I used to wonder if part of me was simply born angry.
When others might have felt deeply saddened by an encounter with a bully, a harsh remark, a catastrophic event or a nasty end in a relationship, I quickly resorted to anger. Of course I’d feel sad, but it never took long before my tears turned to rage.
When I was a child, I’d cry to myself about those sad things, only to pull myself together to yell (and I mean really yell) things like “why would anyone do that?!” and “how can such a horrible thing happen and no one does anything about it?!” with all the passion in my tiny but way-too-sensitive heart. Perhaps my anger was a coping mechanism to cover up my vulnerable empathy in these situations. Or maybe I’ve just always been a fiery little thing.
Regardless, I quickly learned that these passionate outbursts were neither attractive nor acceptable from anyone—much less an otherwise cute and (somewhat) innocent little girl—and so they became 100 percent internalized. (You can imagine how that went over in my tiny but already way-too-sensitive heart.)
As I grew older, I became more acutely aware of just about everything—and so just about everything made me angry. On both personal and universal levels, noticing everything from the way people treated me to the way they treated others and the planet and animals and power and money and things like that, my rage grew with every observation. To be blunt, people really pissed me off.
But my anger stayed deep and quiet by the forceful hand of my self-control, at least for the most part; the only exceptions being the several breaking points at which I either turned to self-destructive behaviors or ruthless slips of sarcasm and other subtle but bitter remarks.
It wasn’t until I finally grew up—which I will admit was pretty recently—that I learned a thing or two about this barbaric anger inside me: that when people piss me off, there are better ways to handle my rage than with epic wars blowing up inside my brain and chest and throat.
But before I learned how to handle it, I first had to learn that anger is indeed a real and evidently powerful emotion. I had to understand that it’s healthy to feel angry—just as it’s healthy to feel sad and happy and fearful and brave and whatever else we can feel—but that it’s not healthy when it goes unexpressed, which I had already figured out the hard way more times than I care to admit.
Once I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t a total b*tch for being so angry (even though being angry kind of made me a total b*tch because of how poorly I expressed it), I realized how ineffective anger was in dealing with whatever made me angry in the first place. The people who pissed me off never changed as a result of my anger, and to think that they would was a childish and self-centered idea.
Who was I put myself on a pedestal and preach (albeit only in my head) to these people about being conscious instead of egotistical (ironic, I know), giving instead of greedy, honest instead of filthy with lies or kind instead of downright foul? Who was I to try to change them?
Sure, anger is an excellent impetus for change, however, it’s not the change itself. And once I realized that the people who pissed me off weren’t going to change on behalf of my internal rage with their actions, I realized that I was the one who had to change. I had to reconsider and reboot this precious little gem called perspective—the slant from which I interpreted these people who pissed me off so much.
That process began and ended with one simple question: How are these people any different from me?
Every single one of us is human, and so we’re all more or less alike in our biological tendencies rooted in progress in the face of obstacles—our commonalities under this human condition. And because of this condition, we are unavoidably subject to our experiences; no one and nothing exists in isolation as we’re all affected by everything with which we come into contact, for better and for worse. And though our individuality makes it so that each of us interprets our experiences to manifest in uniquely tailored ways, the purposes behind those interpretations and manifestations all come down to survival. To working with the circumstances and pressing onward, even if “pressing onward” doesn’t manifest in the most beneficial way.
Sometimes “pressing onward” results in deeply embedded coping mechanisms such as self-abuse or drug addictions or eating disorders or a repeated attraction to the wrong people.
And sometimes those deeply embedded coping mechanisms look more like bullying or committing crimes or overbearing parenting or lusting after power and money and being an a**hole in the process.
And if these people in the latter category are the ones who piss me off, how are their coping mechanisms any better than my own? Than anyone’s?
They’re not. We’re one and the same, doing whatever we subconsciously decided we would do to survive our experiences and press onward.
“And in the end, I think, we’re all just trying to survive, aren’t we?”
~ Janice Y.K. Lee, The Piano Teacher
So after mulling that one over for quite some time, I’ve realized that there will always be people who piss me off, but I’ve finally figured out what to do when that happens (because suppressing anger is a really bad idea).
I’ve learned that when people piss me off, there’s no use in staying pissed off at them for more than about a minute. There is, however, a world of good in shifting my perspective to one of compassion, and it goes something like this:
“You piss me off. What you’re doing (obsessing over yourself/committing crimes and acts of hatred/bullying/hurting people/complaining about nothing/seeking power for no real reason/etc.) makes me angry and my insides are screaming at you for it. However, I understand that you are this way and you do this for a reason—perhaps for the same reasons I am the way I am and I do the things I do. We’re different, and so we react to those reasons differently; but we’re the same in that we’re just trying to press onward from wherever it was that something went wrong.”
This monologue only occurs in my head, of course, but I like to think that its impact extends far beyond that tiny space. And although it seems more accepting than empowering, it’s actually quite the contrary; from here, I can effectively help and therefore change others by reaching out of compassionate understanding rather than raging anger. I can’t help in healing a person’s wound by beating it further, and in acting out of anger, that’s exactly what I’d be doing. Acting out of understanding of how this person might have become the “adjusted being” he or she is—the one that had pissed me off just moments before—addresses the actual cut (the initial hurt) instead of only seeing the scab (the coping/adjusting manifested as anger).
This doesn’t guarantee that they’ll welcome my “help.” My hope is only that they hear through my actions what they’ve likely never heard before: “I see you for who you really are, not this monster you think you have to be. I see you because we’re the same.” *cough cough* Namaste, anyone? *cough*
It seems simple, but the compassion it takes to turn anger or any emotion for that matter into a perspective of understanding is the single most healing thing I’ve ever done for myself, because if I can see even the people who piss me off in that forgiving light, maybe I can see my faults and shortcomings in the same way. Maybe I can forgive myself for having coped the way I’ve coped, and maybe that’s when things become okay. And then better. And then amazing.
And even more remarkable than that, it seems now that I know what to do when people piss me off, I’m not so angry anymore.
Author: Sara Rodriguez
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Bailey Weaver/Flickr