Pre-Covid, I attended a Meetup for Life Coaches at a coffee shop in Chicago and left my wallet at the counter when I paid for my drink. I didn’t notice my wallet was missing until five hours later, by which time I was back home.
I jumped in my car and called the coffee shop while driving there at breakneck speed (yes, without a driver’s license), hoping that somehow my wallet had been safely returned or might be lying on the floor, awaiting my retrieval. No such luck.
When I returned home, I logged onto my Visa card’s online account to find that someone had spent $3,000 at Target and Walgreen’s in the last few hours (note to self: next time check your Visa account before running around like a madwoman). This dashed all my hopes and spurred me to action: canceling cards, notifying my bank, rescheduling a meeting in order to go to the DMV, etc.
I was angry with myself: How stupid of me to leave my wallet lying there! My neglect had cost me a bunch of cash and created a lot of work for me.
While I knew I needed to forgive myself, and let go of the perfect standards I hold myself up to—I mean, this was the first time I’d lost my wallet in my 56 years on this earth—I couldn’t seem to let go of my anger at the wallet thief. I felt violated in many ways, imagining the thief with the wallet photos of my daughters and the laminated list of medications I’m on.
Anger serves us at times—for example, when it moves us forward, out of victim mode and into positive action. But when it’s futile anger that sits there, eating away at us, it’s the kind of anger that serves no purpose and keeps us stuck. How do we let go of that self-punishing anger?
At the time my wallet was stolen, I happened to be reading The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower–and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion, by psychotherapists Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. They describe five tools they’ve created, and road-tested with their clients, to help us deal with life’s challenges. One of them, called Active Love, is focused on controlling anger. So I thought, why not try it?
The instructions are as follows (“the other person” is the one you’re angry with):
- Concentration: Feel your heart expand to encompass the world of infinite love surrounding you. When your heart contracts back to normal size, it concentrates all the love inside your chest.
- Transmission: Send all the love from your chest to the other person, holding nothing back.
- Penetration: When the love enters the other person, don’t just watch, feel it enter; sense a oneness with him or her. Then relax, and you’ll feel all the energy you gave away returned toy you.
Now, I’m not a spiritual person and don’t usually go for “woo woo” exercises, but I am working to become more open, suspend my disbelief, and try new things. So I did my own version of this Active Love tool, where I chose to send positive hopes and wishes to the thief who stole my wallet.
I hoped that the purchases they had made with my cash and credit card had helped them buy some much-needed items for their family, some groceries and home goods that were sorely lacking. I visualized a less fortunate family enjoying a special meal thanks to the bounty of my wallet. I sent them forgiveness too.
And somehow, coming at it this way did help to release my anger. I was able to move on from unproductive, powerless feelings to a newfound calm. And while I’m well aware that the thief could be a punk who bought junk and had a good laugh at my expense, I choose, for my own well-being, to think otherwise.
So who knows? Maybe I’ll try the Active Love tool next time someone cuts me off on the highway! I mean, I’m sure they’ll have a good reason, like they’re rushing to the hospital with a woman who’s about to deliver a baby, right?
YOUR TURN: How do you deal with anger you can’t quite shake? What works for you?