Choosing To Be Angry
I believe in choice - mostly because it feels better to choose. It feels empowering to own our decisions, our actions and our feelings. It feels good to believe that we can choose how we want to feel.
However, it doesn’t always seem like we can choose how we want to feel. It can seem like how we feel is completely dependent on what’s going on around us. We have to deal with incompetent managers, exes that are terrible human beings and children that won’t do what they are told. Not to mention, that rude lady that cut you off in traffic. Then it feels like all bets are off. How could we NOT get angry? I mean really. People can be terrible. Something happened this weekend. It doesn’t even matter what, but I was angry. This angry.
Someone in my life was being completely unreasonable. They let something slide, and now I was paying for it. Their inability to look after their own issues was being pushed on to me. I stewed in the anger.
Why is he so stupid?
What’s wrong with him?
How can he act like this?
I did some dishes – angrily. I went out for coffee – angrily. I had a conversation with a friend – spending most of the time explaining why I was angry.
Then I paused.
This ability to pause is only something I’ve learned in the last few years. I used to not understand at all why I would feel how I was feeling. I paused to try to understand where this feeling of anger was coming from. I am a life coach after all; helping people deal with difficult emotions is what I do, so I might as well help myself too. To interrupt the thoughts of anger and create some space, I asked:
Why am I choosing to feel angry?
This wasn’t a dismissive question. This wasn’t pretending to be happy (cue happy dog face), pretending that I shouldn’t be angry, or just trying to get over it. This was me, really asking. This was me, realizing that I was choosing to be angry.
Because – and this is something we like to forget – how I was feeling was a choice.
I was choosing to continue to think and focus on the thoughts that were creating the anger. The anger wasn’t coming from what the person did or didn’t do. The anger was coming from the thoughts I was having about what the person did or didn’t do.
So, why would I choose to be angry?
I sat with this question for a few minutes before the anger started to subside and I was left with this (and sadness, if I am being honest):
I was feeling angry because it felt better than any of the other alternatives. In fact, if felt like it was the ONLY alternative.
The problem in all of these reasons is that the underlying assumption is that our feelings are coming from something outside of us. By believing that my emotions came from what someone else did or didn’t do, I was letting the actions of someone else dictate my emotional state.
So what do we do about this?
We stop telling ourselves that how we are feeling is coming from what someone is doing and start looking at what we are thinking that’s causing the feeling.
The feeling of anger is coming from what we are thinking and not from what the other person is doing.
And I hear you saying, “But Robyn, people make me angry.” It’s not the people that make you angry; it’s your thoughts that they should be different.
There is this quote floating around the internet that says to do things before you are ready - that if you wait until you are ready that you will be waiting forever. It suggests jumping into action, pushing past the fears and grabbing hold of your dreams, which are all good things, unless you aren’t ready to do them.
Years ago, I’d bought my beautiful acoustic guitar and had started taking lessons. It was painstaking. I’d show up every week at the lesson and spend half of it with excuses about why I couldn't practice. Then I’d go home and feel guilty every night after spending the entire evening doing anything but picking up the guitar. I was telling myself that playing guitar was something I wanted, and it was, but I wasn’t ready for it. It didn’t fit into my life. I finally realized this and put it down for a bit.
A few weeks ago, I picked up my guitar again and it felt entirely different. I didn’t have any excuses for not playing - I just played because I wanted to. It felt like enjoyment instead of like a chore. That’s what it feels like to do something when we are ready.
When we force ourselves to do things before we are ready, it feels awful. It feels full of guilt and frustration. It’s expecting ourselves to be someone that we aren’t yet.
I believe deeply in pushing our limits and in growth, learning and expansion. I consistently expand my comfort zone and I love things that make me feel slightly uncomfortable. But, I don’t do things before I am ready (in truth, no one does.)
I’m not saying to never do anything that feels uncertain or uncomfortable. I’m not saying you should sit at home on your couch and not move until you feel absolutely ‘ready’. I am saying that it’s entirely okay and beneficial to respect where you are at right now - which might mean respecting that you aren’t quite ready to do that thing you want to do. If you were ready, you’d already be doing it instead of reading this post.
When we acknowledge that we aren’t ready then we can look at why we aren’t ready. It means that we can grow and develop in ways to make us ready in the future. This is so much more effective than just telling ourselves that we should be doing something that we aren’t doing.
For a long time, I felt like I should be ready to coach other people when I truly wasn’t ready. As soon as I got out of life coaching school two and half years ago, I was expecting myself to start my own business right away. All the conventional advice said, “get clients,” “practice,” “put yourself out there.” But the truth was, I wasn’t ready until I was ready.
