Frustration, impatience, gripping, squeezing tension; feeling as if you might explode with rage. Does that sound familiar? Welcome to the club. Anger is within the normal range of human emotions. Evolution has given us the emotion of anger to help us overcome danger, to help us get what we need to survive. Anger is not bad in and of itself; it is just an emotion which, just like any other emotion, can be either useful or harmful. In our day to day dealings it is often harmful.
You reader, like me, probably live in a society in which you are not fighting for your life. However, I believe that in certain situations anger is justified, particularly in the defence of others unable to defend themselves. Other examples might include: when a population can no longer stand the corruption of its greedy ruling class; horrific inequality, or its brutal police force. It is often collective anger that finally brings about change. Unchecked anger is useless and destructive but anger can also be usefully channelled to bring about change in the face of injustice.
I want to talk about the kind of day to day anger, the sort that makes us and others unhappy. Anger can be so very harmful. Given the power of anger, it is important that we understand it, rather than become its victim.
To live with chronic anger is to live in a self-imposed hell. I can think of few curses more horrible than: “May you be angry your entire life”.
- Anger is a secondary emotion; it is a response to fear, or pain (emotional or physical). The question here is, can you dig deeper into yourself, can you be honest with yourself about what you are really feeling? Can you look at your underlying feelings with a sense of kindness to yourself? Doing this can often lead to understanding acceptance and liberation from the underlying emotion.
- The quality of our lives depends upon the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. When we are angry the story goes round and round in our heads, like an out of control truck, barrelling down a hill smashing into everything. OK so they hurt you; they didn’t behave as you thought they should. Shit happens. How long are you going to hang onto this? So what can you do? Let go of your story. Stop feeding the narrative. Don’t take it personally. (Everyone has their own story, battle and suffering; an asshole is usually an asshole to everyone, not just you.) Take responsibility for your emotions. (When you blame your anger on others, then you have no power to change.) Change the story. Make yourself the hero rather than the victim.
- The ego and an inflated sense of self-importance gives rise to suffering. The ego hates being wrong and will often sacrifice happiness to be right over the most inconsequential things. Mindfully observe this tendency. What are the implications of this attitude? Is it really coherent with my values? Is it helping me or others? Exploring this need to be right can lead to a deeper understanding, which in turn gives rise to less suffering and an increased experience of happiness.
- Anger causes separation; it pushes people away, causes them to shut down or fight back. Remember, only you can be responsible for your feelings; anger is never the fault of the other. It can be difficult to live up to this idea and you will sometimes fail, but by accepting responsibility and exploring the emotions and situation that triggered it with a sense of kindness to yourself, you can open the door to useful change.
When you are angry, the anger taints everything, especially unexplored or supressed anger, leading to destructive traits such as passive aggression. It dulls your experience of life.
Remember, the arising of anger is not always the problem, much more important is how you relate to your anger once it arises. If you allow the feelings of anger to create a story which in turn creates more angry feeling and more angry thoughts, then you become a slave to anger. You become anger.
However, if you adopt the attitude of: “May everything be my teacher” with an attitude of mindful kindness to yourself, then anger becomes an opportunity to better know yourself on the path of self-realisation.
I would love to hear your views and experience of dealing with anger in your life.