It is a great pleasure to share this wonderful post from Russell Kolts on working with anger.
Anger can be a tricky emotion, both in how it plays out in us and in how it impacts our interactions with others. While many people will have sympathy for those who struggle with anxiety or depression – perhaps wanting to offer comfort or reassurance – the response to those who struggle with anger is often less than sympathetic.
That’s no one’s fault, actually. It’s a part of how anger evolved, with angry facial expressions and body language designed to signal dangerousness. Think about how you feel when you see someone wearing an angry expression on their face. Do you find yourself wanting to help them, or to get away?
And yet, people who struggle with anger are indeed struggling. In this blog post, we’ll explore how to bring compassion to the table in working with our own anger, and perhaps in how we relate to others who struggle with anger as well.
A Compassionate View of Anger
In de-shaming the experience of anger, it can be helpful to understand it in the context of Compassion-Focused Therapy’s (CFT) three-systems model of emotion, developed by Professor Paul Gilbert. This model considers anger through the lens of evolution, recognizing it as having evolved to help us recognize and respond to things that threaten us, alongside other threat emotions such as fear, anxiety, and disgust.
Considering this, we can see that anger isn’t something that’s wrong with us. In fact, it’s a sign that our threat systems are working to try and protect us. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Anger isn’t our fault. We didn’t choose to have these emotions, and we didn’t design how they would work in us.
You may find yourself thinking, “Yes, but my anger has caused a lot of harm. I’ve hurt the feelings of people that I really cared about. I’ve acted out my anger in ways that have caused problems for me and others at home and at work.”
In making these observations, you’re noting one of the tricky parts of anger – it evolved to motivate us to fight when we are threatened, so unrestrained anger can often result in behaviors that are hurtful or which have lots of unwanted consequences. This can be particularly true for those of us who grew up in situations in which outbursts of anger were modeled by our caregivers, or which didn’t teach us how to handle things well when anger comes up.
So even though it isn’t our fault that anger comes up in us, it’s our job to take responsibility for working with it so that our behavior reflects the person we want to be. This involves being honest with ourselves about the fact that we struggle with anger, and taking a good look at our relationship to our anger.
Do you feel empowered by your anger or ashamed of it?
What sorts of behaviors do you engage in when angry?
How do you feel about those behaviors? How do you feel about yourself during and after doing them?
How do you feel after the anger episode is over?
What do you do then?
These questions are meant to give you a head start in unpacking your anger, so you can consider factors that shape how it plays out over time, and perhaps identify obstacles that may prevent you from taking responsibility and working with it in helpful ways. Take a moment to consider these questions, maybe even jotting some responses down on a piece of paper before continuing on.
The Problem of Avoidance
For many years, we’ve had lots of effective anger management techniques, which guide people to do things like identifying situations that their anger, come up with plans for how to work with anger the anger that comes up in response to these triggers, and teach practices for working with the body and mind to handle anger in helpful ways (for example, slowing down the breath, creating some distance between you and the object of your anger, and considering helpful ways of responding). For those who struggle with anger and are committed to working with it, a quick internet search provides lots of options in the form of books, websites, and other resources which describe many helpful practices for managing it.
The problem is that many people who struggle with anger often don’t use those resources, and may even resist acknowledging that they struggle with anger to begin with. One of the biggest obstacles that keeps people from working with their anger is avoidance. Avoidance can take lots of forms: blaming others for “making me angry,” rationalizing or explaining away our anger-driven behavior, or shifting our attention to something else and pretending that nothing happened. The problem is that all of these strategies get in the way of us acknowledging that our anger-driven behavior is causing us problems, taking responsibility for this behavior, and working to do better in the future.
Why do we avoid? Obstacles to Taking Responsibility for Our Anger
In my experience, there are at least two common factors that can get in the way of people working with their anger:
We may enjoy feeling powerful. Anger evolved to get us moving in a way that can feel very energizing and powerful in the body, with a corresponding feeling of urgency in the mind. In this way, anger can feel very powerful. Especially if we don’t often feel powerful in other areas of our life – for example, at work or in our familial relationships – these powerful feelings can be seductive. If we feel disrespected, it can feel powerful to put them in their place or to finally get our way, can’t it? Anger can also function as a secondary emotion, helping us avoid experiencing emotions that feel more vulnerable (and less powerful) like fear, sadness, or anxiety. This is tricky stuff! Think about it – would you want to give up the only way you had to feel powerful in your life, even if it came with negative consequences? It makes sense that it would be hard to give up, doesn’t it?
