current political events, we are surrounded by reasons to be angry. But what is anger and how do we manage it.

The first guest on the show, Northeastern University Distinguished Professor and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, talked about what anger is, why we can’t trust our anger, and how to make anger work for us.

angryAt the core, our emotions are based on the mind predicting a sequence of events based on what we experienced before. When our friend is late for dinner we are angry, not because they are late, but because last time they were late our friend had forgotten to tell us which made us feel unimportant. The mind is reacting to its assumptions about the meaning of the event not the reality. When you are triggered by an emotion of anger, look at the reality of the situation. Are you reacting to what is there or what you assume is going on based on previous experience?

Ms. Barrett also expressed that anger is both a form of ignorance and a source of wisdom. Anger results from our ignorance of others. We see the result of how people react, but we don’t know their why. How often have you become upset with a speeding driver? You focus on how much the driver is a jerk and how they are threatening others. But did you ever stop to wonder why they are driving recklessly? Perhaps they have someone injured in the car and are going to the hospital, or a sick child delayed them at home and they are late for work, or it could be they just like speed. Anger is our emotional reaction to our ignorance about others and their motivation.

Anger is a source of wisdom. Anger is a catalyst to uncovering truth. When we are angry, we don’t see the whole truth of the situation. Anger encourages us to take a moment, explore and uncover others’ perspectives and needs, and to truly understand the circumstances. Without taking this moment to analyze what is really going on, we can unconsciously enter us-versus-them thinking; good drivers versus bad drivers in the instance of the speeding driver. We pass judgement on them and feel righteous indignation about their actions. But this indignation only separates. Anger is actually calling us to understand and come together.

Anger can also be helpful in reminding us about things of which we feel deeply about. If you are triggered by anger, look to your why. Why is this thing, this event, this issue important to you? As I have mentioned in past posts, I am currently focused on deep self-care and self-love. When my anger arises now, it usually points to the fact that I am not nurturing myself. Next time you are angry, besides understanding the other, take some time to understand what your anger is highlighting. What challenge are you not addressing? What actions do you need to take to make things right?

Next time you feel anger stop feeding it and stop playing the victim. Instead take a few moments to understand the others’ motivation and perspective, and to understand why this issue is important to you. Anger is a tool of insight which can help us come together with understanding.

be happy

Stop being so hard on yourself

As I mentioned in a recent post, deeply knowing and living self-love is a current lesson, passion, and goal of mine.  This past week I had an epic failure in this department. I realized that not just once, but twice the same morning, I put my assumption of others’ needs above my own true necessity. And this was not just a preference or a desire of mine, but it was downright essential.

At first I went into a pity party. Here I am again, unconsciously and involuntarily not taking care of myself. Then I was pissed. I know better. I am actively working on this, why am I not more conscious? Why is it still a struggle to get this right?

Of course, the pity and the anger felt awful. My day off in beautiful sunshine was marred by the rain cloud I created over my head. Eeyore would have been proud. Ok, so I made a mistake, but I caught it. I did what I could afterwards to make it right. Why do I need to ruin the rest of the day wallowing in anger and self-pity? I just want to be happy.

So I chose to be happy.

And then I was.

be happyReally, I was happy. I didn’t figure out why I acted like I did. I didn’t reprimand myself for my actions. I didn’t even forgive myself for not putting myself first. I simply decided that this incident did not have power over my happiness and I chose to be different.

Oh, how many years could I have used this lesson? All the joy on which I missed out. All the experiences which were tainted because I was punishing myself. All the life I wasted simply because I chose to be hard on myself. All those times I could have simply chosen to be happy.

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend who is working to improve her health. The whole conversation centered on her “cheating” with these foods and wondering why she can’t stick to her diet. I think we all do this some time in our lives. Whether it is trying a new diet or exercise, whether it is trying to be better to oneself, or whether it is trying to be in a new way, we fail. We don’t live up to our expectations. And then we attack ourselves for not having willpower and strength. We attack ourselves for not being perfect. It’s time to stop being so hard on ourselves.

Here are four ways to break out of self-attack:

  • If you are choosing to act a certain way, embrace it. I know you want to eat a vegan diet but if that sausage pizza is calling your name. Eat it. Enjoy it. Love it. If you chose to do it, then accept it. Try not to do it every day, but if today you just need some chewy cheesy goodness, abbondanza! Eat it guiltfree and with joy!
  • Set your own rules. On the quest of self-improvement there are a million gurus ready to tell you the “right” way to do something. The only right way for you is the right way for you. Take their program and customize it to your life and your thinking. Stop holding yourself to someone else’s standards and live by your own. It is easier to live up to your standards than standards imposed on you.
  • Look at how far you have come. In the quest to improve, we often forget to look at where we started. Next time you get down on yourself for lack of progress or a setback, take a few moments to remember where you were last week, month, last year. I am sure you will see progress you can be proud of. Acknowledge and celebrate your growth.
  • Choose to be happy. Being human by definition means being imperfect. Instead of spending your time being angry or upset with yourself for this or that failure, choose to be happy. Nothing is gained through self-attack except a bad day. Uncover and acknowledge your lesson and then move on. Life is too short to be hard on yourself.

