Change Your Thinking: How to Curb Anger

Change Your Thinking: How to Curb Anger

How positive thinking and a metal folding chair changed one woman's life.

My friend Sue said the idea came to her in a moment of genius. "I don't have very many of those," she told me," so take advantage of it." Genius? More like insanity. I couldn't believe she was suggesting I do something so off-the-wall.

"Are you nuts?" I said, feeling the anger rise inside me. I should have been more gracious. After all, I was the one who had come to Sue. I'd been in a holding pattern in my life, and I couldn't stand it. Sue was a therapist, used to helping people sort out their problems.

I was open with her, more than I was with most people. I talked about my childhood, a bewildering mix of the magical and the tragic. I was the only child from a broken home, and people close to me had hurt me, badly. In my teens, I'd used drugs and alcohol to blot out the pain.

I got counseling, got sober and rediscovered my creative spirit. Now I was a successful commercial designer in Portland, Oregon. I was healthy, fit, went on hikes. It looked like I had it together. On the inside, I felt all tangled up. I wanted a family, but I didn't date. I wanted to be a serious artist, but I hadn't done anything creative outside of work for ages.

Sometimes the internal turmoil leaked out. Like the time I flew into a rage because a friend and I couldn't agree on where to eat dinner. "I'm angry about my place in life," I told Sue. "I feel like I've been given an assigned seat, and I hate it."

Sue explained that kids develop emotional defenses to help them cope with an out-of-control home life. Anger was my defense. "Your anger isn't helping you anymore," she said. "It's suffocating you. You need to let it go."

"But my anger is justified!" I mentally went over a list of people and the pain they caused me. How could I forget that?

That's when Sue said she had an idea. "I want you find a chair, a big folding chair, to carry around with you. It will help you see what a burden your seat of anger has become."

"Are you crazy?" I said. "I'm a professional, Sue. I'm not going to do something that bizarre!"

Sue smiled. "Go home and think about it, Lindsey. How badly do you want to change?"

I drove off, muttering, "That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard!" But I couldn't get it out of my head. My exit was coming up. I could turn right and go home. Or I could turn left and look for a chair at Goodwill. Something made me turn left.

There was only one chair for sale at Goodwill. A blue metal folding chair. I bought it for $3.99.

At home I set the chair down in my living room.

I stared at it. Suddenly, I got the strangest burst of creative energy. I pulled out a Sharpie pen. For four hours, I meditated on my feelings, writing the words "mad," "anger" and "angry" all over the chair. I scratched it with a nail. What a release!

The next morning, I saw the chair in the light of day. What would people think if I walked around with that thing? Then again, what if it helped me? I wouldn't know unless I tried. How willing was I to change?

I put on my suit, picked up the chair and went to work. I wished I'd put on a disguise to hide from the stares.

At Costco, the employee at the door gasped, "Is that a return?" She looked so relieved when I said, "No, it's mine."

A woman came up to me in the checkout lane. "What's with the chair?"

"It's sort of a project I'm doing." I told her about my anger issues.

"Good for you," she said. "It takes courage to face your issues like that."

Everywhere I went—restaurants, a hike, even the bathroom—the chair went, and people asked me about it. I never thought I could open up to strangers like that! I never expected they'd confide in me. One man said he'd have to carry a couch for his anger. A woman said she needed a mirror with "ego" on it.

Sue was right. The chair wasn't a burden, my anger was. I'd thought it was protecting me, but it was holding me back. The next time I saw Sue, I thanked her. "I'm going to carry this chair until I feel ready to put it down."

She said, "I'm proud of you, Lindsey." Not everyone was. One guy at work said, "People are talking. Sure, you're an artist, but that chair makes you look unprofessional."

What if I lost business over it? What if it didn't work? Then I thought of the people I was connecting with, the insight I was gaining. I wanted to change, didn't I?

Yes. At that moment, I knew I wanted to change more than anything else.

I'd been carrying the chair for 40 days when a local pastor called. Would I speak to a group of middle-school kids about my experiment? I showed them my chair, talked about why I'd been taking it everywhere. Pastor Rogge asked each of the kids to write something that made them mad on a piece of paper, then put it in a basket he'd set on my chair.

I looked at that seat of anger. My eyes prickled with tears. Maybe it was the peace in the sanctuary, maybe it was reaching the kids, who were at the age where I'd been so hurt. I knew one thing: It was time to let go of the chair—and the negative feelings that went with it.

There in the church, I gave my anger and pain to God. Then I walked out the door and into my life, feeling lighter, freer, ready to embrace my art, my relationships, all the wonders waiting for me.

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