We’re ashamed of our anger and its consequences. Often, admitting we struggle with anger – the first step toward taking responsibility for working with it – means admitting we behave in ways that cause terrible pain in others, and often in the people we love the most. This reality, that I am hurting the people I love or I am behaving in ways that are the opposite of the person I want to be, can be deeply painful. It can be much easier to ignore our angry behavior, blame it on others, or explain it away rather than to face this uncomfortable truth.
People can experience one or both of these obstacles in tandem. Tricky though they are, if we look at these obstacles, they can help us understand how to do a better job of working with our anger. If we’re going to work productively with our anger, we need to find other ways to feel powerful, and we need to stop attacking and shaming ourselves for having it.
Compassion as True Strength which Helps Us Work with Shame
When doing group therapy with people who struggle with anger, I sometimes ask questions like, “What is more powerful, the anger you use to avoid vulnerable-feeling emotions like sadness or fear, or compassion, which will help you face and work with all of the experiences that come up in your life?”
Compassion, defined as having the willingness to notice and be moved by suffering and the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it, gives us a way to turn toward pain, suffering, and struggle – not with judgment or condemnation, but with the recognition that “This is hard, and I want to do something that might help.” Anger lashes out, but compassion stays with the suffering, looking deeply into it, so that we can begin to understand the causes and conditions that produce and maintain it (as we’ve done a bit here with anger), so that we can do something helpful.
In considering this, our groups came to the conclusion that while anger may feel powerful, true strength lies with compassion – which empowers us to be honest with ourselves, to acknowledge that although it isn’t our fault that we experience anger and that we didn’t choose to struggle with it, that if we want to have happy lives and good relationships, we need to take responsibility for working with it productively.
Compassion can help us do this. Instead of seeing the angry version of yourself (or others) as a jerk who creates all sorts of problems, what if we see them as someone we dearly care about who is struggling with emotions that they haven’t learned to control?
What if – recognizing that anger is a threat response – we consider what that angry version of the self (or that angry person) would need to feel safe and accepted?
What would they need to be at their best, even in this difficult situation?
We could even imagine ourselves – this compassionate version of ourselves that we’re operating out of now – in their place, considering what might be helpful in handling this tricky situation that triggered the anger, in a way that would be about working with things in a way that minimizes harm for everyone. If we were at our kindest, wisest, and most courageous, how might we handle this situation in a way that would be helpful?
That’s true strength.
Russell Kolts is a Professor of Psychology at Eastern Washington University and Director of the Inland Northwest Compassionate Mind Center in Spokane, Washington, USA. He has published numerous articles and written several books about CFT and compassion, including The Compassionate Mind Guide to Managing Your Anger, An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Lessons on Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun (with Thubten Chodron), CFT Made Simple, and Experiencing Compassion Focused Therapy from the Inside Out.
We all know that Christmas is a big opportunity for stress. The combination of having to appear to be having fun, while coping with all the frustrations and extra work can be a real downer.
One of the things we need to know about stress is that it closes things down. It’s hard to feel joyful and enthusiastic when you are stressed. We tend to close in on ourselves and set up a kind of survival regime to get us through. Maybe it does help us to struggle along but it does not help us to care for ourselves, to open our hearts to others, to learn anything about the habits that lead to the stress in the first place.
Let’s take a look at some ways we could set about making connections this Christmas instead of going into survival mode.
Connecting with yourself as the basis to overcome stress
Do you ever feel like the people in this snow globe at Christmas—all in your festive gear but not able to communicate how you are really feeling? The holidays can be a strangely lonely time, even when you are surrounded by people.
As the lead up to Christmas gathers pace, why not take some time to check in with yourself and see what you are hoping for from the holidays.
Whether you are religious, or not you can ask yourself what is important to you about this holiday. Is it having family around and lots of good things to eat and presents to share? Or is it about having a few days off from work and routine in the middle of winter. Whatever it is, it will help you to set an intention for yourself—a kind of inspiration for the holiday.
Then at the other end of the scale, try to see what it is that triggers stress for you.
