Like a tiny flesh-colored Hulk, my toddler rages around his playroom upending everything he can get his hands on because I won’t give him one of my Advil. Suppressing an urge to roll my eyes and explain the difference between Advil and M&Ms, I take a deep breath, pop another Advil, and try extra hard to remember why people Hulk Out.
It’s easy to name this as “anger” and be done with it. But then we’re more likely to respond with our own anger, and two Hulks won’t improve the situation (Season 4, Episode 13 taught us that). Even if our version of anger comes in the muted form of exasperation, irritation, or defensiveness, it doesn’t help us or the other person get to a better place.
Back to my little Hulk. Certainly, there is anger. The flying bristle blocks and shouts of rage can attest to that. But what’s behind the anger? Taking a deep breath, I slide into his shoes as best I can and feel a sense of powerlessness, sadness, and frustration. He did just hear “no” about ten times in the past five minutes, the cat got away again, and now he can’t have any of Mom’s little candies. The compassion comes more easily now that I can see these difficult vulnerable feelings behind the big anger.
You don’t need a toddler to get practice with this. Adults Hulk Out too, just in less obvious ways (usually). Next time your teenage daughter gives you the cold shoulder, your spouse bites your head off, or you find yourself wanting to snap at complete strangers, take a breath and look for the vulnerable emotions behind the anger. It’s not all that’s needed but it’s the first step to getting back to Happy.