I have so much to be thankful for this year and every year. How often we focus on the not so good instead of all the good things in our lives? We don’t need to wait for Thanksgiving to be thankful and grateful. Finding those kernels of blessings and gratitude are essential every day in helping us survive the fast pace, disappointments and huge learning curves.
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My last several posts have focused on anger – what it reveals about us – its good qualities and its potentially destructive impact on families and relationships when it is out of control.
Years ago, I created a handout on anger that was part of a class I was helping develop and write. The following is an edited version of that handout that helps summarize in a small way this complicated and complex emotion.
If you have known someone or lived with someone who has an anger problem, you might think there’s nothing good or redeeming about feeling angry.
Yet anger is a normal, natural emotion and has a purpose – it is part of our survival system.
Anger and aggressive behavior are not always synonymous. You can feel angry without becoming aggressive.
We often have mixed feelings about this potentially explosive emotion. If we think anger is bad, we won’t know what to do when we feel angry. If we think being angry automatically leads to uncontrollable behavior, we might want to deny it or carefully hide it behind acceptable cultural masks. But it doesn’t just go away. The thoughts associated with It need to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Anger has enormous energy. That energy can be a motivational force or a destructive one. When managed and expressed appropriately it helps us make important changes. When allowed to run wild, it can ruin lives – yours and others around you.
People with an ongoing, underlying anger problem will find themselves constantly stressed. Everything is an irritation and they feel resentful and taken advantage of. Only the things that are going wrong is noticed; the good things are blocked. As bitterness sets in, enjoyment of life disappears.
And yet anger is just an emotion. It gives us information like all emotions. It is neither good nor bad on its own. Anger lets us know when we have been threatened in some way. It helps us survive, build appropriate boundaries and put in place preventive measures.
Anger can become a habit
If you find yourself constantly on the defensive, easily annoyed and quick to anger, you may want to ask yourself if there is a larger problem. Are anger and dissatisfaction your first and typical response to everyday problems? What makes you angry? When we understand our emotional responses, we are able to reframe and choose more constructive alternative ones.
It’s what we do with our anger that becomes the problem, not the anger itself. It isn’t about self-control, but rather about developing a more thoughtful and problem-solving mindset. What outcomes do I want? Will anger accomplish that or solve my problems?
Anger, like all our emotions, has a purpose. It helps us survive and motivates us to take action and make important changes. It protects us when life threatens us psychologically or physically.
Left unchecked, however, it becomes toxic and explosive. When we react without restraint to its powerful surge of energy, we not only inflict pain on others but ourselves. It is up to each of us to examine the reasons associated with our anger, discover the underlying issues that perpetuate it on an ongoing basis and set up a plan to become responsible for our behaviors when angry.
Over my career as a teacher and therapist, I have acquired and read many books written by psychology professionals who have taken major issues, clarified their underlying causes and provided strategies for constructive and positive solutions. I share three books that I feel touched on the core of anger, why we get caught up in its passion often to the detriment of its outcome.
Adversity a blessing? You got to be kidding! Who would even consider such a thing? Who wants difficulties? And how can misfortunes or hard times ever be considered a blessing?
And yet, when I am honest with myself, it is precisely in those times of difficulties and adversity where I have grown, learned I could do more than I thought I could, and developed emotional, mental and spiritual muscles.
It is where I learned to face my vulnerabilities head-on, where I chose to take charge of my life, not backed away or sidestepped or became a victim.
Adversity challenges us.
Am I willing to step out of my comfort zone and take some risks? Am I ready to acknowledge my limitations and celebrate my strengths? Am I ready to put in the effort and hard work to become capable and confident?
Throughout life, we will experience losses that drastically change our way of living. It isn’t the momentary losses of car keys or misplaced important papers; but life-altering events such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a childhood, our dreams, and expectations. An injury or chronic illness is losing life as we knew it. Life will not be the same.
Losses come in all sizes and packages; some with the normal progression of age – some with the unexpected telephone call in the middle of the night. Some began early in life when day after day we are yelled at or hit by an alcoholic parent leaving us feeling angry and worthless. Later in life, the depth of those early losses become more evident and we are required to process and grieve them.
How do we recognize them? How do we survive and move past them? How do we grieve them? How do we rise above them?
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. Aristotle
If you woke up tomorrow morning and could be doing whatever you wanted, what would that be? What are you doing? What are others doing? How do you feel? Are you motivated and excited or anxious and doubtful?
Most of us know what we don’t want but have difficulty defining what we do want.
Before making new goals for our future, it is important to reflect on what we want and why. What is meaningful and valuable and worth pursuing.
Here are 3 important words to consider as you begin this process:
I share with you today a handout I created years ago when helping to create a chronic illness class. It is important to remember that every day we can let go of unimportant stuff and focus instead on what we can do to meet any of life’s challenges.
Let Go – Take Control.
“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” Victor Frankl
To experience freedom and create meaning in our lives, we must “let go” of the past while taking “control” of the present and future.
Did you know that just by searching for positive things to be grateful for, you are activating your brain to produce more feel-good hormones? According to research, just the process alone begins to change the brain.
Wow – that’s pretty amazing.
If we can actually feel better by finding those blessings and things to be grateful for, then why aren’t we doing it?
Instead, we hover incessantly over all the things that have gone wrong or are going wrong.
As I read stories of people who have gone through tough times but still found things to be thankful for, I remind myself of all the blessings I have received.
Yes, there have been tragedies; the loss of my husband and a son, both to cancer; the loss of our newly built dream home and retirement pension, and the near loss of a daughter to breast cancer. The list goes on – just as yours does.
We have all suffered unspeakable tragedies in one way or another and people wonder how we will survive, go on, rebuild, find joy again.