Acknowledging our difficulties can turn anger and anxiety into self-compassion
Anger and anxiety are two states of heightened alert. In both cases we feel our heartbeat running fast and an endless flow of thoughts go through our mind. These thoughts, unfortunately, reinforce what we feel and do not change it. A way out of this cycle can be to acknowledge that we are having a difficult time.
Anger usually comes with aggressive thoughts towards someone who has not treated us well. Sometimes it is not possible to speak and reconcile with this person and, perhaps, if we are very angry, our attempts to clarify or communicate might not turn out the way we wanted.
Anxiety usually is a state of mind in which we feel we will not be able to achieve something or to accomplish an important task in the future. We fear failure and worry about bad consequences. These thoughts and feelings trap us, and there is no easy way to talk ourselves out of it.
In both cases, following our fast-spinning thoughts does not lead to any improvement of anger and anxiety. If we take an imaginary step outside of ourselves and look at what is happening to us from an outside point of view, we might realise how distressed we are.
Regardless of the content of our angry or anxious thoughts, we are living a moment of difficulty.
If we acknowledge to ourselves “This is difficult for me, I wish I was not hurting like this”, we might break the cycle of thoughts and start feeling some self-compassion. Something outside of us has wounded us, and, if we keep on following our angry and anxious feelings, we are making the wound bigger ourselves.
Tara Brach, a Buddhist Psychologist and Mediation Teacher, uses the idea of a “second arrow” to explain how, at times, we actually make our situation worse. She says that, if an arrow shoots us, it hurts. What hurts even more is if we shoot ourselves with another arrow instead of attending to our wound.
Sometimes the world shoots us with an arrow and we start feeling angry or anxious. It is an inevitable part of life. We cannot have full control of life events, but we can remember to not shoot the second arrow, and one way of doing it is to recognise that we are having a difficult time. After that, we might ask ourselves kindly if there is anything that we need to feel better.
You might be surprised by the answers you get when you ask yourself what is that you need to heal from a psychological wound. The majority of times we need something as simple as someone else’s acknowledgment of our pain. Even if you do not get a clear answer, you have started the healing process by doing something kind and compassionate for yourself.
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About Alessio Rizzo
Alessio is a UKCP accredited individual and group psychotherapist working in Shoreditch (Central London) and on-line specialised in anxiety, angry feelings and relationship. Alessio integrates CBT (mindfulness), Gestalt and motivational interviewing in his practice. He writes regularly about anxiety and other mental health issues.