Finding empathy in anger

I’m used to long days — staring at the computer for hours, meetings, smalltalk and after-work networkers, but on this day, I caved.

I put up my impersonal wall and opened the door to Avicii blasting a million decibels and a bunch of strangers I didn’t know. It was 11pm on a Thursday. I snapped at my roommate to keep it down, ignoring each of her silly friends as I went straight to my room. It was hard to sleep that night.

The next day, my roommate was too hungover to remember what happened so the subject was never broached. Inside, all I could think of was how frustrated I was at the lack of sleep and how it affected my work productivity. At this moment, a little voice told me to step back and reassess the source of my anger.

My roommate was partying on a weekday night — for as long as I knew her, she never liked her current job and stayed only for the money. She parties because her work days aren’t the greatest and she’s not one for book clubs. She didn’t realize how angry I was because she got too drunk to remember.

I was keeping all this anger in to release on no one. Instead, I let the emotional tide surge and seethe within me, carrying it to work the next day and letting it affect my productivity. It was a difficult notion to accept — when overwhelmed with emotion, it’s easy to throw rationality out the window.

I decided to put myself in my roommate’s shoes and approach my frustration logically. She has long days, like I do, but relaxes in a different way. While we were two sides of a coin trying to cope living with each other, it did not mean that agreements could not be made. When I returned home, I took a deep breath before approaching the subject of her weekday parties. She didn’t realize how loud everyone was and apologized, agreeing to turn it down after an agreed time.

It was that easy — I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling the weight lift from my shoulders.

Anger creeps up like a viper, visceral and instantaneous. It feels good to be angry, to blame the world for one’s problems. It’s hard to rein oneself and walk the opposite direction — towards empathy, when the power anger gives feeds out basal nature. As an evolutionary tool, it helped us protect our territory, food supply and family. It can be a catalyst for change when directed at a cause. However, in daily problems, too much anger can be unhealthy on the self. Research has linked constant anger to heart disease, and constant anger can manifest over trivial details that are not worth our frustration.

It takes a lot to put anger aside and be emotionally aware of both the self and the cause. Self-awareness is a journey longer than the longest day, but it is the first step to a calmer, more empathic life. When I look back at my roommate’s weekday partying with empathy instead, my anger becomes an understanding. Humans are by nature social, and our experiences with different personalities make our lives interesting . We need other humans to survive and having empathy correlates with the necessity for trust. We have disagreements because we act on our social needs without understanding others first. Anger reduces trust, both in ourselves and in others. While there are times when situations take the best of us; for me, I have been drained emotionally by death, my parents’ divorce, break-ups, rejection and accumulated thorns along the way, but I have also been strengthened by understanding, friendship, travel and acceptance.

The next time you feel frustration surge through your chest, threatening to burst, take a deep breath and ask yourself — is it worth your anger?

Longtime traveller, UX explorer and chilli lover. INFJ.

Longtime traveller, UX explorer and chilli lover. INFJ.