Take a moment to sit quietly and then ask yourself these questions:
At what times do I experience a high level of frustration over relatively small events?
How does it feel in my body?
What do I do about it?
Going through this exercise will help you to identify the times when stress can creep up on you, so you can prepare for it and hopefully, avoid it. Allowing yourself to use your body like a stress barometer shows you the effect that stress has on you. Spending time thinking about how you deal with stress helps to get you off the survival treadmill and really consider how you can ease your stress.
Connecting with the present moment
So often when we are busy our minds are just rushing away with us thinking ahead of all there is still to do. That’s particularly sad at Christmas when there are so many enjoyable rituals in getting ready—like making the cake.
So one way we can ease a feeling of stress is to connect with the present moment. For example, try not to hurry with making the cake. While you are mixing it, don’t think about making the mince pies, a present for grandma and whether you have enough wine in the house. Instead, try focusing on simply sorting your ingredients for the cake, weighing and adding them in the correct order and mixing it all to a delicious consistency. Take time to smell the fruits and the brandy. Allow yourself to enjoy the texture of batter. Remember to make your wish and just be with the making of the cake. When it is in the oven, you can go on to the next task and approach it in the same way.
Connecting with a sense of enjoyment and celebration helps to dissolve stress
The more we can get our stress into perspective, the more chance we have to enjoy some of the magic that there can be around Christmas. We said earlier that stress closes things down and one of the first things to go is any sense of enjoyment and celebration.
Allow yourself time to look around you and see the things you enjoy. I am a big fan of Christmas trees both indoors and out in the open. There is something about all the lights and glitter on a dark winter evening that just says home and love to me.
What is it that you enjoy most at Christmas?
Connecting with family and friends
Probably if we are honest, one of the biggest sources of stress is how the family is going to manage together over the holidays. It can get complicated with all the in-laws and the extended family. We all know that awful tense feeling that can come when uncle George manages to come out with the opinions that we know will drive our teenage daughter to distraction. Or when grandma insists that we don’t know how to put on a Christmas like they did in her day. You dread the moment when your sister-in-law, who always manages to make you feel like bargain-basement wife, arrives for dinner looking as if she just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, along with her two immaculate children. You, on the other hand, hot and bothered from the kitchen feel less than glamorous.
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind while the family dinner is underway:
Everyone around the table wants to be happy—just like you do.
None of them want to be anxious, or worried, or miserable and yet, inevitably they all have times when they are—just like you.
Chances are that each one of them have their own insecurities about the family gathering—just like you do.
Perhaps some of them are even intimidated by aspects of your behavior–what a good cook you are, how you juggle family and career—who knows?
It can help so much if before your irritation arises you can put yourself in the shoes of the person irritating you—perhaps they are more like you than you think.
Connecting with the rest of the world
As well as closing things down, stress makes us lose perspective. Whatever is going on with us seems so much more important than anything else that is happening in the world—which in the scheme of things, really does not make sense.
During the holiday period you can counter-act any tendency to feel that getting the lights working on the tree is more important than, say, global warming by consciously allowing yourself time to think about what is going on for everyone else in the world. Many millions of other people are celebrating Christmas around the world, with traditions that may be very different from your own. There are also millions who are not celebrating Christmas and it is just another ordinary day for them. Then there are the millions who whether or not they wish to celebrate Christmas are not able to because of poverty, or war, or persecution. Keep them in mind also.
So, a very merry stress-free winter holiday to everyone!
Fortunately, I do not know anyone who sets out on their day intending to be not kind to anyone at all. It’s probably the same for you too. So why is it that in any ordinary day all sorts of unkind things happen?
Let’s look at our own behaviour at work. We could ask ourselves if in the rough and tumble of an average working day we find ourselves unintentionally being not kind. The thing is that individually each action may seem so small as to be insignificant. It can be the cumulative effect which is damaging.
Often it is because of habit, or insecurity, or pressure that we fall short in being kind. So, here is my list of six lazy ways it is easy to fall into being not kind. I call them ‘lazy’ because they are not necessarily intentional—in fact, usually they aren’t. They are largely due to not noticing what is going on with other people, or how your behaviour is affecting them.
1. Being pre-occupied can mean being not kind
When we are stressed, or really busy then it is all too easy to become turned in on ourselves. Our priorities take centre stage and our ability to see what is going on around us is reduced.
