Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Weak, Meek or Strong: a Biblical Perspective on Anger

The first verse of the Beatitudes in the Bible says, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth."  Like many others, I always had difficulty with the term meek. To me, it was synonymous with being weak. And yet nothing could be farther from the truth. 

The word meek comes from the Greek word praus which translates into strength brought under control. In Matthew 11, Jesus refers to himself as meek: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Gentle and humble in heart: certainly as the Son of God Jesus had almighty power and could impose that authority upon anyone at any given moment. And still He remained gentle and non-threatening. He had confidence; He had faith in his Heavenly Father; He was willing to summit to the will of Father God in every circumstance.

 In the case of anger, it takes great strength and fortitude to keep from reacting aggressively to another when they behave in a manner that is unacceptable to you. The natural inclination of someone who is about to be robbed is to fight back to protect their possessions. Yet in Luke,  Jesus tells us that if someone takes your cloak give him your tunic as well. I would be hard-pressed to find someone who would actually follow this teaching today. Most people would fight to protect what is rightfully theirs. But Jesus does not want us to respond with anger for it teaches nothing but fear and power over another. We are called upon to be meek - strong but unaffected by the negative activities around us, i.e. strength brought under control.

In Chapter Eight of The Secret Side of Anger, Acting Out (or In), I speak about aggressive anger which is all fear based. When I perceive someone or something to be a threat I take a defensive posture. In this instance, I lack confidence in my own abilities to be at peace with however the current circumstance unfolds. I have no inner strength - I am controlled by my fear. I am, in fact, weak. 

Jesus asks us to respond not from a place of fear but of love, for love is the only force that teaches, transforms, and heals. He asks us to be strong and fearless and surrender to His Will. I have five rescued dogs. Each has the ability to chew up my furniture, destroy my house, pull on the lease or bite me. Yet for each, their love for their master (me) is so great that they submit to what I ask them to do. None of them sleeps on my sofa (as tempting as that may be) but rather in their beds; they do not eat off my plate but rather wait until I put food in their bowls. They instinctively know that by relinquishing their own power and obeying me they will be well cared for - they will reap abundant benefits and their lives will be joyful and filled with love and affection. They will inherit the Earth, so-to-speak. 

One who is weak is fragile, deficient, unable to withstand temptation, one without power. None of us was created weak and frail. We have the strength of Almighty God within us and we are being called upon to  be humble with our strength, to resist the urge to fight back, to be peaceful warriors who obey their Master. Meek takes far more courage and restraint than aggression.

Strength: confident; able to resist temptation; makes decisions based on moral integrity; unaffected by outside forces.
Meek: confidence without arrogance; humble; strong; willing to obey God.
Meek - Strength: hard to tell them apart for they are one and the same. Be meek. Be humble. Be strong. Follow God. He will never lead you astray. 

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

13 Quick Questions for Clarifying Anger

Do you ever wonder why it's so hard to break a habit? Whether it's biting your fingernails, the way you speak, or your reaction to drivers who cut you off on the highway, old habits die hard.  The reason being is that behaviors, when repeated frequently enough, become habitual. We no longer consciously think about what we are doing or saying. We react rather than intentionally respond to a person or situation. 

So it is with anger. Anger is not a bad emotion. All emotions are messengers that provide valuable insight into our nature and personal issues. Anger, when channeled properly, can actually motivate us to make positive changes in our lives. Many laws have been passed in response to angry citizens outraged over an injustice.  In the case of a loving parent gently trying to guide their drug-addicted teen back to the road of sobriety, they reach their breaking point and erupt in anger, issuing an ultimatum. "I've had enough! Either you get into rehab immediately or I'm done with  you!" Their response to anger erupts out of feelings of desperation. For others, rage is an automatic reaction to an uncomfortable situation.

The first key to amending a habit and facilitating change is awareness. Without the wherewithal to identify what is not working, one is powerless to transform themselves. When asked, "Why are you angry?" or "Why did you react that way?" most people I've met answer, "I don't know." If they don't know why then modifying the situation is impossible or, at best, hit and miss. (I use hit figuratively - hitting is not good. So please don't do it.)

Below are a series of short questions designed to help you clarify what, when, and why you get angry. By answering these questions each time you get upset, you will discover deeper insights in each situation and the self. Generally speaking, individuals will begin to see a pattern emerge. Once acknowledged, the individual can take their new-found awareness and purposefully choose alternative responses.

Think about a scenario in which you typically respond with anger. Recreate it in your head as best you can. Then take a few moments and answer the following questions. Do so each time a situation or person triggers anger in you. Once you begin to see a pattern emerge, you'll be better prepared to either avoid the trigger if possible or choose a more appropriate and affirming response. 

