unhappy

Self-Righteous Anger – or how to deal with life when everyone around you is losing their shit

I don’t know about you, but it is hard for me to make it through a day without seeing someone lose their shit. Maybe someone goes on a rant about how everyone should wear a mask while someone else goes on a rant how they will never be forced to wear a mask. This post is not to debate who is right, who is wrong, or how both may have some truth. What I would like to discuss is how do we deal with a world – and our friends, family and loved ones – that are all breaking apart at the seams.

For some time, we have seen that the institutions we came to rely on as never-changing beacons of truth, going through a transformation – changing, morphing and in some cases being torn apart. All the things mom always said never to talk about – religion, politics, and money – are collapsing, along with the social constructs of gender and race. The guidebook we had all been given for how things are and how they should be, has been thrown out the window.

Some of us are doing ok with this shift. We know that the way things were, was not ideal. The systems and institutions need an overhaul. I, for one, wish that it could be a peaceful and easy transition, but transition – death and rebirth – are hardly ever easy-peasy. So instead we are seeing protests, long-held secrets revealed, and collapse from the inside out.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Some of us are not doing ok in this time. Some do not want things to change. Even if they don’t like how things were, changing to the new is too terrifying for them. Instead of seeing that all of life transforms and continuously grows, some people want to blame others or create elaborate conspiracies to explain why the world they knew is falling apart. John Oliver had a great piece on this recently. To explain proportionality bias or the “tendency to assume that big events have big causes,” he compared the JFK assassination to that of the shooting of President Ronald Reagan. When President Kennedy was shot, it was too much of a shock and unbelievable that one random man could kill a sitting United States president, so a more complex theory was created to explain something of such great significance. When President Reagan was shot – and survived – no such theories were created. We didn’t need them because the impact was not as strong.

Whether those around you are buying into conspiracy theories or just being angry at this group or that group for trying to change the system (or not changing the system quickly enough), everyone is a bit on edge. Anna Madrigal from the Tales of the City series on Netflix said, “Anger is the tip of the iceberg, but it is not the whole story.” The anger-iceberg concept is what I try to use to make sense of others’ and my own anger.

Don’t Squash the Anger

Being a peace lover, I often want everyone to be free from negative emotions. My knee-jerk reaction is to try to minimize the anger. However, not acknowledging the anger or trying to minimize someone’s anger never works. The anger is a symptom, it is the tip of the iceberg not the real problem. Instead of reacting to someone’s anger, focus on the fact that a person is in pain. Don’t try to remove the anger. Just hold space for them and respect that they feel the way they feel.

Uncover the Story

What you can help someone (or yourself with) is to uncover why they feel the anger. This past week, I witnessed a few events where loved ones experienced self-righteous anger. They were incised that someone accused them of being in the wrong and proceeded to provide a litany of reasons why they should be the one accusing the other as wrong. A wise woman once told me that “everything someone says or does is all and only about them.” We shouldn’t and can’t prove someone else as wrong because they are seeing the world through their own eyes, experiences, and preferences. That will not change until they want to change. What I can find relief in is uncovering why they, or I, am feeling so much emotion around an issue. When I can identify that, I have something tangible to address or at least just understand.

Discern When to Act

The Serenity Prayer has become a mainstay for me lately. This prayer teaches us to not accept everything as it is, nor to always take righteous action to change others, but to discern what needs to be said and done – and by who. If you are triggered by someone else’s actions or their anger, decide if what you want to say is true, necessary, kind, and helpful.  Lately I have been really trying to pause before I say or do anything. I ask if anything should be said and done, and I also ask if I am the best person to do so. If everyone took a pause before they reposted on social media, I think we would see a lot less negativity out there.

I wish I could tell you that the transition the world is going through right now will be over quickly and smoothly, but I don’t think so. Welcome to the new normal. Be open to new ways of thinking and being. Respect the opinion and struggles of others. Create good boundaries to protect yourself. And have hope that what is on the other side will be better for all.

splash of water

Splashed in the Face with Gratitude

At this point, my husband and I have caught up on all our favorite Netflix shows and have watched all the movies we can find by our favorite directors or starring our favorite actors. We are now at the point of closing our eyes and choosing something, anything, and crossing our fingers that it has substance or a tad of entertainment. Sometimes there is a surprise-find like the memoir documentary, Cracked Up, which explores Darryl Hammond’s recovery from childhood trauma. And sometimes we do not do so well.

