Have you noticed that the whole country seems to be mad at each other? Republicans are mad at Democrats, Democrats are mad at republicans; non-gun owners are mad at gun owners, gun owners are mad at non-gun owners; the list goes on and on and on. Why? Why is everyone so mad? I have no idea. I’m asking.
We say it all the time…..”She made me so mad” or “He just makes me mad”. But think about this. What if I say nobody can “make” us mad? What?! Crazy talk. How is that possible? We’ve been thinking that people make us mad for as long as we’ve known people. How is it possible that I could even suggest the idea that people can’t make us mad? It’s a crazy thought. Yep. It is. And yep. I’m saying it flat out. Nobody can make us mad. We might get mad at things people do, but it’s not their fault that we get mad. It’s ours. I’m saying it again. When we get mad, it’s because of our own thinking. Period. Does that mean we shouldn’t get mad? Of course not. We all get mad. It’s normal. It’s natural. There are even times in our lives when it would be impossible not to get mad. That’s ok. That’s normal. It would be weird not to get mad. But, we have to take responsibility for it. Now before you get all mad at me (pun intended) I’m sure not saying that when people do horrible, mean, possibly even evil things, they shouldn’t be punished. Everyone should be held accountable for what they do. If someone does something mean to you, you don’t have to allow them to remain a part of your life. If someone does something that’s against the law and it causes you pain, they need to be held accountable. And it’s normal for you to be mad at that person for causing harm to come to you. But, you’re choosing to react that way. Sometimes there’s just no other way to react. If someone killed somebody that I love, I’m going to be mad. And I’m going to be mad at that person. And I’m going to blame that person for my pain. So, didn’t I just go against what I said about being mad is our own choosing? Maybe. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be mad. Getting mad is a part of life. I’m saying that when we’re mad, we need to take responsibility for it. Being mad is a little like being sad. Sometimes it just has to run its course. But we can make that time shorter if we want to. When we take responsibility for our feelings we’re giving ourselves the power to control them and change them. When we don’t take responsibility, we give that power up. I don’t like to give up power. This is tough to wrap your brain around. I’ve only gotten my own brain about half way around this idea. It’s easier to explain with an example. So here I go….
Think of something that’s sure to make you mad. For me it’s people going slow in the passing lane of an interstate. So, let’s say I’m just zipping along at 70 or maybe 75 mph and I come up on someone in MY lane who is only going 65 mph. Imagine. They’re in MY lane and they’re only going 65 mph. What’s worse, they seem to be in a slow motion drag race with an even slower driver in the right lane. The nerve. I can’t be the only one here who gets mad at that. Right? And my first reaction is to be mad AT that driver. I’m thinking “they’re making me so mad”. Ok, so how does this explain that people don’t make us mad? I just said that when this happens to me, my first thought is, they’re making me mad. Yep. That is my first thought. But that’s not reality. Reality is, I’m choosing to get mad at them. It’s not the pokey driver’s fault that I’m mad even if they are in MY lane and passing the car beside them at a snail’s pace. How do I know that? Because the car that had been following me for the last 10 miles was also zipping along at 75 mph. They are also being slowed down by Pokey McPokerton and they aren’t mad. If they aren’t mad that they’re being slowed down, than the slow driver isn’t the cause of my anger. It’s something inside of me. It’s something deep in my brain that gets all stirred up by being held up in traffic. But it’s not the other driver. Another way that I know it’s not them is the fact that I don’t ALWAYS get mad at people going slow in the left lane. Usually, but not always. So if it’s not them, and it’s me, why does it happen?
We have something in our brain called the amygdala, that’s like a nervous watchman. This little gem in the brain wants to protect us and it’s constantly looking out for something that might hurt us emotionally. So let’s say that sometime in my past when I was a kid, someone tried to tell me what to do and they wouldn’t let me do what I wanted. Maybe I had no power and I couldn’t change anything. I felt small, helpless, and like I had no control of my life. It was an awful feeling and one that my amygdala doesn’t want repeated. Jump forward 40 years to my little traffic jam and when the slow driver is in MY lane, not letting me get around, I start to get anxious. My amygdala gets jumpstarted to life and starts sounding the alarm “Oooooh, you better get around this car or it will be just like when you were little and you had no power”. Is that even rational? Nope. Is it real? To me it is. It’s amazing how much of what we think and feel today is powered by what happened to us when we were little. I mean, can you imagine being mad at a slow driver because of something that happened to us when we were 10? Sounds stupid and childish. Yep, it is. And it happens. Every day. To everyone. So how do we fix this? How do we even know it’s happening? What are we supposed to do when someone “makes” us mad? So many questions. So few answers.