At work this can easily become a sense of self-importance. This can lead to the feeling that what you are doing is so vital that it takes precedence over everything else. It gives us permission to prioritise our own story and not pay so much attention to other peoples’.
It can creep up on you in quite a subtle way. From your point of view, you are simply trying to do a good job. There is no intention to let your kindness slip but that is what happens when you become too self-focused. You don’t give your full attention to the needs of people around you and you miss things.
2. Gossip can lead to unkindness
I would be willing to bet that you are not the workplace gossip at your job. They are usually pretty easy to spot and not so difficult to politely avoid. It’s much more difficult to manage your own reactions and emotions without unintentionally being not kind.
If you are in any kind of team-leader, management role everything you say has an enhanced significance for the rest of the team. When someone in your team is struggling then how you talk about them in the group is very important. You need to find a way to give them difficult feedback without damaging their confidence and their ability to learn. They will be listening to every word you say, and what others tell them you said with a sensitivity heightened by fear and anxiety.
Whatever your role is, there are always people at work who are less easy to get on with than others. It is these people that you need to take special care to talk to and talk about with great skill. Just one off the cuff comment made in irritation can cause tremendous harm.
How does your workplace handle feedback and constructive criticism? It’s another example of something that, when it is done well, can help a colleague move through challenges. However, if it is done without kindness then it can be an enormous blow.
Most of us have probably experienced receiving both kinds of feedback ourselves. One of my most useful work experiences was when a colleague—not a boss, or manager—asked to talk to me and set out to inform me of all my faults as she saw them. It was a devastating experience but when I recovered, I realised I had an excellent list of what not to do if you want to give someone helpful feedback. I still draw on that list to this day.
The main thing that I realised was you need to give the kind of feedback that would be helpful to you, yourself. That is the only feedback that people can really hear and respond to.
4. Blame will make you not kind
According to research, blaming mistakes on other people is socially contagious. Observing someone blaming their mistakes on other people can lead to you doing the same thing to protect your image. Such a cycle does not help anyone.
In a workplace where blame is part of the norm, staff are less likely to succeed, and much less likely to be creative. Anyone who is in the habit of blaming others misses out as well. You don’t get the chance to learn from your mistakes if you don’t take responsibility for them.
It seems that optimistic people blame less, and pessimistic people more—with the prize going to narcissists.
For most of us the time to watch out for lazily blaming someone else for a mistake is when we are tired, worried, or over-worked. It’s not that we want someone else to get into trouble—it’s just that we don’t want to have to deal with it ourselves.
It would seem that kindness and bullying are pretty far apart—how could someone interested in promoting kindness also engage in any kind of bullying activity?
Let’s take it down a notch—instead of bullying think of steamrollering, pressurising, over-persuading someone. When I think back to my years of managing an international non-profit, I am pretty sure that I used tactics like this. I was convinced that what I was doing was so important that people needed to get on board. Indeed, what I was doing was important, but I forgot to treat each person I dealt with as an individual, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I wanted everyone to go at my pace and it exhausted some people.
Does your enthusiasm and passion for your work ever translate as pressure for other people?
6. Not listening is not kind
Once again, we rarely simply ignore someone when they speak to us—especially at work—but we often listen in a distracted way. We’re busy, the speaker is taking too long to make their point, and so our attention wanders. The thing is that we feel it when someone is not giving us their full attention and it’s unsettling. Our ability to communicate is reduced.
When we don’t listen with full attention then we don’t hear all the levels that are being communicated and we don’t pick up on the accompanying body language, or emotional signs. That’s where the unkindness can come in. We miss stuff—someone’s concern, or even distress—and the person feels overlooked. Maybe it is simply information that we don’t completely process, which leads to mistakes further down the road.
It’s not only distraction which blocks our listening, it can be our opinions and prejudices as well. If we think differently to the speaker, we tend to listen through a critical web which filters out the points we just want to refute. It’s even worse if we don’t like the person who is talking to us because then we listen through a whole range of remembered slights and disagreements.
Wanting to fix what the person is telling you can also get in the way of listening deeply to what they are saying. We are so busy thinking of the response we want to make to put them right that we don’t listen fully to what we are being told.
