When you feel a surge of anger, very likely one of your values has been compromised.
I discovered this when another driver took my husband’s parking spot one day.
The perfect storm: a downtown office appointment in a busy city on a hot day. We probably should have taken public transport.
Anyway, Mark finally found a parking spot and pulled past it to reverse in (good parallel parking behavior). As he was in the process of reversing in, someone came from the other direction and zipped into the spot. Almost hitting our then-reversing car.
My even-tempered sweetie morphed into a ranting, raging mad-man. He jerked on the brake, hopped out of our car and started yelling at the “jerk” who’d pulled into “our” parking space.
Needless to say, this did not change the behavior of the parking man. He got out. Locked up his car. Gave Mark the finger and strode off.
Marks tells me he nurtured fantasies of sticking spikes under each tire but instead we drove off, went around the block, found another space, parked and got on with our day. It took a while for Mark to flush out all that adrenaline, but later that night we discussed why he’d lost his usual cool.
Mark knew immediately. “It’s the unfairness! I was clearly going for that space. There are certain rules of decency on the road and that guy violated them.”
Now of course, to this day we don’t know the other chap’s back-story. Was he in a rush to save the world and our judging him as “unfair!” missed some greater good?
But more relevant to our lives was this lesson about our own values.
We went over other times when one or other of us seemed to loose it out of the blue. We revisited some old fights. Thought about family members and friends. It seemed true to say that for the most part (for folks without a serious anger issue, and for folks who were not living in unduly stressful situations) when we got angry, we could trace it back to a value that had been compromised.
- Because I value beauty and calm, I can get grumpy and irritable when things are cluttered and dirty;
- Because I value seeking to understand, I get very triggered by partial truths or secrets;
- Because I value kindness, I can get triggered by couples whom I perceive are unkind to one another;
- Because I value authenticity, I get really put-off when I feel someone is acting, or being fake.
You get the idea.
But here’s the neat thing about values.
- We don’t get to use them to beat up other people because they don’t live our values.
- We get to use our flash of judgmental anger to identify our values for ourselves.
- And then we get to honestly ask if we are living our values.
So, when I’m grumpy in the face of clutter and disorder, I get to acknowledge to myself how much I value calm and clean.
Then, maybe I can take it another step and practice this value? If it’s a friend’s home – maybe not. If it’s my own place? Might be time to let myself tackle some decluttering.
This is a tiny example.
But there may come a time in your life when you’re eaten up by an angry knot of judgment about a person or situation. Nothing seems to shift this dead weight inside. I know I go there. It’s like walking around having swallowed a cannon ball.
I humbly offer this exercise as a way to start softening the lead weight inside so you can bit by bit release the power this heaviness holds on you. Not because I’ve mastered this I hasten to add, but because I’m thick in the midst of working the issue.
1. Feel for where you hold the tension or weight in your body.
- Is it in your gut?
- How do you sense it?
2. Focus on this area.
Feel the discomfort. The tightness. The clenching. Really let that knot come into focus in your system. This can be painful. Acknowledge that too.
3. Find out what story you are telling yourself.
As you keep your attention on this tight area, let yourself listen to your judgments.
“I hate it that X treats Y so badly. It’s unkind. It’s petty. It would take so little for X to be generous and kind…”
Whatever this tight part of you is feeling and judging, let yourself listen without judging yourself as a rotter for thinking these things. You are not putting this on Facebook for heavens sake – just listening to your own fury wash over you.
4. Flush out the Values.
In the critique of X & Y’s relationship above, is it the absence of kindness, big-heartedness and generosity that is fueling the fires of my judgment? Do I value Kindness? Big-heartedness? Generosity?
5. Investigate this.
If you notice your anger seems fueled by your assessment that someone is behaving unkindly, ask yourself: “Do I really value kindness? Could it be I’m so mad because I hate to see folks being unkind to one another?”
For as many possible causes for the anger you discover, see if you can find a value you hold that’s been compromised.
6. Turn It Around
If you discover what seems to be one of your core values, ask yourself:
“Where in my life am I not living up to this value myself?”
As we master this sort of self-awareness, that old familiar (and perhaps unwanted) flash of anger can be put to good use.
Play with the idea.
- Next time you experience that flush of rage, stop.
- See if you can discover what value of yours has just been violated.
- Then, rather than waste energy being mad that this person or triggering event is not honoring one of your core values, turn it around more quickly.
- With a hug of self-compassion, let yourself see if there is some area in your life right now where you are not living up to this core value of yours.
Not too sure what your values are?
Here’s a quick way to begin to discover – or remember – what you value.
Print out this List of Values
Read it through (this feels strangely good – to be reminded of all the wonderful ways we humans can show up).
Circle the values that flutter your heart. The words that seem to call to you as worthwhile.
If you have circled more than ten values, read through what you have and see if you can whittle the list down to just ten.
OK – that’s it!
My hunch is that bringing these top 10 core values to mind will allow you to enjoy living them out.
And, it’s a neat way to enjoy all that judgmental anger!
FIRST TIME HERE?
This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”
If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.
SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING
SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”
SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.
- Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
- Happy Families
- Self Leadership
- When Does A Relationship Need Help?
SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity
- 5 Non verbal Cues You Need To Know
- How To Change Someone Else
- 2 Magic Ratios for Great relationships
- Is Understanding Overrated?
SKILLS FOR CONNECTING
SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation
- Five Conversations
- How To Never Be Boring
- The 5 Principles For Great Conversation
- The 7 Deadliest Fights & How To Fight Fair
SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self
- 5 Ways To Be A Better Listener
- Listening To Yourself
- Who’s Listening
- Beyond Emotion Coaching – Listening For Your Child’s Needs
SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut
- Thriving Through Tough Times
- Teaching Empathy to Adults
- Teaching Empathy to Children
- Living Empathically
SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness
- Kindness Is Key
- Cultivating Kindness
- Can We Ever Be Too Kind?
- Independence, Co-dependence and Interdependence
- One Small Step Toward Self Compassion
SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality