“Don’t make me angry…You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”
~ David Banner
Inside me is a little tiny child who is scared to death of being invalidated or made to look stupid.
Growing up, this happened often in the form of being ridiculed, bullied, made fun of, and treated as less than. This treatment happened on many fronts. To say that I was an energetic child and teenager would only speak to my great gift of understatement. For adults, this made me challenging and it was very clear that most were uncomfortable being around me. For my peers, this made me someone to pick on. I’ve always been proficient in being able to describe my emotions. Conversely, however, I’ve always struggled to understand how my behavior may affect others.
I was raised believing I was broken and that there was something wrong with me. I was diagnosed with ADD before it was popular. Other children used to schedule their recess around making fun of me and picking on me. I was in fights often. The vision that comes to mind the most was when I was in a classroom, around 10 years old.
The teacher wasn’t in the room yet and one of my fellow students asked me very loudly, “Do you have any friends?” I looked around the room and realized that not a single person in that room liked me or found any value in who I was. They were all pointing their fingers at me and laughing when she asked that. Sounds like a bad dream or a cheesy “One to Grow On” moment, right?
In high school, I was treated like a mascot. When I wasn’t being shoved into lockers or made fun of, there were people with whom I felt “allowed” to hang around, but I always felt like there was some kind of underlying joke of which I was never a part. No one ever really wanted to listen to or know much about me. I was a joke in their eyes, and even through all of my rationalizations, I could still feel it.
I think it’s abundantly obvious that I was not a calm child or young adult. I had difficulty sitting still and I struggled with my interactions. Often, my perception of events around me was skewed and I had trouble interpreting others’ actions toward me. In my memory, I tried to reach out to connect with others, but I think my emotional language was untranslatable to those around me, or they didn’t care enough to understand what I was trying to say. Honestly, I’ll never know, and trying to recapitulate the “I said, they said” aspect of it would probably do more harm than good.
“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side”
~ Darth Vader
I identified with my anger from a very early age. Going to that dark place inside me was the only place I felt I could go to where I couldn’t be harmed. And it was the place I went to when I wanted to go on offense and lash out at the world. It’s the place I went to when I abused my body with drugs. It’s the place that I went to when I would eat large deep dish pizzas in one sitting. It’s the place that I went to whenever someone called me stupid, told me I was nothing, or informed me that I was a fat ass, loser, misfit or all of the above. I went to that place a lot.
Anger created the illusion of space for me. It pushed people away and it made me scary, and made me into what I perceived as “a force to be reckoned with.” Looking back on that makes me sad and it causes me pain to put it in writing.
The hallucination of glorified anger is much the same as a hallucinogenic drug trip. If you’ve never done ecstasy before, let me tell you a little bit about how “e” works. The potent ingredient in ecstasy is Methyldioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). With ecstasy, when you take it, your whole superficial consciousness is overcome with this feeling of euphoria and your body becomes so sensitive that you just want to touch people and you want them to touch you.
One of the glorious side effects of “e” is a very dry mouth and a need to clench your teeth together. This “jaw jacking” effect is tempered with lollipops or hard candy so that one can enjoy the body-sensitive effects that this drug offers. One of the other side effects of this drug is an insatiable thirst. I remember drinking enough water to drown myself one of the times I was under this influence (it’s actually possible). It must be really attractive to watch someone under this influence lasciviously sucking on a lollipop or chugging water as though arriving from having been stranded in the desert.
The perception of the Self, while under the influence of “e,” is that of a sensual, beautiful being that desires and is desired by others. What’s really happening is a slurring of speech, someone who can’t stop clenching their jaw without a lollipop in their mouth, in some cases gratuitous sweating (as with yours truly) and an inability to understand that those not under the influence may not want you in their space and will most likely find you kind of gross and disgusting in that moment.
This hallucination of perception duped me into thinking that I felt good about myself as long as I had access to this or other hallucinogenic drugs. Life was grand on the trip, and life was a barren, angry wasteland in sobriety. My vacation from anger was a hallucination that when I arrived back from it, due to the depleted amounts of serotonin in my brain and being replete with denial, just made me angrier.
When we give anger a voice and life, we perceive it as this “powerful” demon that people are afraid of and enables one to enforce blind will in the form of rage. However, what’s really happening is an expression of emotional impotence that prevents us from exploring what caused the anger in the first place and the best way to resolve the issue and relieve the emotional pain.
