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How compassion helps you to let go of anger

vector image showing 2 people being kind

If someone has upset you or wronged you somehow, showing kindness and compassion toward them can help you let it go.

Showing compassion can initially feel wrong. When annoyed with someone else, most people do not automatically want to be kind to the person who has hurt them. But unless you want to carry the anger around with you long after the event, showing compassion helps you to let it go.

If you’ve been in session with me, you’ve probably heard this before, but I like to repeat it, as it happened to me. I was driving to work, and someone was coming toward me on a motorbike. I stopped long before the ‘lolly pop’ lady was going to come up to help children across the road. This (or something else) upset the man riding the motorbike as he slowed down, and leaned in my driver’s window to flip me the bird (that was the politeness phrase I could find on the internet for that!)

My heart started to pound; I was surprised and slightly annoyed, which I thought was fair enough. Now here are the scenarios.

Scenario 1

I could get angry and react to that anger by getting out of my car, but he had already gone. I could have been sore all the way to work. There would be no end to what I could with it in my head.

  • How dare he?
  • What did I do to him? 

I could have been upset and spoken about it over dinner when I returned and got angry again.

You can read more on anger here.

Scenario 2

Let it go. How? Compassion. For many people, when psychologists start talking about compassion, I think this gets interpreted as 1970s sandal-wearing flower power, so let me explain it; you might find it helpful.

Complete self-help course for Anger

Based on Dr Ryan’s private practice

Compassion for the man who was rude to me

Maybe he was having a bad day. Before you say he had no right to do that to me, bad day or no lousy day, I agree, but it doesn’t help me move on.

Suppose you were in the car with me, and we got into that debate. In that case, we keep the horrible incident alive when it’s more helpful to let it go as quickly as possible.

Compassion helps you to let things go. Compassion for the other person, and yourself

Maybe he has problems with anger; perhaps he wasn’t taught the things that you or I were taught when we were younger. Whatever the reasons, if I show a bit of compassion towards him, the following happens to me

  • It becomes less personal
  • I am not angry, and
  • I move on

How to show compassion to others

Respond, not react

The key is to respond to situations as opposed to reacting. When we react, we do things without thinking or weighing up the consequences. When we respond, we stand back a bit from the situation and can choose the most helpful thing to do.

Returning to the guy on the motorbike, if I reacted, that would be anger. In this instance, it is helpful to think of reacting as an immediate emotional reaction.

To respond, I have to take a step back, not just react to my emotions, but stand back and think about what I need to do to be effective in this situation. Basically, rather than the immediate reaction, I choose what to do next and what will be most helpful.

How to show kindness and compassion toward yourself

For the sake of the example, let’s say I didn’t respond the way I did. I shouted and swore out the car window and was upset with myself later.

Now I am not sure how you do ‘upset with yourself, but I generally go something like this;

I play it over and over again in my head. I feel the emotion again. I call myself names inside my head or out loud if I tell someone about it. Thanks to how my mind works, this feeling of, now shame, triggers other scenarios in my mind, and I can bring them back to life again in my head.

None of this is helpful, and it will stop when you start to become compassionate with yourself.


Remind yourself you did the best you could. Think of it this way. If I told you about the guy on the motorbike and then told you how annoyed I was with myself for being upset, would you agree and tell me, “you’re right, Elaine; you should be ashamed of yourself for getting angry.” No. Well, why would you do it to yourself?

If you would not do it to me, I shall assume that it’s because you can show compassion and kindness towards me.

Isn’t it about time that you tried to show some of that compassion and kindness toward yourself?

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Complete self-help course for Anger

Based on Dr Ryan’s private practice

Article information: All articles written by Dr Elaine Ryan

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