Confession: I’ve always been a little hot-tempered, even in childhood. I’ve blamed my fiery disposition on my Leo sun sign, stressful schedules, and, if I’m being honest, on people around me. My disposition was my own, yet its cause was not.
Anger was a difficult emotion for me to deal with, so I was trying to push the responsibility onto something else. “I’m not an angry person,” I would tell myself. “Things are just making me angry.” Did it talk me down? Kind of. Did it address the root problem? Nope.
Because frankly, I was an angry person. I’m far too familiar with the hot surge of shaking hands, a twisted stomach, and flushed cheeks. But it wasn’t until I heard a quote by Eckhart Tolle that I finally started to look at that feeling differently.
Where There’s Anger, There’s Pain
Author, activist, and meditation teacher Barb Schmidt recently shared a powerful quote with her Instagram followers. The words of wisdom came from self-help author Eckhart Tolle, who penned The New York Times #1 Bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club pick A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
Schmidt begins by admitting that she, too, was resistant when she first heard it. Tolle’s quote states, “where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.”
“Think about that for a moment,” Schmidt continues. “The next time you are feeling angry, be curious about the pain that might be underneath. What is your anger trying to show you?”
She cites another quote, this one from an old Buddhist saying: “Holding onto anger is like squeezing a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. But you are the one who gets burned.”
“When I was younger, I held onto my anger, thinking it would protect me,” Schmidt explains. “I’ve learned that anger actually shines the light. Anger is the thread that leads you to the pain.”
How This Quote Changed It All
My hotheadedness doesn’t stop me from looking back on those moments shamefully. I feel guilty for letting my emotions get the best of my words, actions, and thoughts. Ironically, I get angry and frustrated over my anger and frustration.
But after hearing that quote, I started to flip back through my Rolodex of these moments. And upon closer inspection, the root causes were painfully clear. Oftentimes, I was overwhelmed, insecure, or anxious. Other times, I felt betrayed or unheard.
Suddenly, my shame turned into pity. I pitied the version of myself that couldn’t see the sensitive, passive emotions lurking beneath my harsh, aggressive ones. It brought new clarity to my situations, interactions, and innermost thoughts.
Similarly, it did the same for my perception of others’ anger. Despite being hot-tempered myself, being around other angry people would put me irreversibly on edge. With this new perspective, I can better empathize (and deflect) the anger of others. Instead of seeing irrational ire, I see hurt—a much more vulnerable and less intimidating emotion.
To be clear, I’m not anger-free. My anger just looks different. What once were wildfire blazes of emotion are now manageable warning flares. Rather than consuming my day and burning bridges, these flares reveal a deeper problem to address.
And if you often find yourself overwhelmed or ashamed of your anger (or incapable of dealing with it in others), then this quote might help you, too.