Something to remember
None of us is perfect and there will be days at work where our kindness might be less than others but watching out for these six lazy ways we can be not kind can become a good reminder. For me, the underlying basic principle is to try and put myself in the shoes of the other person, or people. An easy way to do this is to ask how you yourself would feel if you were being treated in any of these six ways. Think how it feels to be the subject of gossip, or to receive withering criticism. No-one wants to be pressured to behave in a certain way and no-one enjoys being blamed—especially when the blame is unfair. We are all busy and trying our best and we all like to be listened to with kindness. Remembering this is a basic key to avoiding being not kind.
If you have found the ideas in this post interesting you might like to look at my new online course, How to Make Kindness Matter at Work. You can find out more here.
We might look for connection, but it is not always easy to follow through
Just a few days ago I was sitting waiting for my partner in a square outside one of the major Amsterdam bookstores. I was enjoying people watching and feeling the connection with all the people passing by.
There was a guy leaning outside the bookstore. He must have been in his fifties, scruffy and not so well looking. All the time he stood there he was kind of grumbling out loud to himself. Sometimes if someone came too close, he upped the tempo of his grumbling into a snarl. He wasn’t a beggar. I don’t think he was drunk but he was not in a good way.
I sat for a good while—10, maybe 15 minutes. The guy was aware of me but did not make eye contact. I found myself thinking of him quite a bit and wondering where he lived, what had happened to him in his life. Then quite suddenly he took off his jacket and lunged over to where I was sitting. My immediate reaction was to get up and go into the bookstore. As I went, I heard him give a kind of sigh.
Once in the store, I realised that I had just walked away from this man without even trying to make eye contact—without even acknowledging his presence. I had been enjoying connection with the crowds, but I had turned away from him. Why did I do that? I guess I was afraid he would make a scene or accost me in some way, but I never gave him the chance.
I certainly did not give him the benefit of the doubt.
Our threat response is almost always on simmer
Human beings have evolved to defend ourselves against threat, to focus on staying alive so we can pass on our genes and ensure the continuation of the species. Although nowadays few of us live as hunter-gatherers facing daily danger, our threat response is still finely tuned to detect and act on any hint of menace. In fact, we live in a constant state of low-grade stress as we scan our surroundings for signs of threat.
Cities are usually big, sprawling places full of noise and crowded with people. We can easily feel accosted by events and circumstances not of our creation—being jostled in crowded shopping streets, being kept awake by noisy neighbours, or overwhelmed by sirens and traffic.
All of this can make us want to close in on ourselves, to protect ourselves from what we don’t like, things we find difficult. We tend to do this by avoiding connection rather than engaging—withdrawing from anything which looks threatening. So perhaps we don’t make eye contact with strangers, and we focus on getting from A to B without being drawn into other concerns.
A research study
In 1973 John Darley and Daniel Batson carried out a study called From Jerusalem to Jericho in which seminary students training to become priests were asked to give a talk on becoming a minister. Half of the students were asked to include reference to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Some members of the group were warned that they were running late and needed to hurry. Others were simply told to walk across to where they would give their talk. As they walked from one building to another, they passed a man lying slumped on the ground is obvious discomfort. The study was to see how the students would react.
The results showed that those students in a hurry were much less likely to stop and offer help to the man on the ground—whether, or not, they had read the parable did not seem to make a difference. The key factor was that those people in a hurry were less likely to offer help.
The importance of connection
Yet as human beings we need to feel loved and to love others. We are social creatures, who thrive on a sense of connection. Without it we can become depressed and our health can suffer. Even when we suffer from serious illness, having a strong social network will help our chances of recovery. Connection is a basic human need.
Modern cities can be lonely places. The sheer size and volume of people can be overwhelming and, as we have seen, even trigger our threat response. Much of our instinct can be to protect ourselves from others. It takes patience, and practice to learn to stay open whatever the circumstances. What shocked me about my own behaviour that day was that I had been doing some compassion exercises and yet still my instinct was not to engage.
So, what can we do?
My first instinct on seeing what I had done was to give myself a hard time. I even went back out of the shop to see if the man was still there, but he had moved on and was nowhere to be seen. Slowly I realised that berating myself was not the answer. It was more important to notice how I had reacted and to take it on board—to learn from the lesson that my compassionate instinct still needs a lot of work. Instead of pushing the experience away, or drowning it out with remorse, I tried to lean into it to see clearly the sequence of what had happened.
