When I was in grade 8, I took part in a gardening school project and was very excited about my first little vegetable garden. Every day I went to check, water and weed my little patch. It was pure joy seeing the little plants grow.
One day I arrived at my patch with my watering can to see that all my little lettuce plants had been eaten. I was so sad. When I heard from Sonia, the social worker who headed the garden project at our high school that Rob, a grade 9 student had purposefully pushed his little rabbit into the lettuce plants to destroy my garden, I felt quite angry. What unfolded from there was my first opportunity to shift from anger to compassion.
Rob was very aggressive and destroyed things on purpose all the time. I was quite upset and shared my anger with Sonia. She said that she could understand my feelings. She also shared with me another side of Rob that I had never known about or seen before. She told me that he often came to her to ask for a hug and to cry on her shoulder and that he really felt quite insecure.
I was still upset about my lost lettuce plants, but I learnt that day that what appears as power and aggression on the outside might be a manifestation of loneliness, fear and despair on the inside. I was thankful that Sonia had opened my eyes and helped me see beyond Rob’s actions in the garden patch.
I always remember this story when I am faced with aggressive and destructive behaviour. I know that it is coming from a place of fear. Knowing this helps me see the person who is acting in aggressive ways more compassionately. It helps me shift from anger to compassion.
When I feel compassion with their pain, I don’t get triggered into fear or anger myself. That doesn’t mean that I agree with destructive behaviour or justify it in any way. It simply means that I connect with the underlying cause of this behaviour. From that place, I can feel compassion and no longer feel scared or threatened by the behaviour.
How to move from anger to compassion:
- Take a moment to think about a person who is acting angry or aggressive (this may be at work, in your family or within your community).
- Allow yourself to imagine the pain, hurt, sadness and fear that this person may be feeling inside.
- Remember times in your own life when you felt scared and how you acted towards others or yourself in those times. Feel compassion for yourself and hold yourself as if you were soothing an upset child.
- Then send the same compassion towards the other person and imagine them feeling well and content.
Please share one of your own stories about how you were able to shift from anger to compassion in a challenging situation. Thank you so much!
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Julia James is a certified life coach and award-winning author of the book, The Mini-Retreat Solution. With over ten years experience coaching people through positive career transformations, Julia is passionate about helping people connect with their true calling.