Whatever we choose we give it the five (5) minute rule. A mobster movie by Ben Affleck did not make it past five minutes. A quirky passion project by Noël Wells made it past the first five minutes and all the way to the end (although I don’t recommend it). Both were written and directed by the lead actor which, to me, is the sign of disaster. We all need someone else to call us on our bad choices. At times, we can use someone on the outside to see what we cannot see because we are in the picture. However, having a trusted friend or mentor giving us a reality check, is a concept for another post.

Why I bring these films up is because one of the running gags in Ms. Wells’ movie is throwing water in the face of someone who is spazzing out.  When a character is upset, mad, sad, angry, frustrated, or at the end of their rope, a glass of water is thrown in their face. At first, the soaked character is angry but then they soften into laughter. For me, gratitude is like a glass of water in the face. No matter what is going on, if I can take a few minutes and recite what I am grateful for, I find that my bad mood is miraculously lifted.

water splash
Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

For many years, I tried to think myself out of pain. I would use logic. I would use cognitive behavior therapy tools. Yet my mind seemed to get trapped in resentments and fears. This is because the mind that created the problem, could not solve the problem. I had to get out of my mind. I find now that action more than thinking helps me break my funk. In Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, Richard Rohr states, “Humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living.” Living differently, acting differently gets me out of a funk more quickly than trying to think my way out of it.

The action I take may be to phone a friend to see how they are doing, to go for a walk, or to consciously do the dishes. These activities help me break the replaying of my mental angst. They are that glass of water. A gratitude list is also a powerful action. Ann Voskamp said, “No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. ANY amount of gratitude changes the present.”

After decades of researching, coaching, and self-reflection, I have finally realized that knowing why I am feeling bad is great knowledge, but knowledge does not give me peace. Changing others in the hopes that I feel better is impossible and if I does happen, their change does not help my thinking. Trying to convince my mind to think and believe differently takes a lot of reprogramming and does not solve everything. The solution lies not solely in the mind, but in the heart and in action.

Every morning I take a few moments to recount what I am grateful for and if I need to, which I usually do, I also focus on gratitude throughout my day. I find this keeps me away from focusing on lack. Gratitude helps me find joy, appreciate my relationships, and keeps me in the moment – not in the regret of the past or the worry of the future.

Here is a small example of how-to turnaround anxiety into gratitude. My neighbors’ have a lot of cars they park on the street which makes it hard for me to back into my driveway. This used to make me angry (mostly because it is tough for me to back-in even when there are not obstacles). When I notice my mind replaying negativity about my parking situation, I begin to recite my gratitude. I have a car. I have the ability to drive. I have a house with a driveway where it is kept. I have money for gas. I have the ability to buy groceries because I can drive to the store. I follow the gratitude story for as long as I need to in order to feel calm and centered again.

Take a moment now. What are you worried, anxious or upset about? Can you turn it into gratitude? Can you stop thinking and take action?

hide feelings

The Way Out is Through

This article captures much of what concerns me about the mainstream spiritual movement. Be positive, raise your vibration, and attract what you want. The message repeated again and again is to focus on the good and more good will come to you. The unspoken message is that if bad things happen, it is your fault for not keeping your vibration high. The problem is life is not always good, and the truth is, it is not your fault.

We have bad days. To deny these negative feelings, to believe that feeling them is inappropriate and to be avoided, is to deny ourselves the truth of being human. No one is perfect. No one is happy all the time. We are meant to grieve. We are meant to get angry. We are meant to be sad. We are meant to experience every emotion humanly possible. To deny your feelings, bad or good, is only denying yourself and denying the truth of life.  

Feelings are like seasons. Without winter we can’t have spring. After summer must come fall. One season is not bad and another good. All are necessary to maintain the balance of life. The same goes for our feelings. Happiness is amazing to experience, and yet sorrow helps us know what we value. Anger is a great tool to help us identify and act against what is not serving us or others. Grief is an acknowledgement of love and the noting of transition – ours or others. If we do not experience all of these feelings, we are not truly living.

hiding our feelings
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Often, we perceive feelings and being emotional as weakness. It is the opposite. As Fred Rogers said, “Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”

To hide from the unwanted and undesirable feelings, many of us numb our feelings. But facing our feelings, all of our feelings, is not only living fully it is also necessary to our growth. The last months of 2019 I was plagued with medical issues, and I didn’t like it. I stupidly cut my foot open, requiring stitches and weeks of healing. Once my foot was back to almost 100% utilization, I came down with a doozy of a cold, keeping me on the couch for another seemingly endless week. I resisted being ill. I was angry that I could not do what I normally did and begrudgingly had to ask for help. I created an awesome pity party for my predicament. To top it off, I tried to deny these feelings because they were not positive and helpful to me or others.

