Anger, like many negative emotions, can ruin your whole day, eh? Depending on the severity, anger can leave a bad taste for weeks, months, or even a whole lifetime.
It may be tempting to believe that we can’t control our anger. Everyone understands this statement: “He (or she) makes me so mad!” The implication is that other people can control our emotions; they can literally “make” us mad. Is it really true?
Let’s take an example. The sun is shining, the chores are done; a beautiful day beckons. You pick up your precious infant and s/he promptly throws up on you. What do you do? In your contented mood, you clean it up, perhaps even with a chuckle. After all, that’s what babies do! Then you carry on with your day, grateful for a healthy baby and a satisfied life.
Come next day, a mountain of chores awaits. You didn’t get much sleep last night and now the phone won’t stop ringing. You pick up the same precious infant who again throws up on you. What do you do? In your sleep-deprived, stressed state, you may choose to respond with anger or frustration. Will this never end?
The baby’s action in both situations was identical, but your response was different. So, it wasn’t the baby’s action that “made” you happy, angry, or anything else.
Of course, other aspects of the situation (sleep, chores, etc.) were different. They contributed to the situation. Ultimately, though, who was in control of your response? It wasn’t the baby. And the inanimate objects (phone ringing, sun shining) can’t force any of us to do anything.
So, who’s in charge? Who defines whether we feel joy or anger? It must be us! If so, then why is it so difficult to control those feelings and choose the ones we want?
Dr. Glasser’s “behavioural car” metaphor explains the relationship between actions, thoughts, and emotions. Essentially, that metaphor explains that our actions and our thoughts “drive” our feelings. We can most effectively change an emotion by changing what we are doing and what we are thinking.
Thus, when angry (or what Glasser refers to as “angering”) it can help to replace thoughts such as, “There are a million things I have to do and everything is going wrong” with “These are the many things for which I am grateful.”
Even more effective is a change in action. For example, if rushing from task to task is not working well for you, try prioritizing and working calmly on one task at a time—starting with the task that matters most.
Is it easy? Perhaps not. Is it worth trying? That’s your choice.
The bigger question: Is it helpful to believe that someone or something other than you can control your emotions? Or is it more helpful to adopt the perspective that you are in charge of your feelings, that you have choice in the matter?
How do you “feel” about the idea that you are in charge of your feelings? Have you ever tried to consciously change an overwhelming feeling?