That didn’t mean I didn’t take any action at all, but it meant taking action that was appropriate for where I was at. It meant baby steps, developing skills, and really putting into practice what I’d learned in school. It didn’t mean jumping head first into something that didn’t feel right. It was only after hours of personal development, working on my skills, and taking baby steps toward what I wanted, that I was ready. Then I began to feel inspired and pulled toward coaching instead of feeling it forced and pushed. It’s what I want to do, instead of something I have to do. That’s the place that we always want to be coming from - because it feels amazing.
So today I want you to know that it’s okay if today you aren’t ready yet. Take your time. Work on what you need to work on. When you are ready, you’ll know.
If you feel like you are ready, or you want to move closer toward being ready, check out my next How to Change workshop.
Why Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: Part 1
I was writing about self-care, how self-care isn’t selfish and how we need to look after ourselves first. This is the first step - understanding that our feelings are created by our thoughts. The second step is taking responsibility for our own feelings, which are created by our thoughts. Then, instead of reacting to people and situations, we are able to choose a response.
I stood in the middle of the grocery store, carrying a heavy, overstuffed grocery basket. My son and I had come to pick up food, because there was none in the house, and had split up to hopefully get out of there as fast as we could. It had already been a long day. I’d been up super early, worked all day, and had a long list of things to still do once I got home.
On the drive there my son had been talking animately about something… maybe it was the latest video game or something about army tanks. And I just wasn’t there. I wanted him to be quiet. I wanted to be left alone. Instead of listening and engaging, I was dismissive and disinterested.
I was standing in the middle of the store, waiting for him at our prearranged meeting place, and he wasn’t there. I felt the frustration and exhaustion in my body and in my mind.
“He should be here already.”
“He only had 5 things to get.”
“I’ve been waiting forever!”
“Doesn’t he know I’m tired?!”
The thoughts we think create feelings.
These thoughts created feelings of frustration, which is fine, except that it was frustration directed toward my son. I was telling myself that him not being there was causing me to feel how I felt. I wanted to say these things to him. I wanted him to be the reason and the cause of how I felt.
I wanted something to blame.
I saw him come around the corner, lugging along his own grocery basket. He looked like he had been looking for me. I paused. I didn’t lash out and say these things. I didn’t believe these thoughts just because my mind said them. “He had been looking for me, just like I was looking for him,” I realized. This thought created a drop in the frustration. We were both in this together, we were both just trying to find something to eat and get out of here.
This pause, this shift in my thoughts, it changed how I responded to him when I saw him.
I didn’t snap “Where were you?!” Instead I asked gently, “You were looking for me too?”
“Yah, he sighed,” also carrying a heavy basket. He had also been frustrated at not being able to find me. “I’m tired and it’s been a long day. I just want to get out of here,” I said, bringing us closer.
This is what it is to look after ourselves. This is what self-care is - it’s looking at our thoughts and being able to give ourselves what we need instead of blaming how we feel on other people and situations. It’s in this way that we are able to care for other people. Instead of reacting to my thoughts, and creating separation, I chose what I wanted to think. I chose thoughts that brought us closer.
You won’t always feel how you are feeling right now – whether that’s a feeling you like or a feeling you don’t like. Our emotions are always changing. I’ve heard Brooke Castillo say that around 50% of the time you are going to be feeling a negative emotion. That means that the other 50% of the time you aren't. When I’m feeling a negative emotion I remember that I won’t always feel that way. I say to myself “this is the part of the day where I feel ____” and then I continue on with my day, just letting that emotion be there until it isn't. I do the same thing when I am feeling positive emotions, “this is the part of the day where I feel happy/energetic/etc.” and I appreciate that, then I continue on with my day.
Resisting negative emotions is what gets us stuck in them. We start telling ourselves that we shouldn't be feeling how we are feeling because we don’t like it. We try to figure out what’s causing it, usually blaming how we are feeling on an external circumstance that we don’t control. Our mind always wants to fix problems, so we find our mind going in circles over and over thinking about the problem and possible solutions. This keeps us stuck in our negative emotions because we keep replaying in our mind the situation that we don’t want – we keep replaying the problem. The emotions we feel are a result of the thoughts we are thinking. Repeating the same thoughts, means repeating the very emotion we are trying to get rid of.
We try to fix the external problem because we thinking that we are going to continue feeling negative emotion until the problem changes. But really, we are only going to continue feeling negative emotion as long as we are thinking thoughts about the problem that cause us to feel the negative emotion.
To avoid getting stuck in a negative emotion, let yourself feel the negative emotion without trying to immediately fix it. When we are feeling a negative emotion it can feel like it’s going to last forever, but it won’t. It never does and you won’t always feel how you feel right now.
Usually when we talk about self-care we talk about actions. We talk about self-care as being taking time for yourself, maybe going to the spa or working out. It’s ‘me’ time and looking after yourself. Self-care can be these things, but sometimes self-care is doing the dishes. Sometimes self-care is doing the thing we least want to do. It’s doing the hard stuff.
