Raise your hand if you’ve had this experience: You’re walking down the street, perhaps in a bit of a hurry, and come up behind a couple. They’re walking several beats slower than you are and they’re taking up the entire sidewalk, so that you can’t get around them. You’re forced to slow down. You try everything short of actually shoving them out of the way to return to your natural pace but no can do. They are completely oblivious to your plight. They’re chatting away happily, moseying down the street as if they had all the time in the world. And suddenly, you’re filled with an irrational anger. You want to shout at them to “Move Damn it!!!” Can’t they see that you have places to go? Their time may not be important, but yours is. You get so angry, you actually want to punch these inconsiderate bastards in the back of the head. How dare they get in your way like that?
I see that all your hands are raised (I’m way powerful like that). We’ve all been there. We may justify this behavior by claiming that we were in a hurry, time is money, yadda yadda, but the truth is, we’ll get just as enraged when we’re at the mall on a Saturday and a slowpoke family blocks our way. The extra ten seconds it will now take us to get to The Gap are enough to give us homicidal fantasies. What the hell?
This isn’t about the ten extra seconds. It’s not about being in a hurry and having places to go. And it’s not about us all being homicidal maniacs deep down who are just a moseying mall walker away from causing a blood bath. It’s about an underlying belief. Period. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Instead of just telling you what the belief is, I think it’ll be a lot more beneficial for you if I take you through the process of discovery. This way, you can apply the same process to hunting down and releasing other limiting beliefs you may hold. Ready?
Anger is a response to powerlessness
Our first clue is in the emotional response we experience. In this case, when the slow moooooving (get it? -moo) pedestrians or drivers block our way, we feel anger or even rage. It’s not a logical or rational response and therefore we often push it away. We ignore it or squash it and just go on with our day. But, even though we would never actually hurt another person, the anger we felt was real.
Anger, just like any other negative emotion, is an indication that what you’re thinking at that moment, or what is being triggered by what you’re focusing upon, is not serving you. Period. And anger, specifically, is the emotional response we have to feeling powerless. Check out the Emotional Scale for a breakdown of how emotions rank against each other. Essentially, when we feel powerless, we move toward anger, which gives us back some of that power. It’s a necessary step toward feeling truly in control of our lives again. And rage, the fantasy (however fleeting) of hurting another, is simply an attempt to assert ourselves and feel better. The thought of gaining power over another feels a lot better than having no power at all.
The feeling of anger is completely natural, and having a brief daydream of punching someone in the head is nothing more than an indicator that there’s a limiting belief trying to get your attention. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and it won’t lead to any deeper problems (like actual violence), unless it goes unnoticed. If you ignore the indicators of negative energy while continuing to trigger these beliefs, they will manifest in a bigger way until they get your attention. In some extreme cases, this can lead to violence. The underlying framework is the same, only the reaction has gotten more severe.
So, we’re not going to ignore the anger, but rather use it to help us ferret out the belief that’s causing all this trouble. We know that we’re looking for something that makes us feel powerless in some way.
Why do we care what others are doing?
What is it about this behavior of others that gets us so riled up? How is their behavior actually affecting us? What do their actions cause us to think about ourselves? I’d like to point out here that our underlying, limiting beliefs are not always logical or rational. So if you limit yourself to beliefs that make sense, instead of feeling your way through this, you’ll have a hard time recognizing the underlying cause. Stay as open minded as possible and pay attention to how each thought feels. When you hit on the root cause, you’ll feel a shift. You’ll just know that you’ve found what you’re looking for.
The question we want to ask ourselves is, “What is it about these people getting in my way that causes me to think of myself as powerless?” What qualities are we attributing to their behavior that underlines this point of view? What assumptions (rational or otherwise) are we making about these people?
Ask the right questions to find the underlying belief
Let’s explore our anger at having our progress hindered by the oblivious masses, presented in a coach/coachee format, for your consideration:
Why are you so angry? – Because they’re getting in my way!
What should they be doing instead? How would their behavior have to change to make you feel better? – They should see that I’m in a hurry and get out of my way. It’s called respect.
Do you feel that you are more important than they are? Is your time more valuable than theirs? They don’t even know you, but do you feel like they should notice you anyway and get out of your way? – Um, no, I’m not more important than them. I guess they have a right to be there, just like I do.
What is it about their behavior that makes you most angry? Is it that they refuse to get out of your way, or is it that they’re oblivious to your annoyance? – It’s definitely the obliviousness. When they don’t even notice that I’m stuck behind them, that really sets me off!
So, it’s the fact that they’re ignoring you that affects you the most. How does it make you feel when someone ignores you? – It feels awful! It’s like I don’t matter, like I’m not important.
We just can’t stand to be ignored
Why would you, an important person with places to go and people to see be harboring a belief that you don’t matter (or don’t matter enough)? That just doesn’t make any sense! But remember that our beliefs often aren’t rational. You would’ve formed this belief at a time when it did make sense – often in childhood. And now, even though you logically “know better”, there’s a part of you that’s still holding on to and reacting to this thought.
When someone ignores you and you get angry, what you’re really doing is silently screaming “Notice me! I matter! Don’t you dare ignore me! I’m not invisible!” Society’s rules and the fact that you’re not a total nutter keep you from actually screaming those things or doing anything else to communicate your emotional state, except maybe to huff loudly and mumble under your breath as you finally squeeze by (or honk your horn, give the finger as you drive by, etc.). You deny these thoughts in the moment because, again, they don’t seem rational. You know that you matter. Right? You’re important… You have responsibility and people that depend on you.
But at some point in your life, a part of you decided that you weren’t enough. Perhaps someone ignored you and you decided that if you were better somehow, they’d pay attention to you. Maybe you failed to get recognition for something you worked really hard on and that really mattered to you. The point is, you came to the decision that you, not your actions, but you at your core, weren’t good enough. You weren’t important enough. You were less, somehow. And this ugly, little belief gets triggered whenever someone, even someone you don’t know and couldn’t care less about, refuses to pay attention to you. So, if you can’t get the waiter’s attention, you may get disproportionately annoyed. And should that person inconvenience you in some way while ignoring you, you can suddenly find yourself fantasizing about slapping a bitch. You are rebelling against a false feeling of insignificance.
Sometimes just knowing is enough
If this is a belief that doesn’t get triggered often, or in no other way, just knowing the root cause can be enough to shut this reaction down. If you find yourself prepping your pimp hand while walking behind someone, just stop and remind yourself why you’re getting angry. Acknowledge that you’re reacting from a place of powerlessness, but that these people’s behavior doesn’t actually have any bearing on how important or powerful you are. They don’t even know you. They’re not purposefully ignoring you, and you could easily be walking in front of someone and blocking their way without knowing it. Oh, I can hear you now: “That wouldn’t happen to me.” Um, by definition, how would you know?
If just being aware of the underlying cause isn’t enough to stop your anger cold, you’ll have to do a bit more work. You can use the Vibrational Ladder, or any number of techniques to help you shift your vibration. The goal is to get to the point where other people’s behavior no longer gets a rise out of you. Because the only way that anyone’s actions can upset you, is if you feel, even on some small level, that what you think they’re saying about you might actually be true. It’s this thought that you’re rebelling against, not their behavior. Stop that thought and you’ll eliminate the reaction.