Having said that, anger is a lot trickier than its most obvious form of outward rage. Because many of us treat anger as a survival instinct, we create ways for it to survive even while we evolve other parts of our emotional psyche. One of the ways in which I have allowed my anger to fester and survive is by glorifying it when discussing it with my friends. I’ve been known to make statements such as:
“I’m a really nice person, but if you make me angry, watch out!!”
“I got so pissed off that everyone just took a step back!”
“She thought she was so powerful until I just hauled off on her!”
“I am not someone you want to cross. I never forget!”
Statements like the above are anecdotal and seemingly innocuous when being bandied about because it presents hypothetical situations with a very simple solution: Don’t piss me off. Avoid all action that will piss me off. Don’t screw with me. Screw with me and you will make me powerful and suffer the consequences.
One of the biggest glorifications of anger that exists in common pop culture is the story of The Incredible Hulk. For those of you out there who are not comic book geeks like me, The Incredible Hulk is the story of a scientist who, after being accidentally infused with Gamma Rays, turns into this big green monster if he is made angry. The nuance of the story of the Hulk is that there is actually an incredibly sensitive man underneath, even when he is in his monstrous form. When he is angry and in the form of the big green monster, the Hulk is essentially unstoppable. What makes him an attractive monster is that he only goes after those who hurt him or who hurt innocent people. In fact, in the Secret Wars series (Circa 1984) the Cover of Issue No. 4 shows a picture of a very pissed off Hulk holding up an entire mountain to keep it from crushing all of the other superheroes with whom he is trying to save the Universe. The cover of the comic reads:
“Beneath one hundred and fifty billion tons, stands the hulk – And he’s not happy!”
Wow! The first thing I think when I look at this cover is, “Man, whoever is responsible for putting the Hulk there is going to pay!” I mean, really! I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that guy’s anger!
And then a part of me wants to emulate some of that in myself. I want people to be so afraid of my anger that they’ll never want to piss me off. Sure, I can take a little ribbing as much as the next guy, but if you cross that line…watch out!
I have had moments of clarity in my existence, and although those moments have been few and far between, I’ve come to the realization that there is something beneath my anger, something my anger is masking. In one of my better moments, I realized that this “something” was fear. Whenever I am afraid of being attacked, in any forum, I resort to anger to try to ward off whatever “evil” is coming my way…I am trying to be like the Hulk.
And then it hits me…The Incredible Hulk is a fictional character whose superpowers are based on unsubstantiated science that is not only unproven, but also unrealistic (Note: for all of you fellow comic book nerds out there, I understand the evolution of the Hulk and that his character evolves in intelligence significantly more than what I am illustrating in this article, but it’s just the anger part and the Hulk’s early evolution that I am describing here). I don’t want to embrace the Hulk’s anger and turn into a big green monster. I want to start dealing with my fear so that I don’t get so f*cking angry all the time!
“…Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”
And the new pattern begins: I start down the road of examining my anger, looking into it and delving into the fear that’s underneath it. It’s always a hard and sadly familiar process. I’ve been down this road before. I’ve had this revelation before. But if I’m back here again it means that I fell back into anger and rationalization of my anger, which means that I am right back where I started. But anyway, as I start to examine the fear, my interactions with people start to get better. I become more patient when I’m driving. I stop letting other peoples’ moods dictate my feelings. Things start to go well.
And then it happens…
It usually goes something like this: I’m at a cocktail party, having a very engrossing conversation with someone, and somehow the subject of being taken advantage of comes up, and the Samskara of anger overlaps my path of healing like a viscous coat of paint. I make the statement, “I hear you! I’m the nicest guy in the world, but if you f*ck with me, I’ll destroy you! I have a vicious temper!” And as quickly as you can spill your drink, I’m back to glorifying and embracing my anger again.
I guess that means I have a lot of fear. I guess that means I have a lot to work on. But what it really means is that every time I glorify my anger and give it a life of its own, I am actually stepping backwards in my own process of trying to heal myself from my own negativity and I am putting up roadblocks to clarity in my consciousness. All in the name of making sure that you know not to make me angry, which is my veiled way of telling you that I am afraid to let you come closer.
So why am I telling you all of this? Why am I writing this? Because I don’t want to be angry anymore. I don’t want to go back to that place where I make my anger sound desirable, where I am trying to emulate a comic book superhero that–in all psychological terms– represents emotional and spiritual destruction to mortals like myself. I am also hoping that this reaches all of the other angry people in the world who think they are basking in the glory of their bad tempers when, in actuality, they are pushing away potential friendships, relationships and warding off opportunities for happiness. I’m writing this because I want to break the samskara. I want to face my fears. I want to let the right people in.
I want to create a new beginning.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.