Here’s what happened.
One Saturday morning recently, Tom-Tom decided to sneak out and take both of our dogs down to the lake. If you’ve seen pictures of my house you know there is a steep drop off to the lake and when the water’s down in the fall and winter you can climb on the rocks. Tom-Tom LOVES to take Banda down there and climb on the rocks.
Usually this turns out okay.
But not today. He could have gotten back up alone but he couldn’t get back up with the dogs.
So this turns into a two hour ordeal where my oldest daughter Elea has to scale down there to try and figure out how to help them.
She’s walking up and down the lake. They’re trying to figure out, “Can we get up here? Is there a little place where we could swim around this?” But, Tom couldn’t swim because he didn’t have a life jacket and he had a cast on one of his arms. (Another story, another time, dear reader!)
Then, Tom said, “Well, I’ll jus’ holler for some fisherman to help.”
So that’s exactly what he did! There were some fishermen out in a fishing boat on the lake and he got their attention. Pretty soon the muddy dogs and the muddy children got into the fishing boat and the dear fishermen drove them to safety and dry land.
Well, let me tell you, my daughter was not happy. Actually, nobody in the house was happy.
Except for Tom Tom.
He was totally thrilled with the adventure and himself. He tried not to smile when he got back home. That young’un just loves drama and an adventure.
And us? We were all just so mad.
Time, as it does, lent us some perspective and a few days later we all just realized that the whole situation was kind of hilarious. The stuff that he said when he got back up, the stuff that he said to all of us about the whole ordeal–the whole thing was really, really funny.
But it was not funny at the time. Nope.
How many of you can relate?
Something happens that makes you SO frustrated and angry but a few days later you realize, “I probably shouldn’t have gotten that worked up about it. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s actually kind of funny.”
I think we all can relate.
We catastrophize a situation, and then, an hour or two or even several days later, you calm down and say to yourself, “Okay. The sky’s not falling. No one is dying. Everything is just fine. “
I’m sure that many of you HAVE DONE THIS EXACT THING.
This got me thinking.
Sometimes the people in our lives–our kids, our husbands, our mother-in-laws, and so on–bring us such frustration, anger and resentment. This is such a good thing for us to work on!
The thing is, in so many situations we can’t change the circumstances. I didn’t know that Tom-Tom was sneaking down (and out!) with the two dogs. There’s nothing I could have done about the circumstance. So then I have to figure out, “I can’t change everything around me, so how am I going to manage myself in the situation?”
So let’s talk about three powerful ways that you can deal with situations that cause you anger, frustration or resentment.
First: Ask Ourselves Why
- Why do I feel so angry about this?
- Why am I so frustrated?
- Why do I feel resentful?”
I JUST LOVE THIS because it allows us to be curious without judging ourselves. So many of us jump to judgment before we even figure out what is really going on, “You should be over this. You shouldn’t get angry about stuff like this.” We jump to judgment over the situation and then jump right on in to judge ourselves.
Asking yourself, “Why?” will allow you to give yourself a pause and a little compassion. “Well, okay, why do I feel this way?”
The temptation here is to think that you feel this way because of the situation. But, and this is important, the circumstances and the events of your life are not actually causing you to feel this way.
It’s the thoughts you are thinking.
So I love to ask myself, “What is the thought that I’m thinking about the situation that’s causing me so much pain, frustration, or anger?” Not everybody would react the same way that I react to that situation. “What’s causing ME to react this way?”
One of the thoughts that was causing me so much pain was, “This shouldn’t be happening.” Don’t we say this to ourselves SO often, whether the situation is serious or, in this case, not-so-serious and mainly mischievious?
So this was my thinking that weekend. “I thought we were doing so well. We’ve been to therapy. We’ve been doing all this. We’ve been working through this. I’ve been so patient. I’ve done all this. Why is this happening? It shouldn’t be happening. This should be better. He should be more adjusted. I should be a better mom.”
UGH! I was judging BOTH of us.
Let me tell you people, when you argue with reality, you lose. This is happening, though sometimes it’s something truly awful that’s happening.
Every time we tell ourselves, “This shouldn’t be happening,” we need to ask, “Is that thought helping me through this?” And honestly does a thought like this EVER help us through a situation? In my situation, that thought was poisonous. I started judging everything and everyone.
Learning to accept and love what is in our lives is so powerful. There’s a Latin phrase for this that a dear friend of mine reminded me of recently, “amor fati.” It means love of one’s fate. Loving what is, or at least getting to the point where we aren’t arguing with what is.
After Tom-Tom’s adventure I spent a good day (or more) with a heaviness in my chest. I said, “What am I doing wrong? Why did he disobey?” Really making the situation worse. But then, I was finally able to say, “Of course he’s going to take the dogs down without permission on the rocks. It’s too tempting for a little Tom Sawyer like him. Of course he’s going to do that. Of course that should be happening, because it is happening! My fighting against it is only making it harder for me.”
