“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” – Epictetus
While our feelings are subject to influence from the external world, external events have no value or meaning in themselves. It is our perspective on the world which influences our attitudes and directs our behaviors. In this way, we are fundamentally responsible for attitudes and beliefs that represent our view of the world—on what is true, good, worthwhile, significant fearful, horrible, pleasant, etc.
This is to say, we are accountable for our actions. Accepting responsibility is a prerequisite for personal growth and a critical element in managing life situations and internal feelings, particularly anger.
The Role of Accountability
Anger is considered by many to be the most difficult emotion to deal with. If angry behavior is an indication of a lack of control, personal responsibility is a manifestation of proactivity toward regaining control. Being accountable allows us to master our own emotions, offering the liberty to act in a healthy and a constructive manner.
The word “responsibility” is a combination of two words: “response” + “ability,” meaning we have the ability to choose our response. Anger is a reactive action that happens automatically, often unconsciously, and, as such, is the opposite of responsibility. Responsible behavior is a product of our own conscious choice, based on our values, goals, and aspirations, rather than a product of our feelings. Being responsible means being aware and mindful. It is about understanding the consequences of our action while asking, “Is the outcome of our behavior desirable and beneficial in the long run?”
Anger Found Within
Sometimes, it may seem that anger is driven by someone or something beyond us, but this is only because we are not aware of its source. As we get to know more about anger, understand its mechanism, we bring the root of anger to consciousness. As we take a deeper look into oneself, we realize that the seeds of anger were in us long before the present feeling emerged. This seed is the cause of our suffering, not the event itself. The following are a few guidelines on how to become more responsible, and how to empower ourselves to effectively deal with anger:
Anger is Not the Problem
Recognize that anger in itself is not the problem. The unhealthy meaning and the importance we associate with the incident that leads to anger is the problem.
Transform Your Anger
We always carry the fire of anger, therefore, we always have the responsibility to guard this fire and direct its energy to become a positive power. So, rather than being tempered by the fire, use the fire constructively and transform it into an enlightening force.
Anger Belongs to Us
No matter who triggered it, anger is always ours. We are the only ones responsible for our feelings, positive or negative. While it is possible that someone or something triggered these emotions, we are still the ones who must manage them.
Our unfulfilled expectations lead to anger. While having expectations is part of the human condition, it is up to us as to reduce our attachment to them, or better, let them go.
Catch Anger Early On
Try to recognize anger when it is at a low level. The sooner we do this, the greater is our ability to use reason and calm our intense feeling. Prevention is always better than the cure.
Change Your Inner Self and Thoughts
Since anger is born from within, so changing our inner self can help us overcome it. To change angry feelings, we need to change our thoughts too. For example, aspire to transform thoughts such as “should,” “ought,” and “must” into “wish” or “prefer.”
Adapt Better Coping Strategies
If we are challenged by anger, we must adjust and improve our coping strategies to be more effective in meeting our needs.
Do Your Best
We can only do our best to accommodate our needs and goals. Beyond our best is outside our power and therefore we must accept the outcome, no matter what it is.
When we are okay no matter what circumstances come our way, we don’t need to “control” the universe. Control what you can, and let go of the rest. Letting go is the ultimate freedom. Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Buddhist philosopher, said that letting go of attachment, expectations and anger gives us freedom that leads to happiness. By being responsible and aspiring to personal growth, we can transform anger and enjoy life to its potential. So, be responsible and use it as an antidote to anger.