How to Genuinely Feel Less Angry

When someone makes you angry, it may seem that the cause of your anger is the other person’s actions. But what really makes you angry is what you think the action means. If you look closely at the meaning of an event, your certainty about it will fade. You’ll realize it doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means. This uncertainty will make your anger diminish.

Suppose, for example, someone interrupts you while you’re talking and it makes you mad. You “know” the person is being disrespectful. On closer look, you see that: 1) an event happens, 2) you figure out what it means, and then, 3) you feel an emotion in response to the meaning you created.

Step number two happens very fast — so fast it seems the event directly caused your feelings. But that isn’t so. And you can prove it to yourself.

Wait until the next time you get mad at someone. Then try to discover one thought you have about what they did. You may have to backtrack — do a slow-motion replay. Ask yourself, “Why am I mad?” Your answer is probably, “Because he did such-and-such.” Ask yourself another question: “Why would that make me angry?” Your answer to this second question is probably a statement about the meaning of the action. Now you have something to work with.

Take your statement and look at it scientifically. In the above example, someone interrupted you. You thought, “He doesn’t respect me.” Looking at that thought scientifically, you realize it’s a theory to explain why he interrupted you. Once you look at it, you also realize it isn’t the only explanation possible! Try to come up with other explanations: “Maybe he never thought much about interrupting, and no one ever said anything to him about it, so he’s in the habit of interrupting people — those he respects and those he doesn’t.” Or “Maybe he interrupted me because he has a poor memory and didn’t want to forget his thought, so he blurted it out.” You can never really be sure why another person does something. Sometimes the person himself doesn’t know why he’s doing it.

After you create two or three good theories (this will only take a few moments), your anger will fade, you’ll feel better, and you’ll deal with the situation more rationally. Argue with yourself this way and everyone wins!

This is an excerpt from the book, Principles For Personal Growth.

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