There is possibly no better place to observe anger in action than behind a closed door in a human resources department, as I did when I worked as a corporate HR executive. As the industries I worked in faced unprecedented challenges, I saw firsthand how raw or suppressed anger stalled careers, poisoned critical relationships, mucked up projects, killed creativity, and affected physical health.
An awful lot of us are angry right now: about mid-career layoffs, the difficulty of finding work when you’re no longer young, or just the realization that the plans we made at 20 no longer fit our dreams. (Google “anger and unemployment” and you get 10 million hits!)
Anger is often a coping mechanism for other emotions like sadness, fear, and shame—and like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, it won’t be ignored. Those who try to cover it up or deny it tend to find themselves metaphorically boiling bunnies without knowing why.
Anger, like any emotion, is really an invitation to examine your deepest and most immediate needs. When you choose to accept that invitation, you take the first step of the journey to the center of your heart—and your life’s work. Here are three steps that can help transform anger into your own personal magic.
• Recognize it: You have an individual anger thumbprint. Maybe you raise your voice, or withdraw, or your body (which always tells the truth) gives you a signal. When my jaw tightens, I ask myself what I’m stifling and why. Self-awareness activities like psychotherapy, creative arts, journaling, meditation, relaxation techniques and mindfulness exercise can help you stay in touch with your anger, its possible causes, and your coping mechanisms. This gives you the power to make changes if necessary.
• Defuse it: Unless you’re a master of emotional intelligence, give yourself a moment—or several—before you do or say anything. “While it’s important to appropriately acknowledge emotions, avoid being reactive,” says Hemda Mizrahi, a consultant who specializes in leadership development. Sitting in a relaxed position and breathing consciously for a few moments allows you to become an observer of your feelings. (The practices listed above also help with this process.) As an observer, you open yourself to insights about how to respond to your anger in ways that honor yourself and others.
• Transform it: Here’s the fun part. Think of your favorite rock anthem, historical figure or game-changing entrepreneur. Businesses, careers, social movements and groundbreaking art often grow from the seed of anger. With the help and support of my managers, I once created a job for myself as a diversity and inclusion officer fueled purely by my fierce desire for equality in the workplace. Once you’ve allowed anger to help you identify the unmet needs of your heart, you are one step closer to unearthing the valuable gifts you have to offer the world—and to the marketplace—based on the fruits of your own very human struggle.
Leslie Granston is a writer, consultant, and founder of the blog, H[E]R. She is a former corporate human resources executive who specialized in diversity and inclusion, recruiting, and professional development.