I grew up in an angry household. By the time I was eleven, I could hold my own in any screaming match, insult contest or stare down. Because this was the language of my childhood, I was proud to be so adept with this powerful emotion.
However, as an adult, I found that my skills as an angry person were not seen as something to be proud of. I also became clear that it sometimes was not something I was adept at, but more something that I was not in control of.
My first job taught me lessons about anger. I was sixteen and I had come to work early. My boss’ boss, George, was there and was sitting on a milk crate in the back room of our store. I was planning on just hanging out back there before my shift. George commanded me, “Go and get me a cup of coffee!” My closet feminist self was seething. Not wanting to cause a scene or get fired, I kept my mouth shut and went to get him a cup of coffee. As I reentered the backroom with a cup of coffee, George made a snide comment to me. I don’t remember the words, but I do remember they pushed me over my edge. I looked at him square in the eye and very harshly I said, “If you don’t watch what you say, I will pour this coffee over your head!” Then I gave him the coffee and turned around and marched back to the front to go to work. At that point, it did not enter my mind that I did something wrong. I was just angry.
Later that night, long after George had left and my shift ended, my boss Bill took me aside and asked to talk. Bill very gently told me that George had asked him to fire me for my earlier behavior. He said that he had to work very hard to save my job, and that although he understood why I was angry, he said that I did need to learn how to control my reactions.
I look back on that day and realize how much I owe Bill. He talked to me in such a caring way. He was so clear and loving that I really heard him. At that point, I was able to stop angry outbursts at work. Not at home yet, but at work, and at least that was a start.
I began checking in with myself about anger. I did not like losing control, but I felt anger motivated me, helped me make changes I needed to in my life, and made me feel powerful. So, part of me was invested in keeping my anger alive and well.
Even though I was capable of not vocalizing my anger as the years went by, I was not able to stop the emotion raging through my mind and body. More often than I would like to admit, I was shaking uncontrollably with anger. I became more and more uncomfortable with it. Not only was it uncomfortable, but I simply could not deal with a person or situation that provoked my anger to this level. It was then that I began to see it more in the light of a weak trait vs. a strength. In order to not rage, I would have to run in the other direction rather than solve whatever encounter I was having.
Finally, this rage became something that was absolutely unattractive to me.
I started watching what made me angry. I realized that I would put myself in positions over and over again that made me feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, or left out. Over and over again, I would not want a confrontation – I would not even realize sometimes that I was angry – until I would have an outburst.
My first step was to face confrontations. I told people when what they were doing did not work for me. I told them when, and how, I was unhappy. I talked and talked and talked – and I also listened. I learned more than ever before. It is important for you to know that I was guessing about how to go about this, and my beginning was very ungraceful. I was just very honest in each situation, and made sure that my goal was to create a harmonious outcome for all.
My next approach was to increase my ability to love. To have compassion. To understand that all the pain in the world that I despised, was partially being created by me. With certainty, I knew that was not who I wanted to be.
I then decided that because even though my anger came less, it was still there and pretty outrageous, that I would just simply pray that I could at least add love to my anger. I reasoned that because I could not control it, I could at least try to lessen the impact!
The more and more love became my focus, the less and less anger controlled me. Finally, the out of control anger stopped. Then the anger that I did feel, became a signpost that I needed to change something, or that perhaps there was a part of my heart that I needed to pay attention to opening.
All of our emotions are natural and a part of our human experience. They all have a role to play in our lives and in our healing experience. As you grow and evolve, you feel less at their mercy and more appreciative and thankful for the perspectives and depth that they give you.
Tame your Tiger with love and patience.
I love you each dearly.