work on myself

Angry with someone? 7 steps to turn it into growth

“So somebody comes along and gets to me. They get me angry or uptight or they awaken some desire in me, wow am I delighted. They got me. And that’s my work on myself. If I am angry with you because your behavior doesn’t fill my model of how you should be, that’s my problem for having models. No expectations, no upset. If you are a liar and a cheat, that’s your Karma. If I’m cheated, that’s my work on myself.”

– Ram Dass –

I love this quote from the late Ram Dass. It helps me to calm down. I have been upset with others many times. When this happens to me nowadays, I take a deep breath first. Before reacting or responding, I take time to reflect. The questions I ask myself are simple but tough.

1. Can I be absolutely certain?

First, can I be entirely certain that what I think happened is absolutely 100% true?

If someone steals your wallet, you will be upset with that person. This person should not have done so. However, if you find out that this person only did so to pay medical bills which his insurance is refusing to pay, you alter your attitude.

Can you be absolutely certain of something? The answer to this question is “No”. You can never be 100% true of anything. There could always be a context in which the demonstrated behaviour of others could be justified.

And here comes the trick. That particular context could easily have been made up by the other person as well: you can never be sure of anything.

Hence, the only thing to do at this step is to acknowledge that you cannot be sure. You move on to the next step.

2. How could this have happened?

Secondly, how come this have happened? What have I done to get to this situation? And, equally important, what haven’t I done to get to this situation?

I have found that it is very easy to put blame in the shoes of others and completely disregarding your own actions. You have to be brutally honest with yourself. Often you can find patterns in your own behaviour. Perhaps you “invited” or even subconsciously “incited” others to behave in the manner you so dislike.

A journal helps you to keep a log of challenging situations. I frequently write in my journal and can therefore trace back similar conflicts with people in the past.

3. Can I forgive myself?

The third question is: can I forgive myself? In any conflict between people, there is always two parties to blame. With your current set of values, you will find that the blame should not be equally distributed. But you have to admit there is always at least some blame on your part. Can you forgive yourself?

Forgiving yourself opens the door to progress and personal development.

4. Can I forgive the other?

Forgiving others is difficult. You will meet a lot of internal resistance. Once you have forgiven yourself, it is actually easier to forgive the other. There is no point in replaying in your mind what happened, over and over again. Everyone is experiencing his or her version of the truth.

Forgiving does not mean that everything is back normal. It also certainly does not mean you will continue working with that person as if nothing happened. You can still forgive someone and simultaneously decide to never interact again.

5. What can I learn from this?

The next question helps you to reflect: what can I learn from this?

What can you do differently to prevent the same from happening? Sometimes you have to change yourself. Sometimes you cannot change anything or do not want to change anything. You are simply more aware that such challenges can cross your path. If it does, at least you are now better prepared.

6. Am I willing to move on?

Time to look ahead. Ask yourself: am I willing to move on?

It is easy to say yes, but will you live according to it? You embrace and integrate all the previous answers into your life.

7. How can I move on?

Once you have cleared your mind, you can make a new or altered plan for the road ahead. You may have incurred a small scar, but you definitely also gained more strength, experience and wisdom.

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Bertil Schaart
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