We think of anger as such a negative emotion.
After all, we know the physical repercussions of that “fight” part of the fight-or flight syndrome: Raised blood pressure from the surge of stress hormones, which do all sorts of rotten things to our bodies.
So we know the downside, and why learning to manage anger becomes more imperative as the decades roll by. None of us has the energy to waste, or the heart to take all those surges of cortisol, etc.
And especially in this age of more awareness on mental health, and with the growing industry of new-thought and spirituality, being seen as “angry” is a pretty big put down. One that then causes guilt and shame, which spur on more anger.
Quite the vicious cycle.
Buddhism actually lists anger as one of the three poisons—the other two are greed and ignorance.
But anger is actually a normal reaction to stressful events. That “fight or flight” response didn’t come out of nowhere. It developed to keep us safe, to either help us to flee a situation, or muster the energy to fight our way out.
Because anger is very energizing. Just remember the last time you were really mad. Man, you coulda knocked that guy into next week! Didn’t you just feel something zinging through your system? Heart rate raised, even if just a hair?
Yep, pesky little emotion to get rid of!
The great thing about that energy, however, is that we can then use it to unravel the knotty causes of it. And while we might feel justified in our anger, unless we really get to the bottom of it, the emotion will own us, rather than provide the energy to help us out of the scrape.
All psychologists (and spiritual gurus too) say that anger is a covering emotion. I.e., that it’s a cover for a deeper one—for hurt, for frustration, or for that old demon fear. Perhaps for all three.
So the key is to unravel the emotions, and see what’s driving your anger.
֎ First off, what is the anger covering? What, underneath that, are you really feeling? A great tool is to state your feeling, taking the word anger out of it. For example, rather than:
“I am mad he cut me off in traffic!” Becomes, “I am frustrated I might not get to work on time.”
֎ Once you’ve identified the true emotion, then identify the true source of it. Not the easiest thing to sift through! But who or what is the real source of it? For example:
“That guy’s a jerk for cutting me off!” Well, you don’t know if he is or not. He might not even have known you were there. Which becomes:
“I’m really angry at myself for leaving the house ten minutes late—again.”
Which doesn’t mean the guy’s not a real jerk, but does mean the only actions you can control are your own, so the responsibility goes straight back into your court.
֎ Third, and this is where it gets pretty tricky, figure out the unfulfilled need that keeps feeding the anger.
Not much fun. But if an unfulfilled need didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be angry in the first place.
Perhaps you need to forgive yourself for constantly leaving for work late. Perhaps there’s a reason you do it—such as not wanting to go to work for a variety of reasons. Maybe you need to forgive others as well. Perhaps you don’t feel validated or appreciated at work.
It’s like the old story of the man whose boss yelled at him, who goes home and yells at his wife, and she turns around and yells at the kids, who then kick the dog. Dog will at some point bite something (hopefully the fence rather than the kid), but one way or another, the cycle continues. The origin was the man’s relationship with his boss, which is skewed for . . . well, that’s what has to be figured out in the first place.
֎ Then identify what you can constructively do about it.
Again, you first have to investigate your side of the street. Perhaps you haven’t been giving 100 % at work in the first place. Which resulted in all those dings from your boss. Or, perhaps your boss is unreasonable. (Often it’s a combination of both, no matter the circumstances.) But dig down to the bones and get to what’s really going on in the situation. Forgiveness work is usually required at this point as well—whether forgiving yourself, someone else, or both.
֎ Finally, take action. Life always comes down to this, no? But the best way to release anger is pretty much always to move it out of your system. Which means you have to do something about it.
Perhaps that means talking with your boss—as uncomfortable as that may feel. Perhaps it’s acknowledging to him as well that you know you’ve been remiss in places, but feel your work isn’t being appreciated.
No matter what the specific step is, there will be one. Take it.
That’s what puts you back in the driver’s seat, and then you can reclaim your life and move forward.
As Aristotle said:
“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
How do you resolve your anger?