When Anger Holds Us Back: Part 3
The first part of this series began with the a comment by the Malbim, “Anger, when experienced by a Gibor, a strong person, motivates him to respond effectively. When experienced by a weak person, it makes him unhappy.” In this last article I would like to offer some thoughts on how a person can cultivate the trait of Gevurah (strength).
Showing strength in difficult situations refers to the ability to take control of those situations. Most people have an abundance of skills to help them deal with difficult situations but don't realize that they have them. The human mind can do much more than most people appreciate. We all have the Midah of Gevurah within us.
To illustrate this point, imagine dropping and shattering a glass filled with soda. It may require 10 minutes to clean it up. How upset people become depends on how devastating the effect of the broken glass and the mess is. Are they in a rush? Do they have what's needed to clean it up? Depending on how significant they perceive the "damage", will determine how upset they should become.
Many people will become upset at this scenario; others won't. The reason that many will become upset is because they're unable to step back and recognize that the problem is manageable. They don't calculate that they have an hour until their next appointment and only need ten minutes to clean it up. In other scenarios, the problem may not be manageable but the effect of the problem may be limited. They may miss an appointment, but one that, by tomorrow, won't really matter. They may lose an hour but, once the hour is over, they'll be able to continue with their lives as they did before.
What decides whether a problem is "manageable" or not? Being manageable doesn't necessarily mean that the problem can be completely corrected. It means that people are able to, whatever degree possible, correct the situation. Having control (the basis for not becoming angry), is about having the confidence that they can "handle' the situation as well as anyone. Real confidence is enveloped in self esteem. Realistic self esteem, versus pompous behavior that mimics self esteem, gauges what the best case scenario is, and focuses on getting to it. With an understanding of how to control the situation, anger is avoided.
This concept of control is embodied in the widely known phrase: Hashem should give me the strength to change what I can, the patience to accept what I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference between those two? Inner strength empowers people to walk into a room, assess a situation, and understand under which of the above three categories, their present situation falls.
How does one take control of a situation?
1) Assess the severity of the situation. For many people, this is a very difficult process. Their preconceived ideas often taint how they'll assess what's happening. If the problem is caused by someone they dislike, they may immediately decide that the problem, like the person, is big. Doing this distracts them, causing them to focus on the person, and not the solution.
Severity refers to more than just how difficult the situation is. It also includes how severe the perceived injustice is. Some problems are caused by "life", meaning that many people experience these difficulties but no one is to blame (e.g. a flooded basement). Others are truly unfair, in the sense that "someone" wronged another person (e.g. someone caused a person to lose a job because of something they said). Knowing the severity of a problem can help people decide how much effort should go into correcting it.
2) What can be done to correct the situation? Is it solvable? It may not be solvable, but an alternative plan may work. Sometimes, "managing" a problem means learning how to react to it. People may become offended and angry, they can "brush it off", or they can plan a healthy and effective response to correct it. For many people, the belief that they lack proper decision making skills (which are so important in controlling their anger), is because they haven't placed enough effort in planning out a proper response.
People must remember that they may be able to control the lives of others, but they can't control how those people will react to them. Anyone can shout at someone else, but that won't "force" the other to become angry. Becoming angry is a decision that people make. Sometimes their decisions to become angry are conscious; other times they're subconscious. Although some circumstances will make most people angry, they must still "decide" to react angrily.
3) Assess who's on the team. Angry people often alienate those who can help them. However, even if they're all alone, they can still make situations better. I've spent many hours helping teenagers "turn the tide"; changing them from teens about whom no one cares, to ones who have many people advocating their causes. For example, a teenager has a difficult situation in which everyone is against him. Slowly, respectfully, and with patience, he speaks to his older sibling, and now the situation changes from 1 against 4 to 2 against 3. With more perseverance he may make it 3 against 2.
When people understand what they can actually accomplish, they acquire the feeling of strength to take control of their situation. This strength allows them to become patient, knowing that things may become better.
Once they realize that how they react to situations, can improve the situations, they begin to realize that acting ineffectively can make bad situations worse. Many people have negatively affected their lives by acting ineffectively.
4) Implement whatever approach, through proper planning, was decided. If the situation involves one difficult parent, the teenager may decide to speak to the other parent, ignore the issue, or approach the difficult parent. What the approach should be, is dependent on each, specific, situation, and requires discussion with those who know, and understand, the situation, and have experience in offering sound advice.
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