One day I was waiting to turn left out of a shopping center parking lot onto a 4 lane road with a significant amount of traffic. As I was waiting, a big SUV pulled up to the right of my little car, blocking my view to the right and leaving me waiting until she moved and I could see the road again. When she moved, she turned LEFT in front of me. Too impatient to wait in line with the other left turners. Too self-important to follow the rules about not turning left from the right hand lane.
I was furious.
Some people are just awful. Impossible to see "through the eyes of love."
I had two options at that moment: to shake it off or to hold onto my anger. At first I chose to be angry. “What’s WRONG with that woman? Who does she think she is?” Then I started the process of releasing my anger by filling in the rest of the story. After all, I didn’t know why she flaunted the rules of the road and common courtesy. I was angry because I assumed she felt entitled and more important than everyone else.
What if I was wrong?
What would make her actions “acceptable” to me? If her child’s school called and said she needed to come immediately? Or if she was a doctor called in to perform emergency surgery? Or if she was pregnant and really had to pee? It didn’t matter what the story was. There were other possibilities rather than the story of entitlement that created my anger.
I found a way to release my anger by seeing her through the eyes of compassion.
You’ve probably heard the metaphor that holding onto resentment or anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Anger is a poison in your system, creating stress hormones and hurting your physiology. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones puts stress on your cardiovascular, immune, and digestive systems.1
Anger can serve a very productive purpose. If the person involved has a big presence in your life and is continually hurting you by words or actions, use your anger productively. Set firm boundaries to honor yourself. Seek help and community.
However, if the person you’re angry with is only peripherally in your life, then holding on to resentment or anger or disgust is unproductive. Complaining about someone only hurts you and has no impact on the “awful” person you’re complaining about. It really doesn’t matter whether the SUV driver was an entitled so-and-so late for a nail appointment or someone whose parent was dying. What mattered was my response, which depended on the story I created out of the situation.
For your body’s sake, reduce the unproductive anger in your life. One way to do that is to change your perception of the other person. Remember, we only see in part. We only know a fraction of the story of their life. See the hurt child in the adult standing before you, full of grief or fear or sadness.
We’re all complex creatures, with some virtuous aspects and other parts we’d like to disown. We’ve all had good moments and times we’ve acted like entitled so-and-so’s. How would we want people to respond to us when we’re in one of our “less stellar” times? With anger or with compassion?
Compassion. Hands down. We would hope others would see us through the eyes of compassion.
Doing the same for others is not only kind, but helps our brains and bodies at the same time.
By Joni Miller, Ph.D. © 2020
1 See this illustration from the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavior Medicine for more information. https://www.nicabm.com/how-anger-affects-the-brain-and-body-infographic/