Each of us can only deepen our compassion from where we are at any given moment. There are no rules. Much as we may wish to be open and generous toward others there will be occasions when we do not meet our own standards. However, each time we do manage to overcome our conditioning, our fears, our resistance we are making compassion a more habitual response. Human beings are hard-wired for kindness and compassion. Our challenge is to bring it out into our daily activities and to aim to feel it towards people we don’t know, or even don’t like as well as people we love and who are close to us. It’s an ongoing process and we can only start where we are, with what we have.
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Do you cycle to work, or drive in your car? Maybe you take a tram, or bus? Perhaps you use the metro or ride a train. Whichever way you make the journey, your commute is a solid chunk of time twice a day, every working day. You’re not at home but you’re not in work either. The time is your own but not really. You’re free to be as you wish but within strict parameters. On the way in to work, the tasks of the day are already pressing for your attention. On the way home, anticipating a pleasant evening competes with processing what has gone on during the day.
Maybe we choose to use the time travelling to fend off the thought of the working day ahead by catching up on some good reading. Perhaps we shut ourselves off from the crowd by turning up the volume on our headphones. I hear of an increasing number of people who watch Netflix during their journeys. Alternatively, we could use this time to steal a march on our working day by scanning through our emails on our phone, or tablet and running through the schedule for the day.
Taking a fresh look at your commute
Here’s another idea—to take charge of this time by yourself and use it for your wellbeing.
In research carried out in 2010 at Harvard University it was found that people spend almost 50% of their time thinking about something different to what they are doing and that it undermines their happiness. One of the most common times when people were ruminating in this way was on their commute.
So how do we take a fresh look at our commute?
A lot of the people that I work with, who are interested in making meditation part of their lives, find it difficult to make the time they need for meditation. Quite a few are experimenting with using their commute as a time to do a meditation session. Some use a meditation app and listen to a guided meditation. Others simply wait to find a seat, and then sit quietly and focus on their breath.
Here is a very simple way to do this.
Try being mindful and come home to yourself
Take a few moments to check in with your breathing—pay attention to the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body
Notice how your body is feeling—do you have any places that feel tired, or weary, or are you feeling fresh and up for anything?
Check in on your mood—are you feeling good about the day ahead, or is there something worrying you?
Try to become aware of the thoughts passing through your mind—notice how quickly they change and turn into other thoughts
Just register all this—try not to get drawn into feelings of liking, or not liking any of it.
What does this accomplish?
When we connect with ourselves in this way we are tuning into the present moment and getting in touch with how things are for us. We try to do this without judgement, without wanting to change anything—just with the aim of coming home to ourselves and settling our minds.
This will help us to move into our work situation in a more relaxed and stable mood ready for whatever comes our way. On the way home, it helps us to shake off the concerns of the day and get ready to spend an evening with our friends and family.
Consider other people as just like you
So much of the stresses and strains of the day come about during our interactions with other people. Often, we focus on the things that separate us from others, when in fact, there is a great deal that we all have in common.
If you still have time on your journey, try to turn your attention to your fellow passengers.
Notice who your neighbours are—take a few moments to scan the compartment, tram or bus and to see as many of the other passengers as you can.
Take note of the thoughts and emotions that pass through your mind as you do this:
—notice if you make a comment in your mind about someone
—notice the people you feel drawn towards and the ones you do not like the look of
Try to imagine how they might see you as you sit, or stand alongside them
Take a moment to be aware that everyone travelling with you wants their day to go well and to avoid any unpleasantness
—just as you do
Then realize that inevitably for some people things will go wrong during the day
—let that feeling touch you and help you to feel a common humanity with your fellow travellers.
What does this accomplish?
Reflecting in this way reminds us that everyone wishes for a happy life and wants to avoid pain and suffering but that pain and suffering are an inevitable part of life. Coping with all this gives a common thread to all our experiences. It enables us to see that however different our interests are, we are all in the same boat. This can help us to develop a feeling of equanimity towards others as we engage in our working day.
