Anger affects not only the object of the anger, but the person who holds the anger. And we do ‘hold’ on to it. So, how do we transform anger into an emotion like love or joy?
- Let go of the negative emotion. Just as we hold anger, we can let it go. This can be prompted by simply feeling the emotion being let go.
- Re-contextualize. Often, especially with more powerful emotions, it is difficult to simply let go of the emotion. So, it is useful to also re-contextualize the situation. The archetype for this is Jesus’ words as he was being crucified – an extremely dramatic way for him to make clear the point and importance of forgiving. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Here, Jesus re-contextualizes what is happening – it is a product of the people who are crucifying him not having spiritual truth.
- See harmony, joy, love, and so on, instead, in relation to the situation. Again, Jesus gives the keys here. “Bless those who persecute you.” So, see good things for the situation, and in particular, send love towards the person who is the object of your previous negative emotions.
Repeat these, switching from one to the other until the felt intensity of the negative emotion is gone, and there is a felt intensity of the positive emotion.
It might require a large number of repetition before the negative emotion is gone (“How many times should I forgive, 7 times?” “7 and 70 times.”)
It is very difficult for a negative emotion, such as anger, to exist simultaneously with a positive emotion, such as love. This process will typically benefit not just the object of the negative emotions (for example, you will be better able to respond to their behaviour, think clearly about the situation, take steps towards a better relationship where appropriate, and so on), but (often more importantly) it will benefit yourself, because you will no longer have the direct impact of those negative emotions on your physiology and the effect of them on how you interact with other people who may not have any involvement in the situation.
Doing this when you have quiet time and the ability to focus on and connect with God will help with appropriately responding to the emotions when they come up in the moment.
Repeatedly freeing yourself from the bondage of negative emotions leads to a kind of emotional freedom, and often this is characterized by a quiet joy in your day-to-day life. You are no longer controlled by these negative emotions (as much), and can choose a better way to respond and better things to focus on.