We all experience having a short fuse at times, though some seem to have this more often. What’s really going on; and can two simple methods make a difference?
Thoughts that motivated my recent article, “Do You Experience Mixed Feelings About Being Patient and Tolerant?” didn’t stop when I typed the last word. I’d likened getting to the end of your patience or tolerance to a glass filling with liquid until it spills over. It’s the same with losing—or loosing—your temper.
My thoughts about why some people seem to have shorter “fuses” or what makes ours shorten at times brought to mind that same glass and what must be going on inside it: It either never really empties of negative emotions about many or particular matters, which means a lot of frustration and anger stays in that container—like a larger amount of aged oil under a smaller amount of new water—or maybe it fills up a bit more quickly than we might prefer.
The words temper and temperance nudged me to look up their definitions. I knew that temper meant to modify into proper proportions, which includes feelings, thoughts, words, and actions. My dictionary also mentions to make suitable, desirable, or free from excess by mingling with something else; to moderate, mollify; to fit, adapt; calmness of mind; composure. Temperance is defined as self-restraint in conduct, expression, indulgences; moderation.
Based on these definitions, we are or appear to be in a state of even temper or temperance, until someone does something or something happens that triggers us to think a certain way and attach a personal interpretation or meaning to it that throws us off balance. Our initial thoughts and the ones that follow cause us to lose our composure or self-restraint.
Ah… and there’s a good question to keep in mind: are you more often in a state of composure or one of self-restraint? You can see which of the two would lead to living with a shorter fuse.
It’s likely that deeply angry, frustrated people exist with as much self-restraint as they can muster instead of feeling composed more of the time. So, it makes sense that their ability to stay composed might be hampered at times, which happens to all of us at one time or another. Add anything else into their “mix,” and they can easily short-circuit because they work harder than anyone imagines to maintain self-restraint. If you’ve ever struggled to maintain temper or practiced self-restraint, you understand.
Whether from a psychological or spiritual perspective, short fuse or short-circuit demonstrates a need for a different power operating in your life than you’re using in that moment, and possibly the rest of the time. This power is an inner one—expanded conscious awareness, not will power, which is a self-imposed trap that puts our attention on what we judge as wrong with us. This power is one of head and heart alignment, which allows you to BE in accord with your Best Self and with the fact there is always a bigger-picture dynamic going on, not just the dynamic you identify with.
When we lose our temper, we are doubly frustrated because we identify with the painful fear that envelops us: we fear the loss of something or something more. Think of the last time you felt angry. What did you fear you might lose or felt you had lost? If your answer is, “I don’t know,” here’s my next question: if you DID know, what might it be? This is a great question because it causes your mind to seek, find, and provide the true answer. Once you know that, you can find a way to address the fear and your anger, if you choose to.
Everyone gets angry. It’s a normal human emotion, and a bit like the story, Goldilocks: too much, too little, just right. Severe anger or a consistently short fuse may need management, whether this is addressed by a therapist or counselor, a coach, or a well-written book on the topic.
When you feel angry, it’s important to take up to five slow, deep breaths. This isn’t as lame as it may sound, if you’ve never tried it. Try it now. It will relax you, at least some. When tense, your breath gets shallow; your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen to help you think clearly. It’s easier to temper strained emotions, or choose to, if you can think straight.
Also, every day write down or think about at least five things you appreciate and are thankful for. This IS important, especially if your thoughts stay focused on the “oil” more than the “water.” Even better is to really FEEL your appreciation for whatever you list. Add genuine appreciation thoughts and feelings to your container each day to push out some of the bad energy—displace some of that old oil with fresh, energizing water.
I recall waiting for the express train at Penn Station in Manhattan. All around me were people of different races, cultures, and beliefs. Even though some demonstrated loss of temper, I was awed that we all got along as well as we did in the city—because we made an effort to do so—because there was more to gain and too much to lose if we didn’t make the effort.
My point is to ask you to address loss of temper as needed, and place your focus on how well you actually do, for the most part, and expand this. For example, you know how someone might take a test and get 95 out of 100, but focuses on the fact 5 were missed? We tend to be like that at times: we focus on what’s not working, as though it’s the only truth, and forget to notice and appreciate the percentage that is working, all things considered.
Based on what you’ve read here, what will you appreciate more about you and your life this week?
Practice makes progress.