How Do I Work with My Fear of Other People’s Anger?

You can’t stop people from being angry at you, advises Insight Meditation teacher Gina Sharpe, but you can change how it makes you feel.

Gina Sharpe
21 June 2019
Women standing in front of a tornado.
Photo by Jonathan Emmanuel Flores Tarello.

Question: Buddhists talk a lot about working with your own anger, but what about other people’s anger? One of my main problems in life is that I’m afraid people will get angry at me. That makes me vulnerable, lack strength, and fear conflict. I am easily hurt by anger, and that sometimes makes me act hurtfully myself. How do I work with this fear?

Answer: In saying that others’ anger “makes me vulnerable, lack strength, and fear conflict,” you are assuming that it is someone else’s mood, words, or acts that produce these effects in you. But if you look closely, you will recognize that your reactions to external experience actually derive from your internal thoughts and emotions, usually conditioned by past experience.

When someone with whom you are interacting becomes angry, that is out of your control. What is within your control is how you meet it. Despite feeling hurt, you can meet others’ anger with patience, kindness, and balance, rather than fear and retaliation. It is possible to transform conditioned reactions that do not serve you into unconditioned responsiveness.

This is easier said than done. Much of the work of Buddhist practice is to develop parami, the transcendent perfections. These are the qualities of the fearless buddhaheart/mind: generosity, ethics, renunciation, wisdom, courageous effort, truthfulness, patience, resolve, loving-kindness (the antidote to fear), and equanimity. Consistent and faithful practice leads to integrated development of these qualities, which progressively transforms reactivity into responsiveness.

Having developed the fearless heart, you will be surprised and delighted at its natural, intuitively harmless, wise, and compassionate response.

Gina Sharpe

Gina Sharpe

Gina Sharpe was born in Jamaica and immigrated to New York as a child. After successful careers in government, the motion picture industry, philanthropy, and law, she cofounded New York Insight Meditation Center in 1997, where she led its People of Color sangha and served as its guiding teacher until 2017. A member of the Teachers Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, she led, with Larry Yang, Lila Kate Wheeler, and Rachel Bagby, the most diverse dharma teacher training in Spirit Rock’s history, which was completed in September.