Making Crazy

Being part of a mass layoff is difficult. A host of emotions are prevalent. Sadness to leave what was known possibly for decades. Fear of financial instability. Anger at the company or economy. Confusion due to loss and the unknown. On its own, job transition is tough. Unfortunately, some people make it more difficult.

crazyOne of my job transition clients was having a tough time of it. If something could go wrong, it did go wrong. From technological issues with his phone to a glitch in the system causing him to lose his unemployment compensation. Every time we talked another issue appeared. I felt bad for him. But I could also see how he had a role in the issues around him.

Have you ever been caught in a state of stress like my client? Check out some of these behaviors and see if any resonate with you.

  • Being constantly out of breath rushing to the next thought, responsibility or fear.
  • Talking quickly and over people.
  • Replaying the story of chaos, pain, or fear again, again, and again.
  • Having muscle tension and cloudy thinking.
  • Saying “this is stressing me out.”

This client was exhibiting all of the behaviors above. As I listened to him recount his tale from this state of stress, I heard how he was making things worse for himself.

  • His body was struggling with lack of oxygen and tension that I could hear in his voice, making his thinking cloudy.
  • He missed options to solve his problems because he was talking too fast and would not let me speak.
  • In replaying his stories of woe, he was reliving the pain and not focused on solutions.
  • He was choosing to remain in the stressed-out experience by declaring that “this is stressing me out.”

After a few minutes, I stopped my client and told him to take a deep breath. This action turned off the stress switch. I have never witnesses this so clearly and completely. The client went from a crazy harried state to one of clarity and calm in just a few breaths. And most importantly, this new clarity empowered him to find solutions to his struggles that he could not grasp when caught up in a state of stress.

Working with my client brought back memories of how I used to be. I can’t believe how many years I wasted in a state of worry, anxiety, and stress. Funny thing is, to get to my current calm, peaceful, joyful state, nothing changed in my exterior life. What changed first was me. I became aware of how I was causing myself added stress. I worked on my responses. I minimized my negativity. I grew my compassion and acceptance. Then, through this internal work, my external world shifted to something better.

These days so many of us are filled with fear, anxiety, and disappointment. Instead of trying to change others’ views, instead of attacking or fearing how government is run, instead of having anxiety over what will happen in the world next, turn inward. Work on your own sense of calm. Look around your immediate vicinity and recognize you have all you need in this moment. Express gratitude for at least three things every day. Smile at those around you. Become a model of a stress-free, accepting, compassionate person. Then watch as your life, and the lives of those around you, begin to shift.

celebrate stress awareness month

Let’s Celebrate Stress Awareness Month

April brings the hopes of spring . . . . and another Stress Awareness Month.  I was all ready to write my annual post about the importance of being aware of our stress levels because awareness provides us the power to make changes. Added to the importance of awareness, I was going to share how others handle stress to give you ideas on how to handle your own stress. For instance, Sara Schaer of Kango likes “to make a ‘home spa’ by taking a hot bath with mineral salts.” While Nina Ojeda founder of Prete reminds us “to take the time to walk away from technology.”

But the post fell flat.

If you have been reading my posts for any time now, you are probably sick of awareness reminders and stress hacks. You know them. You have them down. You are using them on a daily basis (I hope). And it could be that the pressure to keep your stress low, is causing you more stress.

celebrate stress awareness monthInstead of pressuring ourselves to lessen our stress even more this Stress Awareness Month, let’s celebrate our success. Look back at where you were last month, last year, five years ago, and look at how much has changed in how you recognize and manage stress. Don’t look at where you can improve, but celebrate the progress you have made.

Although I have worked on this time and again, I still have very high demands for myself and seek perfection in how I go about life. But the pressure to always be stress-free, to always say the right things, to always be doing the “right” thing, can wear me down. So, this April I hit the pause button on striving to improve and looked back at how far I have come.

Years ago, I has a Type-A, workaholic, task master who felt responsible for everyone and everything. I did not live. My focus was on duty, checklists, and accomplishments. I missed out on life because I was constantly doing. Patience was not a word in my vocabulary. I constantly worried about what could happen and felt compelled to do everything in my power to ensure nothing bad would occur. It is an understatement to say I was stressed from all this pressure.

Today I am much more relaxed. Most days I go with the flow. I trust things will be taken care of. I only do what is really mine to do. I stop and smell the roses. I find compassion and acceptance instead of fault and judgment. And life is better. Without the all-consuming need to fix, I live my life loving what is.

This doesn’t mean that I am in a Zen state every moment of every day. Are there still states of being, ways I act, words I say that can be improved? Absolutely. Have I moved from kindergarten to, dare I say, the graduate school of blissful living? ABSOLUTELY. The goal is not to arrive at your ideal life but to focus on moving toward it each and every day. A new level is always available to strive towards so instead of looking for resolution, celebrate your effort every day.

