THE JOURNEY TO OVERCOME THE CRUTCH OF ANGER
When I feel vulnerable, my first response is to get angry. I bypass the actual emotion I'm feeling (sad, hurt, anxious, envious) and move straight to anger. Anger is a reactionary emotion that is widely accepted across our society. Most people believe it is better to be angry than perceived as weak by showing they are vulnerable. I once believed this as well and I still occasionally struggle with not jumping to anger when I feel unworthy/less-than. But for the most part, I've learned to overcome using anger as a crutch.
Angry... for years.
When I was a wedding planner, the smallest things would set me off. I expected myself to be an expert when I just started and I refused to say I was or be perceived as anything less than that. This meant I often felt vulnerable and as the years went by I used anger as a crutch to ignore my real emotions. I was sad when I didn't win a client, hurt when another wedding planner purposefully planted bad fake reviews about my business, I was anxious that things wouldn't go according to plan, and I was envious when I saw a competitor doing better than I was. But instead of recognizing those feelings and working through them, I became angry instead.
When you run a business, it's natural to feel those feelings almost daily. And actually, I don't think you need to run a business to recognize that we can feel some semblances of these emotions regularly. But it's recognizing, normalizing, and working through these emotions that lead us to be happier and know ourselves better. When you use anger as a crutch, like I did, it instead takes a nasty turn.
A loss of self.
What started out as using anger for major feelings eventually lead to feeling anger in replacement of almost every emotion. The pendulum swung quickly to anger in every situation. I lived in a state of constant fear that I would be found out as a fraud (read more about my journey with impostor syndrome here) and to hide that fear and any other emotion that felt weak, I got angry. I would get angry at the drop of a hat and I had lost my sense of self and my naturally happy nature. It wasn't until my boyfriend (now husband) mentioned to me (multiple times) that I seemed unhappy and mad all the time, and it wasn't until he asked where his happy mate had gone that I realized what an angry person I'd become.
I didn't recognize that I had been using anger as a crutch to hide my vulnerability until several years later when I read Brene Brown's book, "Daring Greatly," but in the meantime, I started what I call my happiness journey (ongoing by the way). I realized that I was using anger as a protection mechanism. I used anger and judgment to hide from who I really wanted to be. And I took those insights and started to explore more about happiness.
How I stopped using the crutch.
I didn't really know where to start but I knew I wanted to be happier and less angry all the time. So I picked up a book on happiness called the "Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. The book outlined some practical skills/habits that helped her be happier and I translated what I could to my life. I also read "The Four Agreements" and realized I'd been taking everything personally. It was the combination of these two vastly different books blended with my seeking of a new attitude that helped me stop using the crutch and understand who I was/am without anger as my primary state. This combination also lead to me discovering these five ways to overcome anger:
Don't take it personally.
Anger is the result of the victim mentality. I was sure everyone was out to get me so I fought back with anger. The fact is, we are all doing what we feel is best for us and the likelihood that someone is purposefully out to get you is slim. When you stop taking things personally, you can better focus on shouldering responsibility for yourself and your actions/emotions. (Read The Four Agreements for more details on not taking things personally.)
Ask why you're angry.
This was so difficult when I first started to try and overcome anger. I would jump to anger and 20 minutes later remember to ask myself why I was flying off the handle. Over time I've gotten better at recognizing and asking myself this question and it truly helps me explore the emotions behind my anger.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Similar to not taking things personally, it really helps to apply empathy and put yourself in the other person's shoes (if you are angry at an individual). I like to use the example of someone cutting me off while driving. It used to throw me into a rage (for hours) when someone would behave "poorly" on the road. By putting myself in their shoes though, I can better understand/guess that they may be late to work or on their way to the hospital and that it is a waste of energy to get upset when they most likely didn't cut me off on purpose. And if they did do it purposefully? There is nothing I can really change by being angry and it's time to ask myself why I feel that way.
Workout the aggression.
I struggle with this way of overcoming anger the most because it is preemptive. Workout to get in a more relaxed and level-headed space. When I work out, I am much less inclined to anger. It helps to work out the aggression.
Forgive yourself and get vulnerable.
When I would have a slip-up, it was a catch 22. I would feel vulnerable and guilty about the fact I'd jumped to anger, yet again, and that would make me want to not feel that way, so I'd get angry. It really took a lot of patience and understanding that I needed to forgive myself and allow myself to actually feel something other than anger before I could begin to make progress on this journey.
Who are you with out your anger?
Once you've realized anger is a crutch, it really helps to ask yourself who you are without your anger or who you want to be without anger and then strive and work towards becoming that person. It was taken me years and years to stop using anger as a crutch and it still occasionally pops up as a first response. This is not to say that anger is not a valid emotion and that we should never experience it. It can be helpful at times and we shouldn't try to cut anger out entirely, but instead, we should explore it like we do other emotions and work thorugh it by asking ourselves why we might be feeling in such a way. When we do that, anger stops becoming a crutch and instead becomes a tool to help us be our best selves.