So how do we know the difference? I’ve had women ask me this question over and over. What should I do? How do we know whether caring for ourselves is doing the dishes or if it’s going to the spa all day instead? How do we know if it’s getting up early for a workout or sleeping in? How do we know if it’s eating a cheeseburger or eating a salad?
Self-care is an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves and to love ourselves.
So often we use “self-care” as a punishment. We tell ourselves it’s more loving to eat a salad, when it feels entirely wrong. Or we indulge in a day of nothing as an escape from our reality, instead of as a break. I hear women say things like “I need to learn to trust myself” and then they force themselves to go on a strict diet, even though it feels terrible, and they pretend that’s what they need. They try to mold themselves, their lives and their bodies, into being something that they think they should be, instead of taking the time to ask themselves who they are.
The thing is, with self-care, it matters why we are doing it. It matters why we are choosing to eat the salad instead of the cheeseburger, or get up early to workout instead of sleeping in. It’s easy to mask self-punishment as self-care when we aren’t in tune with ourselves. When we haven’t taken the time to really get to know ourselves.
So instead of asking, what should I do?
Start asking, how does it feel?
What We Need
“I just can’t get enough of you,” I said to him. “I mean, I think you could hold me forever and it still wouldn’t be enough.”
Although this sounds romantic, it wasn’t. I didn’t mean it in a “fairy tale” sort of way. I really meant what I was saying. It wouldn't be enough – it wouldn’t fill me.
I’ve come to this realization slowly, that he wouldn’t be able to rid me of this empty feeling that I had expected him to fill. We would spend time together and it would be good, sometimes amazing, and then we’d be apart and I’d feel like something was missing again. The kind of empty restlessness would return. Well, I must just need more of him right? I must just need more time with him? If I had enough, or if we were connected enough, then I’d feel satisfied and not empty.
I’d tried so many times before with so many people before: date nights, planning, trying to find a formula for the relationship that would make me always feel good. Maybe if they said or did the right things, or if said or did the right things, then I’d be happy. Then I’d feel loved, filled, complete.
Or maybe he wasn’t the right person. Maybe if I found the right person they’d be able to fill me and this emptiness would leave. Maybe the right person would make me happy. Someone else. Something else.
We’ve been taught this idea that another person completes us - that another person makes us happy. I’ve heard from people in relationships talk about their partner saying, “She makes me so happy.” or “He just doesn’t make me happy.” We’ve been taught that our partner - that someone other than ourselves - is responsible for how we feel, and is responsible for our happiness.
But why was this happening? Why wasn’t I feeling filled up?
We can get confused when we think of people and relationships in this way, but it becomes clearer with an inanimate object like food. So let’s replace a partner with a cookie or entire box of cookies, a bag of chips or a pizza. Whatever your thing is.
Most of us are aware of emotional eating. We’ve caught ourselves eating far too many cookies, or maybe reaching the bottom of the box of cookies, and then realizing that we weren’t wanting cookies at all. Sometimes when we are sad, stressed or angry we try to use food to make ourselves feel better. We eat and eat because it distracts us for a moment. It helps us avoid whatever else is really going on in our lives. Then we reach the end of the food and we are right back where we started. We still have our emotions left to deal with.
We can do that with people. We can use people to make us feel better just like we use food when we emotionally eat. Instead of dealing with our own emotions, we expect other people to deal with them for us - to make us feel better. We try to use them to fill ourselves up.
But the problem is that it doesn't work, like emotional eating, it just covers up what we don't want to deal with. There was a reason I wasn't feeling filled up. There was a reason I felt like it would never be enough.
He wasn't filling me, because he couldn't. He wasn't what I needed.
Before I knew this, I expected that my partner would always make me happy. When he inevitably couldn't, I would get frustrated. I’d be left feeling empty and disconnected and the relationship would be strained. Just like when we use food to deal with our emotions and end up in unhealthy bodies, when we use our partner to deal with our emotions we end up in unhealthy relationships.
Instead of using something outside of ourselves to feel better, like food or our partner, we can learn how to deal with our emotions ourselves. We can learn how our thinking, and not something outside of us, is creating how we are feeling.
Now instead, when I feel like my partner isn’t filling me, I don’t blame it on him. I don’t expect him to make me feel better. I look into myself and I ask myself what I really need. What am I not dealing with inside me? What emotion or problem am I expecting my partner to solve?
It all comes back to realizing that we create our own happiness. It isn’t something outside of ourselves that makes us happy or doesn’t make us happy. It’s our own thoughts that are creating our happiness or our unhappiness. It's our own thoughts that are filling us up or leaving us depleted.