Anger Management in Times of Conflict

By Dr. Ben Kim

Over the holidays, we had a chance to visit some old friends at their new Mixed Martial Arts facility just north of Toronto. We had a great time catching up while our boys tore up their massive gym (there's just something that works about letting kids loose in a wide open space covered with premium gym mats).

Being thoroughly wowed by what they've built over many years of back-breaking effort, we grilled our friends for details on how much time and effort goes into running their club and caring for their students.

As we shared love and war stories from our livelihoods, it occurred to me that one life experience that all of us share is encountering bad behavior every once in a while. Make that extremely bad behavior, the kind that is almost comical because of how evil it is.

It wouldn't be appropriate to cite a specific example, but I'm thinking of situations where someone knowingly lies, either behind your back or directly to your face, even if this causes you significant emotional stress or financial loss. Vague, I know, but I'm guessing that most of us know what this feels like?

Let me be clear in sharing that I detest confrontation. I have as much ego and pride as anyone I know, and in my own fantasies, I am an über athlete. Somehow, and I still don't know how it happened, Michael Chang ended up living out the narrative that had my name on it. Winning the French Open at 17 years of age? That was my cake, and he mistakenly ate it in my place. But I digress.

When the spittle starts flying and fists start shaking, inside, I am a rabbit, not a lion. So over the years, I've learned to let things go, often in the name of being compassionate, though I strongly suspect that it's fear that fuels me to give benefit of the doubt in some cases, not compassion.

Here's the thing: I know that it's normal to seethe and tremble when we encounter someone who's looking to hurt us and doesn't show even a hint of remorse about his or her efforts. I don't think we can shut this type of seething and trembling off - the capacity to agonize in this way is part of what makes us human, right?

But let's remember that there is always a price to be paid for emotional stress. So while it's normal to feel threatened by someone trying to hurt us, it's in our best interest to figure out how to restore harmony within as soon as possible. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way where angst lingers below the surface, but through substantive meditation on and embracing of some immutable life principle that makes it natural to radiate with peace.

Here is one such life principle that works for me, one that I believe can work for just about anyone:

  • For every instance of someone intentionally trying to hurt me, there are many more of people being thoughtful and generous with me.

Okay, so maybe this isn't really an immutable life principle that has held true for all of human history. Then again, maybe it is.

It's certainly been true throughout my life. For every person who has intentionally tried to hurt me in some way, I glow with memories of hundreds of people - friends, family members, acquaintances, clients, and even strangers - who have shown me kindness, even when I didn't do anything to deserve it.

I've lived in Ontario, Illinois, California, Alaska, and Seoul. The overwhelmingly obvious observation that I can make from my time spent in these parts of our world is that most people are good. Most people, though carrying wounds and stressors, want to be happy and see others happy. Most people are willing to lend a hand to someone who really needs it.

And this is the truth that I suggest we draw comfort from in times of stress. Yes, what this person is trying to do to me right now really sucks, but what about the countless people who have blessed and supported me? To think about, really think about those who have lifted us up is a powerful antidote for despair, more powerful than any antidepressant, I want to believe.

Call this a trick, or call it an essential life tool for minimizing periods of emotional distress. I've found it to be a highly effective way of taking my focus off of evil behavior and re-directing my energy onto people and experiences that support my health.

Of course, we can't always ignore bad behavior, especially when we're obligated to address unresolved conflict. But after fairly and honestly taking care of "administrative" work, I believe we can quickly feel free again. Free to enjoy another day of fresh air with our loved ones, free to be of service to those around us, and free to learn some Jiu-Jitsu for those who really need a beating. To be absolutely clear, this last part about Jiu-Jitsu and handing out a beating is a joke, my way of trying to lift a few spirits out there through solid belly chuckles.

If you have any mental rituals that you engage in to help yourself get through times that can cause full body trembles, please consider sharing with the rest of us via the comments section below. Many thanks and peace to all.

Dr. Ben KimImprove Your Health With Our Free E-mail Newsletter

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