You're probably familiar with the adage, "The secret to a happy marriage is to never go to bed angry." I've been thinking about this a lot while watching election coverage. I hear reporters say repeatedly that voters are voting out of anger. This has made me think about the election not just as someone who votes, but also as an anger management therapist.
Since I've spent my career treating people who let anger rule their life, I thought I'd weigh in on why voting angry isn't the best idea.
There are many benefits to anger. When you listen to your anger, you can learn a lot about what's important to you. Pay attention to which current events make your blood boil because those are the ones that are most important to you. You should focus on these issues when picking a candidate.
Another benefit of anger is that it can give you energy. If you're angered by the disenfranchisement of a certain group of voters, use that energy to participate in a drive to sign up new voters who have been left out of the process. These positives of anger don't, however, make me endorse the idea that we should vote angry.
Think about the last time you got very angry. Was what you said or did after you felt angry helpful? Or, did it make things worse? When something really pisses us off, it can be hard to think clearly and to make wise, thought out decisions. We're all guilty of this. But what feels good in the moment when we're angry can have lasting consequences. Yelling at your partner in the middle of a heated argument can feel great when you do it, but those words can't be unsaid. An hour later when you've cooled off and it's time for bed, you may be faced with a partner who wants nothing to do with you and a finger pointing you to the couch.
Lately I've heard a lot about "protest" votes. The idea that people are voting to send a message to Washington, the media, whomever, that they're angry.
I imagine voters walking into voting booths and ticking the box that they think sends the loudest message. It's like the couple yelling at each other. You say the thing that feels the most cathartic or that you know will piss off the other person the most. But unlike when you yell at your partner, you can't apologize and take back your vote the next day—or ever.
So I implore you, please don't vote purely out of anger.
To help you to think more clearly before heading into the voting booth, try this exercise:
1. Find fifteen minutes when you can sit alone with just your thoughts. If it's in the bus or subway, that's fine. If you're driving to the polls, do it when you're parked before heading into your polling place.
2. Take some deep breaths and quiet yourself. Close your eyes. Imagine a snow globe settling, it's flurry of white flakes whirling around, then slowing down, and finally coming to rest at the bottom. Inhale to the count of three: one… two… three. Quietly bring yourself into the now, letting go of any judgments.
3. While continuing your relaxed breathing, think about the current events that are angering you. Keep breathing slowly. Think of yourself as a witness to your anger.
Tell yourself that feelings naturally have a beginning, middle, and an end. Realize that unless you learn to allow yourself to experience and then let go of your angry feelings, you'll continue to be reactive instead of responsive, and your feelings will be in control. The child part of you will be in the driver's seat instead of your adult self.
4. Keep breathing and, for a few moments, think of an optimal way of responding to the current events that are making you angry. Not the way that will make you feel a release of anger the fastest, but the way that will most effectively steer the country in the direction you think it should go.
Remember: Never go to bed angry. Never vote angry. And every vote counts.