I think the first step in stopping this stupid amygdala from getting us into trouble is to notice it. We have to really and truly be aware of what we’re feeling. So, you’re thinking to yourself, “I always know what I’m feeling. Doesn’t everyone?” No. Most people only know what they “think” they’re feeling not what they’re “truly” feeling. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m going to say that while we feel lots of things, we only have 2 “real” emotions – the rest are just by-products of those 2 things. Well jeez o peez. If I’m feeling mad, or scared, or anxious, or sad or lonely or whatever, how am I supposed to know if it’s my “real” feeling or an imposter? Good question. Easy answer. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but I think the only 2 “real” emotions we have are contentment and fear. Everything else is a variation of those 2 things. Joy and happiness are all levels of contentment while all of the negative emotions we have come from fear. Fear is a nasty little monster that can come out as anger, anxiety, sadness, (insert any negative emotion). So the first step in not being angry is to admit that we’re actually afraid of something. Afraid of not being respected. Afraid of not having control. Afraid of not being loved. Afraid of being alone. I could go on and on here. We’re afraid. The key is to find out what we’re afraid of and accept that. We don’t have to like it, we just have to accept that we’re feeling it. So, when I’m being held up by a slow driver, I need to remind myself that I’m not mad at them. I’m choosing to act mad at them, but I’m really afraid of losing control or being trapped. Wanna guess what we do next? That’s right we go through all of the steps to contentment! Isn’t this fun?
So why does it matter if we know what we’re feeling? Why do we even need to do this stuff? You don’t. You could stay mad at the slow drivers of the world. Nothing wrong with that. Some people might even think, “They don’t deserve to be let off the hook. They shouldn’t be going slow in the left lane. Why should I forgive them?” Please, please, please understand this…. Accepting that you’re scared and letting go of your anger is not about letting someone off the hook. They need to be held accountable. It’s not even about forgiving them. Sometimes people don’t deserve our forgiveness. Sometimes we just can’t forgive because what they did is unforgiveable. What I’m suggesting is that you acknowledge that you’re choosing to stay mad by not looking at what’s scaring you. Sometimes it’s easier to be mad than to take the cover off of the ugliness of our fears. Keeping our deepest fears tightly under wraps is not going to bring us any peace. And it’s sure not going to make them disappear. When you look at what’s scaring you and really hold it in your hands, that’s when you can slowly learn to let it go. Letting it go isn’t for the person who hurt you. It’s for you. Letting it go doesn’t make what happened ok. It doesn’t mean someone else is right and you’re wrong. It’s not even about right or wrong or blame. Letting it go brings you peace. It’s all for you. When you’re mad, you aren’t happy. You aren’t content and at peace. I want to be at peace, so I don’t want to be mad. Even when it’s justified. I would rather have peace in my life than be justified. So when I get held up in traffic, I’m grateful that I get to practice pealing back my emotions to get down to what’s really scaring me.
Do I always do this work when I get mad or anxious or whatever? No. One of my biggest problems is that when I disagree with someone, I want them to see my point of view and agree with me. I really have a big need to explain my side of things to people so that they can come around to my way of thinking, because of course my way is the right way. But when I start doing this, I’m not content. I’m not happy and I’m not at peace. And I want to be at peace. So, when I feel any negative emotion, I try to figure out what’s scaring me. And when I disagree with someone, I try not to make it my mission to get them to agree with me. I fail at that a lot. I’m not good at this stuff. But I do know that owning your feelings is power! It’s powerful to change anger to peace. It’s powerful to change anxiety to peace. It’s power!
That needs repeating. It needs shouted from the rooftops – owning your feelings is power! When you own your feelings, you can change them. If other people, like slow drivers, were in charge of your feelings, then you could only be happy when they say you can be happy. I don’t like that idea. It may be the control freak in me, but I want to say when I’m happy. I don’t want to give something as precious as my happiness to some random driver on the interstate. I want to decide when I’m happy and when I’m not. That means I have to accept the fact that when I’m not happy, it’s because of my own thinking. Now sometimes, it just can’t be helped. Sometimes things happen to us that are soooo big, we can’t be happy. At least not yet. And that’s ok. It’s not realistic to be happy all the time. But, we can be at peace even when we aren’t happy. But, that’s for another day and another blog. So I say, come over to my side. Own your feelings and take back the power to create your own happiness!
Well, I sure hope I didn’t make you mad! I crack myself up. Does anyone else think that was funny? Oh I crack myself up.
I would love to hear what you have to think about this. Do you have any questions? Just ask away.
Wishing you all the peace in the world,