What finally released me from these emotions, was sitting with them. When I stopped, accepted my situation and how I was feeling, and then explored what I was learning from this episode (awareness of my codependent tendencies and finding gratitude for things I take for granted) then I was released from the experience and the emotions. Instead of ignoring how I felt, instead of trying to be positive when I felt crappy, the way I found release from these not-so-awesome feelings, was by feeling them. The way out of the negative experience was by going through it.

What do you find difficult right now? What do you not want to experience? What are you avoiding?

What is this experience trying to teach you? What can you learn from what you are going through?

Do you have the courage to feel completely? I hope so. For the only road to release, is through. If you need some support as you go through, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or your support system. Hang in there; it is better on the other side.

When Mother’s Day is Tough

The experience of Mother’s Day can be diverse depending on the person and their childhood. This is the first Mother’s Day for my niece. I love receiving the photos and stories of her first born. She and her husband love their son and are active in his development. It is beautiful to see. I wish her the happiest of Mother’s Days this year and in the future. She is a beautiful expression of the ideal mother and what Mother’s Day is meant to be. For some of my friends, this Mother’s Day is difficult because they have lost their mother, their best friend, to age or disease. They are mourning the loss and remembering the good times. For them, Mother’s Day is perhaps bittersweet. This post, however, is for another set of people.

Two years ago, my friend Lisa Lamont posted a poignant message on Facebook. “Recently there was a post going around with daughters sharing pictures of their mothers who had passed and wished they were still here because they missed them very much. The post said that there is no bond like that of a mother and daughter. When I saw it, shame kicked in. Because I do not have (nor have I ever had a bond with my mother).” In working with clients over the years, I know my friend is not the only one who did not have a Norman Rockwell relationship with her/his mother. For many, Mother’s Day is a time of shame, regret, and anger that their relationship with their mother is not what others appear to have.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Mother Tucking Children into Bed,” 1921. Cover illustration for “Literary Digest,” January 29, 1921. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections.

Perhaps you felt abandoned by your mother, or smothered, or attacked, or any of the toxic patterns listed here. We don’t all win the lottery of being born to two highly emotionally-developed individuals. In my experience, most of us are challenged with some emotional defects which negatively affect those around us. Our parents are no different. They may be battling their own emotional demons, leaving no room for them to make perfect parenting decisions in every moment. Many times, our mothers do the best they can do after having their own less than perfect relationship with their mothers. Being a parent is a very difficult position. Expectations of perfect parenting are thrust upon a new parent even when they do not have the role model to emulate or the means to learn how to best perform their role.

The result for us may be that we are angry at our mother or the fact we were born to the mother we were. I challenge you instead to find the gifts you were given because of the parents you were born to. What did you learn about how to treat others? What did you learn about embracing your own self-worth? What did you learn about accepting others? What did you learn about unconditional love?

This Mother’s Day, if you are one of those who bear scars from a less-than-ideal childhood, release the anger that things should have been different. Find acceptance and forgiveness that your mother did the best she could at the time. And work every day to be the best mother to your children or mentor to those around you. We heal not by fighting or resigning to what was, but by consciously choosing to embrace a healthier life.

Second Thought, First Action

I am so glad I found Cine Club Los Cabos. Every Thursday they show movies for free at the local high school. This month will be French films with Spanish subtitles, which will be a fun language lesson for me. Last month they showed movies about and created by women. “BrØdre” or Brothers was one of the movies shown. Although it centered around two men, it was a film written and directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier. The film shows the progression of the no-good alcoholic brother becoming a standup man, and his brother falling into violence and lies after being an upstanding citizen, good husband, and esteemed military leader.

The start of the fall begins when the older “good” brother has to make a life or death decision in wartime. He may not have made the choice we would hope he would, but it was during a war and he was going to die otherwise. I couldn’t really fault him for what he did. What did become difficult to watch was how he lied about the incident again, and again, and again. In one scene, he goes to visit the family of the man he killed. If ever there was a chance to redeem oneself, this would be it. But instead of telling the whole truth or at least that her husband is dead, he tells a massive lie which gives the spouse hope of her diseased husband coming home with no potential of it ever occurring. As I shook my head and sighed, I noticed the woman in front of me doing the same.

