Today’s big idea is that each of us has an ‘anger story,’ or a set of beliefs about anger that we’ve been carrying around since we were little. And those beliefs influence how we experience and interact with anger. By taking a little time to think about what those beliefs are, you can get a little more objectivity and perspective on this emotion that so often prevents you from thinking objectively.
There’s a popular coaching exercise, often used when working on changing your relationship to money. That is to examine your earliest memories of anything related to finances. Looking at your early encounters with anger can be just as helpful.
You’re reading the transcript of an episode of the How to Be a Better Person podcast. If you’d rather listen, click the play button below.
Listen to the Podcast Here
Why is it helpful to re-examine your memories in this way?
Well, when you were growing up, you were trying hard to understand how the world worked. Because deep down kids know that they’re vulnerable and that if they don’t have the support and protection of adults, bad things could happen. So you probably spent a lot of energy on trying to figure out the rules of your family, your school, and the world around you so that you could follow them and stay safe. Every little thing you witnessed, you filed away and tried to derive some meaning out of. And those beliefs are probably still lurking around in your subconscious. Like a dusty box of old letters in your psychic basement.
Most of your experiences since your childhood have likely been interpreted through the lens of those old beliefs. Since you can’t change a habit–or a belief–you don’t know you have, it’s really helpful to take a look at what your subconscious beliefs are. That’s when they go from being invisible influences, like Oz behind the curtain, to something you can consciously refine so that they are more helpful to you now that you’re an adult with autonomy.
Here’s the quick version of my anger story:
When I was little, I definitely got the message growing up that anger wasn’t great. One time my Dad took me to a Red Sox game. The guy sitting behind us spilled his beer just all over my head. My Dad got really angry and yelled at the guy. And, from what I remember, chased him out of the stadium. I mean, who wouldn’t get angry at someone who did something to their kid?
But I was already embarrassed from being soaking wet and shocked from the suddenness of it and really just wanted to hide under my chair. And my dad yelling drew more attention and basically I just wanted to die. Most other times I experienced anger was when my parents would fight and I just wanted them to stop immediately. Basically, I concluded that anger was bad. Better not to feel it, or if you feel it, not to express it.
Then, when I was in my 20s, I visited one of my friends who was the first in my circle to have a baby
She asked me to stay with the baby while she went upstairs to grab something. The baby was in her high chair, eating Cheerios, picking them up ever so slowly one by one and bringing them to her mouth. There was one Cheerio she just couldn’t get, and she got so frustrated that she screamed and grabbed her bottle and threw it to the floor. This everyday occurrence was a real eye opener for me. It made me see that anger is an innate emotion, and even adorable little babies experience it.
Thinking back on how my beliefs about anger evolved helped me be more forgiving of myself when I felt anger rising up, and also how to be OK with expressing it when something wasn’t right. Seeing your anger story can help you find a middle ground, too.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to think back to your anger story. Either your earliest memories or your most vivid memories of being around people who were angry. Did it scare you, and perhaps lead you to believe that getting angry was something you shouldn’t do? Were you ever shamed for showing anger? Was it something you were exposed to regularly, perhaps leading you to decide that dealing with issues by getting angry was just the way things were done?
Take a moment to think about and write down a few memories somewhere. Aim for at least 3 memories, and then see if there is a discernible pattern or belief that you formed as a result of those experiences. All you need to do is see what’s there, just waiting to be seen. Remember, you can’t change a belief that you don’t know you have. Your goal here is to be curious and an objective observer. Maybe there’s something that happened that explains why you have the relationship with anger that you do, and that shows you a possibly different way to engage with it.
Then keep listening or come back tomorrow, because I’m one question to ask yourself to help you use your anger for good.