Thirteen Quick Questions for Clarity:
  • What is occurring?
  • Who is present?
  • What is being said/implied?
  • Is my perception of this person/situation fair?
  • What have I said/done to contribute to the situation? What is the other party responsible for?
  • What time of day is it?
  • Where am I? (location)
  • What am I really feeling? (root cause - hurt, fear, frustration)
  • What do I need? What am I expecting?
  • Is this need/expectation realistic?
  • How important is this issue really?
  • How can I get my needs met? (this is my responsibility)
  • What lessons have I learned from this experience?

This process should take no more than about five minutes each time you engage in it. That's a very small and inexpensive price to pay to gain the awareness you need to reduce the anger in your life and allow peace to flourish. Remember, awareness is key. Without it, you are doomed to a life of mediocrity and suffering. You can transform your life from angry outbursts to peaceful responses. In this case, thirteen can prove to be your lucky number. 

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Anger in the Workplace

"One of my coworkers is so annoying! She's always making personal calls when she's supposed to be working. Then when she can't finish her work she asks me for help!"

Recently, one of my clients (a mechanic) complained about missing tools. "We are all responsible for our own tools. I keep mine on my workbench and don't mind sharing them. But I expect that the other guys ask me before just taking what they want. Half of the time, they don't return them and then when I need them I have to go look for them. Next guy who helps himself to my wrenches is going to see firsthand how much damage they can do when I smack him upside the head with one!"

Whether you work in a multibillion dollar corporation or a small mom and pop shop, anger is a normal part of any work environment. We each have certain standards of excellence and expectations and become angry when others don't share our values. We compare our work ethics with those of other employees; we measure how much we accomplish in an eight-hour day as compared to those who do less; we judge and label those who we do not like or who pose a professional threat to us; our diverse backgrounds and personalities are oftentimes intimidating, causing friction between us.

"I see people slacking off, helping themselves to company supplies, flirting with married coworkers, and gossiping behind each others backs. I've kept my mouth shut for a long time but one of these day's I'm going to blow up."

How does one handle anger in the workplace? An inappropriate expression or outburst can cause serious harm and may even lead to dismissal.  But it's never healthy to suppress anger either. Dr. Bernie Siegel, in The Secret Side of Anger, states that when "You internalize anger it destroys you." Therefore, it's critical that we learn to express our anger in an appropriate and respectful manner. Here's an example of how to speak with someone you are upset with:

1. Make a simple statement:  "When you (describe the behavior or incident) I feel (state emotion)."
2. Share your concern: "I'm concerned that (give an example) could happen."
3. Finally, state the desired results: "In situations like this I prefer that you (describe how you would like the behavior to change)."

For example: "When you speak badly about another worker behind their back I feel angry and sad for them. I'm concerned that you will tarnish  your reputation as an honest and trustworthy person and that they may suffer some unfortunate consequences. I really need you to address your concerns directly with the individual and when in public only speak positively about them. Can I count on your cooperation?"
Let's take a look at each above situation and see how each can be addressed:

In scenario number one: Your coworker's job performance is none of your business unless it directly impacts your ability to do your job effectively. In that case, it's imperative to speak to her to learn more about her situation and reach some sort of workable solution. If you are not dependent on her to complete your own tasks, set boundaries. Let her know that you can only handle your work in the course of the day. However, if she needs some help organizing her time perhaps you could assist her.

Scenario number two: My client had addressed the issue with his coworkers several times without resolution. I suggested a simple solution: that he put a lock on his tool chest to keep his tools safe. When others disregard your requests, be prepared to enforce consequences.

In the final example: Not all business is our business to get involved in. One must know when to MYOB. However, if someone is putting the company at risk or potentially causing harm to a coworker it is perfectly acceptable to address the issue. Address the matter only with the individual or parties who must know and are able to take care of it. I.E., a manager needs to know if an employee is taking company supplies as that cuts into their profit margin plus the employee is committing a crime. Someone who is spreading unkind rumors about another may need to be spoken to in order to protect the integrity of the individual and the company. If the issue is important, take action. If not, let it go and be at peace with it.

Remember: anger is a self-created emotion and results from the thoughts we choose to form about a particular individual or situation. Simply amending our internal dialogue (what we say to ourselves) changes how we feel.  But should you feel anger arise, take a deep breath, think about the seriousness (or lack of) what is occurring, carefully (very carefully!) and thoughtfully craft your words, and respectfully and confidently express them to the appropriate individual. This may be just enough to facilitate positive changes. If not, let it go, focus on yourself, and move on.

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