Atiya started as soon as she sat down: “Here is what they did to me. And this and this and this”, she said as she recounted a long list of perceived injustices that her supervisory team at work had inflicted upon her. “Don’t you think my anger is justified? Don’t I have the right to be angry?”
It is tempting to convince ourselves in situations like these that anyone in our shoes would react the same way. That we are doing what any ‘normal’ human being would do, that is be angry.
Do you have a right and a justification to be angry when someone crosses a boundary or does you harm?
You have a right to be angry. Of course you do!
This is naturally how our brain thinks when we are upset. It is almost as if there was a lawyer inside our head making a case for our anger and against the person whom we are angry with. The lawyer inside our head is highly skilled. She picks and chooses her facts very carefully to make her case. In Atiya’s case, for example, the lawyer did not focus on the fact that Atiya was late for work 6 times last month or that she missed an important deadline. To make her case, the lawyer stressed how the supervisory team was made up of white males who did not understand what it was like for a women to work in an all male environment while balancing a family of young children and elderly in-laws who needed her as soon as she stepped inside the home. The lawyer inside her head also reminded her of how she had served at this company since it was a small start up and had put in time and effort to support its success.
Atiya’s anger was justified. She had a right to be angry.
So here’s the thing: like Atiya, we always have the right to be angry. No one can take that away from us. We can almost always justify our anger. People are imperfect and they will cross boundaries, not live up to expectations, they will hurt us and make us angry. This is not big news. It is almost guaranteed to happen in life.
Asking ourselves questions about whether or not anger is justified does not solve anything. It convinces us that we are right and makes us more angry. It is highly likely to make us miserable rather than happy. That is why it is said being angry is like throwing coals at someone with bare hands. Both people get burned.
When we get angry, it is usually pointing to a wrong that needs to be corrected. If the anger is motivating us to take action, it will be effective in righting that wrong. If, however, the anger is simply an unpleasant emotion that we settle into, that we ruminate about, it can greatly impact the quality of our lives.
In such a situation, it is never a good idea to ask ourselves if our anger is justified. Or whether we have the right to be angry. The answer to this question will almost always be yes!
The questions that are more helpful when we are angry:
Assuming that we desire peace and happiness rather than misery and upset, we need to ask different questions about our anger:
The truth about life is that we don’t get a discount or refund if we spend moments of our life in resentment or upset. Our moments are numbered and life carries on in any case.
We cannot choose how long we are here or how other people treat us. We can, however, choose the attitude of heart and mind that we bring to the moments of our life.
So, are we going to continue to hold onto our rights and justifications or will we make a choice that may bring us peace and happiness?
Questions such as these are much more motivating for changing the way we relate to life when people upset us.
Don’t you think?