First a quote: “People can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the keys.” — Book title, authored by Mike Bechtle
Let’s start with a couple of questions for your consideration; “Is it possible to make another person angry? Can we make another person feel any emotion… i.e. love, happiness, sadness; depression, joyfulness, or how about feeling motivated at work?” Can we truly make another human being feel anything they don’t either allow, choose or create for themselves?
My experience, and studies, suggest that no one can make another person feel any emotion, at least not without that person’s cooperation, involvement and/or large doses of what is called “victim mentality”.
Victim mentality is when we blame others for our situations, or in this example, our emotions; for instance: “You make me angry”. This statement implies the speaker has no personal accountability for their feelings, or perhaps more importantly, no responsibility for their actions as a result of their anger. It implies their personal feelings are someone else’s responsibility.
Are we willing to admit a 7-year old child has the power to make grown adults angry, to force us to act out of control, to yell and scream? When we’re thinking rationally, the answer is an easy, and resounding, absolutely not! Unfortunately, thinking and acting rationally, while emotional charged, is not easy.
Four foundational thoughts:
- Emotions happen – emotions are normal and natural. We rarely choose, at least initially, the emotions we experience. Someone “cuts us off” in traffic and we feel anger. Our spouse is “nitpicky”, and we feel irritation. We are faced with unexpected problems at work, and we feel stress. Our manager walks past us in the morning without saying hello, and we feel unimportant. Our mom or dad uses a “harsh tone” and we feel unloved. Our college student doesn’t call home and we feel lonely or unappreciated.
- Emotions make us human – we are emotional beings. As human beings, we are constantly balancing two, often opposing forces: being logical or practical on one hand, and emotional on the other. These two forces are often pulling in opposite directions. The force that wins most of the time, may very well determine how well we get along with others and our level of success in life. This is the subject of many books now available regarding the topic of emotional intelligence. (I’ve included links below to my favorite books on the topic.)
- Emotions provide richness in our lives – Love feels more meaningful when we have known loneliness. Victory feels sweeter when we have also known defeat. Success is more rewarding when we have overcome failures. Movies with happy endings are more gratifying if we cried or experienced sadness in the middle. You get the point, richness in life is greatest when we experience the full emotional tapestry of what it means to be fully human.
- Emotions are not the problem – to be emotional is to be human. Problems arise when we either act out, or act out of, our emotions… when we allow our emotions to drive our actions without a conscious and deliberate “manual override button” to push. We must find ways to express, and discuss, our emotions more productively and rationally. The following thought may seem obvious when we’re thinking rationally but: when we act out our emotions in a destructive manner, it is destructive to ourselves, to our relationships and to others.
I’ll conclude with a short personal story. I so wish I could say I have always acted professionally at work. And, I also wish I could say I have always acted lovingly towards the most important people in my life… my family, including parents, siblings, spouse and children. Of course, that is not the case.
Many years ago, when our children were young, a situation at home “made me angry”. While I remember the event, I no longer remember the details, or what triggered my inappropriate reaction. (I suspect our children remember the details because they were the recipients of my anger… a temper tantrum I regret. (see Chinese Proverb below)
Days or weeks later, after the emotions of the event had passed, my wife used the occasion as a “teaching moment”. As we discussed the situation, I explained how my anger wasn’t my fault and how my tone and raised voice couldn’t be helped. Then she asked, “Do you remember answering a business call in the middle of your angry outburst?” “Yes”, I responded, and I already sensed she had me cornered, “Bryan, what was your tone when you answered the phone?”
In a matter of less than two rings of my office phone, I went from verbal ugliness with my children to a very professional, “Good afternoon, this is Bryan, how may I help you?” And, even more difficult for me to confess; I returned to my angry state at the conclusion of my professional call. The truth is, I wanted to be angry because in the moment I felt justified in that anger. In a sick way, it felt good.
Bottom line, I could and did, control my anger because I needed to be a professional for a client call. This means of course, I could have controlled my anger in the situation with my children as well. I have never forgotten that lesson. I still slip up on occasion… because after all, I’m an emotional being. We all are.
In those moments where a situation, or person, has “made me angry”, I have found repeating the following affirmation to be helpful: “I can’t help the way I feel right now, but I can help the way I think and act”. I hope repeating this affirmation will be helpful for you as well.
Let’s all learn from, appreciate and enjoy our emotions; they are after all, the essence of our relationships and our lives. The goal isn’t to be perfect… simply better, in every way, every day.
Have a good week!
And, as always, how will you lead differently, or better, this coming week?
“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.” Chinese Proverb
“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”