Anger is bad! Don’t lose your temper!
In our society, anger is a negative thing. We shouldn’t get angry. We should remain calm (and carry on).
Here’s the tricky thing – our anger is often valid! The problem arises in the way we control our anger. (Or rather, how we don’t control it.)
Have you ever slammed a door so hard, your palm still hurt the day after? I have.
The trouble is, we often don’t acknowledge the thing that is making us angry, until it’s too late. We are volcanoes, ever bubbling and brewing, until we can no longer ignore or suppress the fury within us, and we explode so ferociously we harm anything in our path.
We singe. We burn. We devastate.
But what makes a volcano erupt? It just does it naturally, right? Because it’s a volcano, and that’s what volcanoes do…
Just like we get angry, simply because we are angry. Right?
Not quite. We actually become angry because something triggers our anger.
I recall having a high school teacher who once told us, “Anger is never the first emotion you feel.”
There is always something else that comes first. Another emotion or feeling that sparks our anger.
For example, when a lover forgets an anniversary. We feel sad. Hurt. Then the anger comes.
Or when a child lies to a parent. As a parent, we feel hurt. Disrespected. Inadequate.
Why is my child lying? Am I failing as a parent? How come Junior doesn’t understand that lying is bad? (Frustration). Then comes the anger.
Or when someone cuts us off on the freeway. What do we feel first, as we slam on our brakes to avoid a collision? Fear. We’ve just nearly crashed into that other vehicle that cut in front of us!
Indignation. The unfairness of it all! What makes this jack-ass think he is more important that myself or anyone else on the road? Once the collision is avoided, that fear or indignation melts away and the anger sets in.
In the preceding 3 examples anger is valid. It’s justified. It’s a natural (even healthy) reaction.
How is it healthy? Well, our anger is proof that we feel something. We care. We are not simply floating along in a sea of apathy. (A bit more on that later…)
If a parent doesn’t care that their child lied to them, is that a healthy parent-child relationship? Probably not.
If the person on the road doesn’t value their own life enough to feel the fear of a near-collision when another driver cuts them off, does that person harbor a healthy self-esteem? It doesn’t appear so.
So it’s good that these things upset us! Because again, the issue here isn’t actually the anger we feel. It’s how we deal with it.
Are we in control of our anger? Or is our anger controlling us?
After we are cut off on the road and our temper flares, do we take a deep breath and try to settle our nerves as we continue on our commute? Or do we lash out, flashing our high-beams at the offender out of spite.
This is why it’s important to acknowledge what is making us angry. So we can address it before it erupts into an explosion so big, it causes harm to others, including ourselves.
Someone recently told me, “You get angry so fast.”
This surprised me to hear it. I’ve always known I have a temper, but I also feel that I have a very long fuse before said temper erupts. However, the more I reflect on it, I wonder – does that “long fuse” exist because it actually takes a lot to upset me? Or, does it just feel that way because I suppress the feelings that are bubbling up inside me?
And if it’s the latter – why do I suppress those feelings? Why would anyone? Particularly anyone who is attempting to live life mindfully?
I think the short answer may be – it’s a freaking tight rope!
We are up on this rope (of life?) trying to survive, as we slowly make our way across. And when it comes to anger (which is typically viewed as a negative thing), we don’t want those (presumably ugly) feelings to get the better of us! Perhaps because we feel we will be judged by others, or perhaps because we place the worst judgment on ourselves.
I shouldn’t get angry, we think.
“I practice yoga. I know pranayama. I (insert whatever mindful you do here) – So, I’d better not get angry!”
I must breathe, and walk the talk, and set an example for every other person trying to do the same, because god forbid I let it show that I don’t have everything under control!
We don’t want to feel angry because it makes us feel as though we are losing control or failing somehow. Like our feelings of anger are not valid. Like we should be able to just take a deep breath and let go of whatever may be ailing us. Like anger is something we should be ashamed of.
But it’s not.
I remember something else that old high school teacher said to us. (Looking back, he was a pretty sharp guy.)
He asked us what we thought the opposite of anger was. Most people in the class said happiness. He shook his head and told us we were wrong – “The opposite of anger is apathy.”
Apathy. Not caring. Lack of feeling.
Bringing us back again to the notion that anger is never the first emotion we feel. There’s always something else. Grief. Hurt. Despair. Melancholy. Frustration. Feelings of inadequacy.
It may not always be easy to pinpoint, but there is always something else there, triggering our anger.
These feelings, whether it’s an issue with ourselves or someone else, are what should be addressed and dealt with. Not the anger. The anger is just a symptom of the bigger issue.
The hard part is addressing those things, before they melt into a vat of lava deep within you, waiting to explode when a certain boiling point is reached.
It’s easier to suppress the fear, the hurt, whatever it is – rather than deal with it.
So tell someone when they’ve hurt your feelings! Tell a friend or a therapist that you feel scared and confused. Tell your partner that your frustration with (whatever annoying thing your partner does) has been growing, and it’s starting to make you feel batty.
More communication with the people in your life, but also with yourself! Acknowledge your feelings. Allow yourself to feel, instead of trying to ignore or numb the pain.
So how can we do this when we are up on that tightrope of life, struggling not to fall? What do we need as we walk that tightrope?
Another way of putting that? Just do the best you can.
You don’t need to be perfect.
You don’t need to be perfect.
People will disappoint you. They will frustrate you. They will hurt you.
Even people you love. In fact, these people will disappoint, frustrate and hurt you the most, because you love them. Because you care about them so damn much.
So when it happens, tell them how you feel.
Remember, it’s ok to feel angry! It’s normal and natural! Just keep in mind there is probably something deeper that is making you feel that way.
All of our feelings are valid, but when we don’t share them, they tend bubble and brew inside of us until the pressure is so great, it’s just a matter of time before an eruption occurs.
That’s when people get burned. People we love, and even ourselves.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: Wikimedia Commons