How I Turned Anger into Empathy in an Instant

Emotions are fascinating. In a matter of seconds you can go from terrified to angry to empathetic. It really is remarkable how quickly emotions can shift and change. Why does this happen and how can we create a shift from difficult emotions such as anger and fear to ones that provide comfort and safety such as empathy and understanding?

Recently, while on my way to work, I was nearly in a car accident that would have changed my life forever. It would have been the type of accident that no one would have walked away from uninjured. A very serious accident indeed. And, while it took only moments for me go from feeling safe to being in grave danger to once again feeling safe, in these moments, I felt terrified and angry and then something wonderful happened; my fear and anger faded and were replaced with empathy, compassion, and understanding.

What happened? And why? It was surprising, even to me. A few minutes later, I sat down at my desk and took some time to consider what had happened and why my emotions had shifted so drastically in such a short period of time. This is what I discovered.

The way that I thought about what had happened in those crucial moments significantly impacted how I felt emotionally. For example, thoughts such as, “she’s not going to stop” and “she’s going to hit me” lead to fear. Thoughts such as, “what is wrong with her” and “why don’t people pay attention anymore” lead to anger and thoughts such as, “I wonder what is going on in her life that has her so distracted” and “I hope she’s okay” lead to empathy.

As I sat there pondering this further I discovered that it is the work I have been doing for years, incorporating compassion, acceptance, loving kindness, and mindfulness into my life, that explains the drastic shift in not only my thoughts, but more importantly my emotions.

Years ago, like many people, I likely would have ruminated about this near accident for hours afterwards. We see it all the time, people posting on social media about some injustice that occurred in their day and the supportive, albeit, negative comments that follow. And while it is true that this type of behavior is, in some ways, effective in the short-term, it often leads to increased feelings of discontent, cynicism, and frustration.

It has taken a lot of time and effort to change the way I process situations that create feelings of discomfort. And, it has not been easy. Yet, it is situations like the one that happened recently that remind me that it was time and effort well spent.

My work with clients mirrors the work I do in my own life. Teaching compassion, acceptance, loving kindness and mindfulness is a huge part of the work I do every day and I believe, even more today than in the past, that this work is the most valuable work a person can do.

If you’re ready to turn difficult emotions into ones that provide comfort, reach out to us and schedule a free telephone consultation. We’d be honored to join you on your journey.