Do you explode easily or take things personally? Whether you’ve got a brief bout of road rage or an irritating long-term grudge, use this “framing” technique to manage it in a sane way. From The Art of Falling in Love, by Joe Beam.
Imagine that you are driving along in traffic on the way to a meeting. Suddenly, a little red sports car pops right in front of you and you have to hit the brakes to keep from hitting it. The red car slows down a couple of times, looking for a turn, but remains in front of you. Then it slows down as you approach a traffic light, and takes just enough time passing under it to make you miss the light.
How would you react? You may be irritated at the beginning, and then become more and more angry. If incensed enough, you may even run the red light to catch up with this automotive persecutor and shake your fist at him!
The irritation you feel is normal, but whatever anger you feel is yours, not that of the driver of the other car. You may shout, “That guy made me mad!” In reality, no one can make you do anything. Emotions rise from within. His actions may have triggered anger within you, but it is your anger, not his, and you have a choice of whether or not to let your anger take over. Rather than becoming angry enough to do something dumb, it is possible for you to tell yourself, “That driver is a jerk! But he’s not going to ruin my day. I will not give him that power. Nor will I break a law and endanger my life on account of uncontrolled emotions.”
Framing is the way you view or understand something, and it is amazing how different framing produces different results. In an interesting psychological experiment done in Germany, researchers offered two sets of subjects the approximate equivalent of one hundred dollars. They asked each group to gamble the money, but the framing was different for each group. To the first group the directions were, “If you choose not to gamble the money, you automatically lose 60 percent of the money.”
Nearly all of them gambled. To the second group the directions were, “If you choose not to gamble the money, you may keep 40 percent anyway.” Hardly any of them gambled. The fascinating fact here is that each group was offered the exact same deal, but the first group focused on what they would lose, while the second group focused on what they would gain. Same truth, same fact, but different framing.
Now apply that to what makes you angry. The driver of the red sports car was obviously wrong, but it is all in how you choose to frame it that will determine how you will react to it. If you see it as personal—”He did that to me!—then you are likely to get angry. If you view it as impersonal—”He’s an idiot who’s going to have an accident or get a ticket”—you can go on about your business and not even think about him again.
Rather than thinking about how hurt you are by the actions of others, frame it in a way that gives you the ability to either control your anger or not get angry at all. Sometimes that means seeing it from the other person’s perspective. “I can see why she said that; it wasn’t to hurt me but because she is frustrated and isn’t handling it well.” Sometimes it is dismissing it as a personal attack on you and seeing it as a problem the other person has. Whatever the framing, you can decide to see things in such a way that either prevents or reduces your anger because it takes your focus from your personal pain to a broader objectivity.
Sometimes we have that moment of decision—will we give in to anger or not? Do not see anger as something over which you have no control. You will be amazed about how good it feels to let that burden slip off your shoulders. The truth about anger and bitterness is that we are the victims. It is also true that the reason we need to forgive people is not because they deserve it (they actually may not); it is because it is healthier for us not to have that emotional cancer eating away at our insides.
Somewhere inside you lies an “anger bank.” It is like a big room in your memory that is filled with files—grievances and hurts. Some of us keep very detailed files, and that anger bank requires more and more of our emotional energy to maintain. But why? What good are all those records of wrongs? Keeping that bank active keeps you on the edge of anger, because it keeps you in touch with your pain in an unhealthy way. Remember that you are the leading manufacturer of your own pain, and the sole distributor of your anger. You are the one who decides whether to let something or someone get you down.
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