It’s up to us
Of course, sometimes we just want to read, or listen to music and that’s completely fine but we do have the option to take a fresh look at our commute. We can prioritise self-care and use this limbo-time in our day to develop our mindfulness—both of ourselves and of others. Spending a bit of time each day in this way will help us to deal with our work from a less stressful perspective. It will also help us to actually relax and enjoy our time when is over for the day.
Do drop a comment in the comment section and let me know if you have tried meditating during your commute and how you got on with it.
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When things are really tough for you, do you find yourself thinking of friends and family and kind of grading the emotional support they offer? Do you ever have these kind of thoughts?
Well so and so has not called to see how things are going
It was nice of them to check in but that was last week
They promised to help but then weren’t there when I needed them
They only called to tell me about their problems
It can be hard to admit, even to ourselves, that we judge the emotional support people offer us in this way. No-one wants to feel needy, or ungrateful but when we are feeling really bad it’s all too easy to lose perspective.
Of course, when we are going through hard times we look for emotional support from people we love and trust. We know that being able to express our worries in a supported environment will help us to cope better. The problem comes when we hope for too much. Then we have to deal with the struggle we are going through, as well as our disappointment about the support we receive.
Here’s a few things we can try when we feel ourselves prescribing the emotional support we want from other people.
Don’t expect other people to offer emotional support like you would
Some people are natural carers, with an empathic understanding of what someone might need when they are struggling. This is not true of everyone. Most of us have some friends who are lovely people but pretty tone-deafin terms of reading the emotional needs of others.
If you are a good listener and prepared to go out of your way for a friend in need, maybe it’s going to be a challenge when you are the one wanting emotional support. It’s important to remember that a small gesture from another person might be a big offering for them. Just because you might do more, does not mean that they are not trying to be there for you.
Hoping for things from people blocks the emotional support they are actually offering
One of my closest friends has a demanding job and a complicated personal life. One of her ways of coping is to focus on what goes well for her and taking time out from what stresses her. I know she really cares for me, but I get frustrated when my concerns are part of what she wants to avoid. There is a part of her that just cannot stand it when things are tough for me and so for long periods she does not engage.
I can wish she would SKYPE with me and have a good talk, but I know she won’t. If I get stuck there then I miss the small, frequent, small signs from her that she is thinking of me and wishing me well—the text messages, the FB posts, the cards in the mail.
She has her own way of holding me when I am going through something. If I can relax and accept it for what it is, I can feel her emotional support and benefit from it. If I long for what I think she should be offering it’s a different story.
It’s quite an art to be able to accept the help that people offer on their terms, rather than restyling it into something that you think they should be offering.
We have inherited the oldest part of our brain from our reptilian ancestors.This part of our brain is concerned solely with survival—our fight, flight, or freeze responses; our wish to procreate, and how we deal with danger and fear. Any response we make from this part of our brain is instinctive and automatic. The neocortex is the newest part of our brain and is concerned with reason, imagination, and problem-solving. It’s the seat of social skills and compassionate responses. However, it can be hijackedby the old brain and our instincts can take over from our reason.
However, much we want to act with kindness and consideration, we are subject to the overwhelming power of our basic instinct to preserve ourselves. Although our kindness is hard-wired we need to pay attention to it in order to bring it into action—it needs intention and focus. Our self-interest is instinctive.
So, when we look for emotional support from those close to us, we need to remember that, just like us, they are juggling their genuine wish to help and be of benefit with their deep-seated urge to make sure everything is right for them.
The most reliable emotional support comes from our own ability to care for ourselves.
In my experience the best way to care for myself is to maintain a regular practice of meditation. It’s not just my everyday meditation session but bringing the attitude of meditation into my everyday life.
Here are some of the things I notice that meditation helps me with:
I find I am less judgemental of myself of and other people, which is incredibly relaxing. It is less difficult to avoid beating myself up when I feel down.
I am able to trust myself and my own insight more deeply and to see what I need to do in order to work with the challenges I am facing.
I am less impatient about getting what I think I need right then and there
Even when I am going through something challenging, I feel a greater sense of patience and acceptance that this is just what is happening now.
It’s more possible to let go of things I think I need from other people
I have a greater capacity to be grateful for what comes my way and to appreciate the emotional support people offer me when I need it.
Meditation helps me to become more self-reliant but at the same time to see more clearly how much people really do want to offer emotional support and how that is not always easy to do.
If you are interested to learn more about meditation you might find this online course helpful