Blind anger makes it hard to find our way.

I heard a story once about a man who complained that every time he tried to quit smoking, everyone around him became oversensitive. The truth, of course, was that the stress of withdrawal caused him to be rude, grouchy, and ill-tempered; he offended everyone.

Recently, it seems as if the entire planet decided to quit smoking all at once. We are all grappling with political divisiveness, pandemic isolation and health concerns, plus an economic crisis with personal and global implications. The constant uncertainty, the need to rethink how we do everything, the way even our simplest actions are being scrutinized, can undermine our peace of mind and sense of self-esteem. We are all on edge. And as we become increasingly resentful of bad behavior around us, we can become oblivious of our own.

I have witnessed a few public melt downs — both before the pandemic and since. It is horrible to witness someone disintegrating before your eyes, lashing out in anger, and becoming the worst version of themselves. The irony is that when people get so angry that they lose control, they become blind to reality. They justify their behavior as making some kind of stand against the imagined afront. They believe they can bend you to their will, or force a decision in their favor. But of course, that never works. NEVER. Because rational people are just going to start backing away. Instead of driving desired outcomes, the rage ensures self-destruction.

There’s a widely attributed saying that goes something like, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” That’s what happens when you let frustration turn into self-righteous, blind anger. The repercussions will be bad for you and they’ll also make things worse for everyone around you. It exacerbates the situation. And it can cause lasting damage to careers, reputations, and relationships.

I’m not trying to shame anyone. On the contrary, I’m genuinely concerned. 

My worry is that with the added pressures we are all dealing with these days, melt downs could happen more frequently. Frankly, I’m trying to be super vigilant myself. As business leaders, as spouses, as parents, as teachers, I think we should all be on guard, be hyper self-aware, when we feel our own stress levels creeping up. And here’s the tricky part for self-reliant people — it’s a good idea to line up support before it’s needed.

Think about asking a few friends or colleagues you can trust to help monitor your emotional intelligence. Stay close to people who will tell you the truth. Or hire someone — a professional counselor, therapist, or career coach — who can help you deal honestly with stress, dial back the angry rhetoric, and find healthy coping strategies. We are all living in a pressure cooker these days. It’s okay to let off steam. Just don’t misdirect it. And don’t get burned.

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