In my work with a client this week I was reminded of a story about the Buddha. In this story, the Buddha is visiting a village and speaking to the people. One young man takes exception to what he is saying, or maybe just to him being there, and starts insulting him.
The Buddha isn’t upset, which is kind of surprising (apart from the fact that he’s the Buddha obviously), because the young man is being really aggressive and rude.
Instead the Budda asks the young man a question:
“Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”
The young man replies, ‘To the person who bought it of course,’
The Buddha then says, ‘Yes, that’s absolutely right. And it’s the same with your anger and aggression. If you become angry with me and insult me and I don’t get insulted, then I’m not accepting your gift, and you can keep it.
We don’t have to accept the ‘gift’.
When people are angry with us part of them, their inner troll if you like, really wants to pass that anger onto us, like a virus. They want to justify their feelings by making us feel bad too. Obviously need to ask ourselves if we have done something wrong, and if so, do something about it, but we still don’t have to get angry, upset or defensive ourselves. Even if their anger is justified, there are better ways of responding to it.
This DOES NOT mean that we pretend we aren’t angry if we are. That just doesn’t work because human beings are much better at sensing emotion than you might think. It doesn’t matter if you stick a smile on your face. If you are triggered by the anger it will be evident.
It’s also not about being totally untriggered by what is being said, or what has been done. Unless you are the Buddha, you are likely to get an instinctive reaction when someone attacks you. It’s like reaching out to take the gift instinctively.
It’s natural that when someone attacks you, you respond with fear or anger. Sometimes that is entirely appropriate. You might well need that fear or anger to get you out of that situation safely or to protect yourself.
And there is nothing wrong with anger per se. It’s simply a biological function designed to protect you.
The stories we tell ourselves.
The problem comes when you hold onto it, and start adding fuel to the fire through all the little thoughts and stories you start to tell yourself. How dare that person say that! What if other people agree with them? People might reject me… Before you know it, you’re in full on defensive mode, shouting back, or feeling that you’ll never post anything online again, or believing that everyone hates you, or whatever your Troll’s favourite line is.
But, you always have a choice, and a lot of the time, probably most of the time, it isn’t in your interests (or even theirs) to take on board the ‘gift’ that person is trying to give you. So, don’t. Just imagine if Snow White had just politely refused that apple.
The better you get at spotting the troll in action (both yours and the other person’s), the more quickly and easily you will be able to decide that you actually don’t want this gift, thank you very much, and the less time and energy you will spend joining in with someone else’s troll party.
The emotion that arises in you when someone attacks you probably won’t go away, but that’s just a chemical reaction. It will subside quickly if you don’t feed it by starting to add a story to it- why they deserve your anger, how unfair it is, what the consequences might be and so on.
You have the opportunity to hand back the gift of anger, which after all belongs to them and not you.