How easy it is to see what someone should do and how difficult it is for us to do it in our own life.

angry action
Photo by Heather M. Edwards on Unsplash

I have been doing a lot of personal work lately (again, still) and one of the things I am focusing on are my thoughts and reactions to situations.  I am noticing how my first thoughts when I am triggered are to blame the other person. I can put together a laundry list of how they are a bad person and how what they did is inexcusable. My first desire is then to attack them for how bad they are. Instead, now I try to stop and to look at my part. Once I can see how my words and actions caused or inflated the situation or maybe how I would act the same as they did if the roles were reversed, I can find empathy for the other person and find the right words to make it a growth experience for both of us.

It is not easy, or even commonplace, to not act rashly out of anger. Go on social media for 10 seconds and you can find 50 people who are more than happy to blame the other for the ills of the world. The other political party, the other race, the other gender, the other baseball team. Someone can always be found to blame for the bad in our lives. As a society we thrive off being justified in our anger, outraged, and attacks on the “bad guy.” What we are not good at is taking personal responsibility. I am certainly not perfect at this either. A concept I heard that helps me and has become my mantra in contentious situations is, “I am responsible for my second thought and my first action.”

Second Thought

We are human. More times than not our first thought will be self-serving. Our first thought will be anger. Our first thought will be attacking others. Our first thought will be self-protecting. Our first thought will be based on the fears we learned in our childhood. We are not bad people because we have that first thought. We all do and that is ok. Where the power and freedom and strength come in is when we pause and allow ourselves to have that second thought. When we can look past ourselves to what the other may be experiencing. When we can find empathy and understanding for their situation. This second thought frees us from how we always react. It frees us from mental pain and anguish. This second thought opens up better ways for us to approach our lives and our relationships.

First Action

Most of us tend to live life using knee-jerk reactions. We get cut off in traffic, think the guy is a jerk, and find ourselves flipping him the bird before we consciously choose to. Much of the actions we do during the day are done unconsciously and based on our first, not-so-ideal thoughts. When we take the time to stop and think a second thought, and have the courage to wait for that second thought before we act, we can create a brand new life.

As you go about your week, be aware of your first thoughts. Can you pause long enough to have second thought before you act?

demanding queen

Do It for Me

For over three years now, I have been helping individuals manage unexpected job transition. I love the variety of people I speak to and the different goals and challenges they have in defining and creating what they want next in their professions and lives. One type of candidate, however, always makes me sad.

These individuals are angry that the services they are receiving (for free mind you) are not doing all the work for them. They expect their resume and cover letters to be written for them. They expect me to search and apply for positions in their name. And they are REALLY angry that things are not being done for them.

demanding queen
Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

Part of me laughs. How can you expect me to write your resume when I don’t know your professional history and accomplishments? Do you want me to go on the interview for you too?! Then I wonder, if you can’t get the will power to look and apply for positions, are you going to have the initiative to actually perform the position once you have it?

Most of the time however, I am sad. These candidates are so angry and are only making the issue worse. Yes, they were laid off. It is a horrible situation to be in, especially, if it comes without warning and if the family is already having financial or medical issues. But avoiding pain by putting the onus and unreasonable expectations on others, holding on to resentment, and not making any effort of their own, only creates more problems.

Blaming / Attacking Others

The first thing I see are individuals who want to blame everyone else for their problems. My manager was a jerk! This was total ageism! Why aren’t you writing my cover letter for me? You are supposed to get me my next job, where is it? In Rising Strong, Brené Brown calls this Bouncing Hurt. “The ego likes blaming, finding fault, making excuses, inflicting payback, and lashing out, all of which are ultimate forms of self-protection.” These candidates are hurt and instead of addressing their anger, fear, and sadness, they attack those around them.

Sitting in Resentment

When we are angry, it is ok to feel that emotion. Journal about it. Explore the stories about why we were hurt. Emotions are great tools for helping us understand what is working and what is not in our life. But we are not meant to sit in the emotions forever. Feel them, explore them, then release them. Holding on to the anger and resentment only creates more anger and resentment. We experience what we focus on so the more we focus on the bad experience, the more our life is unhappy.

Make an Effort

Stop waiting for the situation to change or for someone else to rescue you. What can you do right now to make your situation even a little bit better?  We are often blocked in making an effort because it means we have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for our lives. Have the courage to move past the pain and into action.

Life can be difficult. We experience disappointments, sudden losses, and heartbreak. It happens. We can not control what happens, but we can change how we react to things. Be aware of holding on to your anger, blaming others, or expecting someone else to fix what is wrong. Our lives become amazing when we step up, accept responsibility, and take even a little action toward what is better for us.