Take a few minutes and look back at your growth. What struggles have you survived? What challenges have you conquered? How is your experience of life better today than it was yesterday? Share your accomplishments with us so we can celebrate with you.

trapped in your dogma

What is your dogma?

Lately I have been obsession with reading fiction detective stories. In the midst of Tana French’s In the Woods was a passage that blew me away. Three characters have a discussion about the need for some form of belief system and that for their Irish government and society many people see money as their ideology. Here are a few snippets:

“Nowadays it’s not just unfortunate if you have a low-paid job, have you noticed? It’s actually irresponsible. You’re not a good member of society, you’re being very very naughty not to have a big house and a fancy car.”

“If you are not rich, you’re a lesser being who shouldn’t have the gall to expect a living wage from the decent people who are.”

This made me think of the recent movies about Steve Jobs and the so called Wolf of Wall Street. Both showed these men as powerful and enviable because they made millions of dollars. We are supposed to focus on their wealth and ignore how they treated their friends and family. Material wealth is solely valued in this ideology. Personal relationships and common decency are not valued. It intrigued me that even though both movies I saw made an attempt to show these men’s corruption and single-minded pursuit of the dollar no matter who it hurt, in the end, both men were presented as aspirational heroes.

trapped in your dogmaTana French’s book also posits “the body” as another ideology or religion. Having the perfect body. Making the perfect body. Consuming the perfect diet. Tana writes, “But those reports and stuff aren’t just saying things are unhealthy – they’re saying they’re morally wrong. Like you’re somehow a better person, spiritually, if you have the right body-fat percentage and exercise for an hour a day.”

The body ideology is very prevalent in our society. From television shows where “common” people are portrayed by supermodels to magazines depicting unrealistic airbrushed icons to pills and surgeries to correct every minor feature flaw. Many adhere to the religion of the perfect body.

The belief system we consciously or unconsciously accept is the rudder by which we make all decisions, judge ourselves and others, and by which we keep score. We create our life by the ideology we choose. Our dogma defines the playground of life and success.

What is your ideology? What do you see as the purpose of living? What are the guidelines or mores to which you adhere? Look at your ideology and uncover what this means as far as what you aspire to and how you treat others. Does this belief system actually guide you towards what will be happiness for you?

What do your friends and family adhere to as their ideology? How is it different than yours? Do you feel pressure to adhere to their beliefs in order not to be ostracized? Do you have conflicts with others because they don’t accept your beliefs, or you don’t accept theirs?

Whether you call it religion, ideology or dogma, we choose what is important in life. Take a moment to look at what you find important. Is it your consciously chosen belief or just one you adopted? Is it serving you? How is it affecting others? Is it really the belief system with which you want to live your life?

the brain

Don’t trust your brain

In our scientific focused society, there is an assumption that what we think is undeniable truth. We believe that our brain is like a supercomputer built to only provide fact. But our brain can’t really be trusted.

Recently I watched a documentary on brain plasticity. I love brain plasticity because it shows we can reprogram and change our brains – with the hopes of living a better life. You can read about brain plasticity in a great book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. While watching this documentary, however, I was struck by how the brain works more in illusion than fact.

Phantom pain is having sensation of a body part that no longer exists (30 minutes into the documentary). If our brain can create real pain for something that is not real, what else is it doing? What “realities” are we experiencing which are actually illusions?

the brainTen minutes later in the video, a doctor shows a how an amputee decreases his pain by tricking his mind with a visual illusion. By using a shadow box, the missing limb is “seen” as real. Through moving his existing hand but seeing it as his missing hand, pain in his phantom limb subsides. The real pain is actually an illusion which was stopped using a different illusion.

Not only can our brain be tricked into feeling or not feeling something in our own bodies, but a part of the brain, mirror neurons, makes us feel what is happening to another. This means we are experiencing something happening to another as if it is happening to us. Being an empath, or perhaps more apt having extra-sensitive mirror neurons, is why I need to protect myself in public because I pick up what others feel. And this is also why you tense up watching an action film or Dancing with the Stars because you experience what you are watching someone else experience.

Another great talk about the brain and how it interprets our surroundings is by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor the author of My Stroke of Insight. In her book and the talk, this brain scientist deftly explores how her brain broke down while having a stroke and what it took for her to be able to regain the full function of her brain again. This is an amazing look into how the brain works and again about how much of what we experience – think, feel, touch, taste, hear, see – is not “reality” but our perception and interpretation of reality.

Much of what our brain signals as reality may not be. Which got me thinking, if we can prove our brain is experiencing an illusion what is it that is aware of this illusion? What is outside of our brain’s illusion seeing it as an illusion? And if we only see our perception of reality what is really real?

I don’t have the capability to answer the questions I posit so instead I invite you to explore how questioning reality, questioning how the mind works, and questioning your perception of life can empower you to create the life you want.