So, when you find yourself angry, frustrated or resentful, I want you to ask yourself, why?
“It’s so curious that I feel that way. What is the thought that I’m having that’s making me resent my mother in law?” Often the thought we are having is, “She should be different.”
“Why do I feel angry towards my husband?” Here too, the thought often is, “The situation should be different. He should be different. Our marriage should be different. We should be further along. We shouldn’t be fighting about things like this.”
Learning to be right where we are is so powerful.
Second: Just Allow The Feeling
The second powerful way to move past your anger, frustration and resentment is to just to allow the feeling.
What would happen?
Resisting your emotions absolutely makes things worse. After the adventure, I was saying to myself, “You’ve been a mom for a long time, why are you letting this get the best of you?” It wasn’t really frustration with what Tom had done but more frustration with myself–that somehow I should be a better parent or that I shouldn’t react this way.
It’s okay to be frustrated.
It’s okay, even necessary, to be exactly where you are.
If we would just allow ourselves to say, “Wow, I feel really frustrated about this. I’m curious about that. I wonder if there’s anything else going on that is adding to that?”
This is a powerful thing to do–to step back from a situation as a compassionate observer. This gives us some perspective and helps us to move past where we’ve become stuck.
I read something recently that really applies here. When we get in a negative thought loop, our thoughts get narrow and our emotions follow. Our focus becomes so narrow, we keep having the same thoughts over and over. We get stuck in frustration. We get stuck in anger. We get stuck in resentment.
We just get plain stuck.
Something wonderful happens when we open our minds and are willing to question how we are reacting to a situation. When we are willing to be gentler with ourselves and the people in our lives, the spiral from the positive thinking and emotion gets wider and wider. It allows us to see things differently, to think of more creative solutions, and to have more compassion–for ourselves and others.
Allowing emotion is powerful, even if it’s a negative emotion. There is nothing to be afraid of. You can feel frustrated. You can feel angry.
But here’s the thing! When you are aware of your emotions, you don’t immediately act on them. Whereas when you aren’t aware of them, you get angry and just react.
When you give yourself space and a little bit of grace, when you give the people in your life some grace and compassion, you are able to push the pause button before you act. “Interesting that I got so angry over that.” Don’t immediately beat yourself up. Don’t immediately snap at him. Give yourself a minute to figure out what else might be going on.
Third: Take Ownership Of Your Feelings
Living in emotional adulthood.
I’m not angry because a six year old took the dogs and went for a hike when he shouldn’t have. I’m angry because I have the belief that it shouldn’t have happened. When I own my feelings, I don’t need for the circumstance to change before I can feel better.
Here’s the thing that’s so important.
You can decide to stay angry, frustrated and resentful. There are a lot of creative ways that you can decide how you want to think and feel. Take the simple step of ownership, “I don’t feel this way because my husband didn’t take out the trash. I don’t feel this way because my kid disobeyed. I don’t feel this way because of anything that’s happening in my life, it’s how I’m choosing to think about it.”
“Is it something that I want to be frustrated and resentful about?”
I’m very careful when I answer yes to that question. Let me tell you why. It’s not because it’s morally wrong to feel frustrated. It’s because our body makes a chemical cocktail when we are feeling resentful, frustrated and angry and boy, do we feel that chemical reaction!
Your chest gets tight. Your throat gets tight. Sometimes we get so angry we feel like we might throw up.
Does the person you are angry with get to feel this?
Only you get to live with all this internal rocking and rolling. So choose wisely. If you say, “Yes, I want to feel this resentment” that’s fine, but ask yourself, “Is this fair to me?”
What a gift it is to be able to look at a situation and go, “Wow, what an amazing curriculum God has given me for my life. This is how I become the next best version of myself, because this is my schooling.”
Sure we are all going to be in pressure cooker situations but I say yay for that!! It is exactly these kind of situations that are going to allow you to work on yourself–to have more control over yourself.
I promise you, when you spend time blaming other people for your emotional life, when you blame them for your anger and your resentment, there’s nothing you can do except hope they change.
Well, good luck with that, because they’re not changing.
I have a feeling that I’m going to have a lot of interesting adventures over the next few years! Because at the core of it all, I’m not going to change anyone.
So that’s the work of our lives. That is our curriculum, and I really am thankful for it. Sometimes it takes the perspective of a day or two away from it to say, “Wow, what has happened to my life? What has happened to my peaceful Saturday morning where I sat on the porch and drank coffee and read the paper?”
I’ve exchanged it for a much richer, more colorful experience, and I’m so grateful for it.