I am about to own up to something that I am sure no other human being will ever be able to relate to––I can get very angry, so angry that I sometimes want to throw a match and watch it all go up in flames. (Which I have never literally done so where is my gold star?)
Anger is this strange emotion that can flip the table and sucker punch any situation in the face. A nice calm discussion about iPhones vs Androids quickly turns into, “Yeah well your father is a whore!”
“No your father is a whore! And your dog is ugly, too! Yeah, I went there. Bring it!”
Read the comments section on any post or article that could have more than one side and just watch how quickly the conversation degrades. Where does this anger come from? How did things turn sour so quickly?
One cause of this, I have found, is that people love being right. Often people love being right so much that they would rather be right than do what is right. And by people, I mean me included. Want to know what one of my favorite things in the world to say is? “See! I was right!” (Don’t lie to yourself. You know this feels good. It feels even better if you do a little song and dance to accompany it.)
When someone, God forbid, proves someone else wrong or, gasp!, disagrees with them, hold on to your hats folks, things are about to get bat shit crazy up in here, especially if the disagreement happens on social media. You don’t have to look anyone in the eyes when you are saying these horrible things. You don’t have to worry about being kneed in the gut. You can just hide behind the safety of your device (which better be an Apple, because APPLE IS SUPERIOR IN ALL THINGS, DAMN IT!)
Honestly, though, anger can be caused by almost anything and can come out of anywhere. You could be sitting there eating your sandwich when a mosquito lands on you. ARGH! RAGE MONSTER! THOSE THINGS BELONG IN THE TENTH CIRCLE OF HELL! BEGONE SATAN! I SMITE THEE!
Anger is an understandable and valid emotion. However, when enraged, it might not be the best time to, I don’t know, head into rush hour traffic or post something to the masses on social media. Depending on how bad it is, it might not be a good time to be around people period. Yes, people, I am quarantining myself FOR YOUR OWN GOOD! YOU’RE WELCOME!
This isn’t always an option, though. Sometimes people back you into a corner and, before you know it, you are a rage puff of hissing, claws, and teeth. (Here is a tip, if someone is walking away from you out of anger––don’t follow them.)
So how do we manage? One thing I have been trying to do, with maybe a 50% success rate, is to not act when I am angry. Anger and reason rarely occupy the same space. It is better to read the email and go for a walk, rather than respond when your brain is boiling. Feel the anger in a safe space. Talk through your anger with someone you trust and who you are not currently mad at. Reason through your emotions. Does that person really need to be bitch-slapped? If yes, wait until you have reason back so you can do it with finesse.
What if you can’t walk away? First ask yourself if you can’t walk away or you just don’t want to––because, you know, the rage monster is in the driver’s seat now. Yeah, buddy!
Really, try it next time. Say, “I think I need to step away and come back to this later.” Shoot, even an “I’m out” while throwing up the deuces would suffice.
But what if you really can’t step away, like you are in a high-stakes meeting? Or what if the person you are trying to walk away from keeps following you (like I warned them not to)? What then? I try taking a few deep breaths. I start to sing “Here Comes the Sun” in my head. I try not to talk. If I have to talk, I focus on keeping my voice calm. I don’t engage. And if they push just past your breaking point? Well, you can no longer be held accountable for your actions. You tried. People didn’t respect your boundaries. Let the fur fly and fight your way out of there as fast as you can.
Ok, now you are in a safe place, either by quietly slipping away or fighting your way out. It is time to process the anger. What is this about? Why is this making me so angry? Is my anger hiding a more vulnerable emotion, like fear or sadness? What do I do next? Do I need to respectfully set some boundaries? Do I need more time to process? Do I need to talk it out or write it out?
Anger is not a fun emotion, at least for me. There are some people who have gladly and willingly built their house on the side of anger mountain and plan to go down with the ship via molten lava. I, on the other hand, avoid that mountain like the plague, sometimes to my own detriment. I have learned that you can suppress anger for a bit, but you can never entirely stop it. In suppressing, you are letting the anger grow stronger until you can’t hold it back anymore.
So I try my best to notice it, to feel it, and to address it. I use it as a tool to know myself better, to try to do better. I lean into the discomfort and anger of disagreement and being wrong. I try to self-reflect and ask tough questions. “And I wrong? Do they have a point?” It is a tough and bitter pill to swallow. But I truly believe that in order to better ourselves and the world, we need to take the plunge and admit where we are wrong, where experiences or opinions that are contradictory to our own have merit and truth.
Anger, also, requires self-care. You have to admit to yourself that you are hurting right now and this is how it is expressing. Even if you believe, after much analyzing and questioning, that you are right, is that the most important thing? Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Sometimes it does, sometimes it really is that important. But, most of the time, it is not.
So feel your anger. Use your anger as a tool. Just try not to set up camp in it. Sometimes it is as simple as letting it come, deciphering what you can, and then letting it pass so you can continue on with your journey.
“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”— Abraham Maslow