Too be honest, do you like anyone when they are angry? Maybe Lewis Black makes it work for him, but you know it’s all an act. The title of angriest writer in the world was once hurled at Jonathan Franzen for his writing, a reputation he laments in the introduction to How to be Alone; “I’d managed to forget that I used to be a very angry and theory-minded person. I used to consider it apocalyptically worrisome that Americans watch a lot of TV and don’t read much Henry James.” The same rage could be directed at Tik-Tok today. Regardless of how justifiable or charming we think our anger is, we often do not realize we have a choice in how we render this emotion.
I used to take comfort in my anger, and rage seemed empowering and masculine. The masculinity of anger in our culture alone is difficult to shake. The inability to control my life lead me to lash out. When my daughter cannot figure out how to perform some physical task she growls and screams and attempts to make it happen anyway by shear willpower. I’ve seen the same hilarious scene play out in fully grown men, present company included. I can quietly laugh about it when my two year old throws a tantrum, but it’s terrifying when it’s me throwing the tantrum.
I have always been an angry person. I took anger management in my early 20’s. I attended a Buddhist temple for a while to learn how to meditate. I thought in my late 30’s I had left that anger behind me. But a few years back I blew up in anger when I was trying to quit smoking and realized almost every time I could remember being angry was the result of not getting something I wanted; in that particular instance it was a cigarette. What is said to be true of fear seems to be true of anger:
“the chief activator of our [anger] has been self-centered fear. Mainly fear that we would lose something we already possessed or that we would fail to get something we demanded. Living on the basis of unsatisfied demands, we obviously were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, we are taught, there will be no peace unless we are able to reduce these demands.”Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Anger is as much about control as it is about being selfish. If I can’t have what I want then no one will!! Misery loves company. If it is true that turning our anger on other’s causes them to be angry, perhaps further unleashing their anger on yet more people; realize how miserable it is to be angry at yourself!? The frustration my two year old feels when she can’t move an immovable object is the same anger I experience when I feel that I have failed at something. How do I break this cycle of violence within myself?
For the past year anger and self loathing have been a theme bubbling back up in my life. I feel like a failure. I lost my job. I can barely support my family. I don’t see myself as the super awesome dad I set out to be!! I watched two older movies I thought might make for a good future blog post about dad movies [My Life – a movie about an angry dad whose anger gives him cancer; Falling Down – a movie about an angry dad whose anger leads to suicide by cop] and realized I was settling back into my old angry ways. These movies are cautionary tales about becoming exactly the kind of man (and dad, and husband) that I never want to become.
You won’t like me when I’m angry. I know I don’t.
So I had to go back and start looking for the tools that helped me to overcome anger in the past. Meditation practice works best if you practice it. I haven’t meditated in about three years and found that the day I became angry enough to know I needed to, I was too furious to sit still. Once I calmed down enough to see the world was not, in fact, coming to an end, but that life is just more difficult than I hoped it would be I was able to take baby steps back into adulthood.
Anger is such a waste of energy, and a destructive expenditure at that. If you could pause that anger and channel that energy into something constructive think about how much you could do to improve your life? It was that moment of hopelessness that reminded me that as I am hitting bottom I need to bounce or else go splat!!
I happen to enjoy learning to manage anger through ‘eastern’ philosophies and spirituality, but you may find the the practice of forgiveness in Christianity is just as effective. Forgive others as you would ask them to forgive you and as you would forgive yourself.
I am currently listening to the audio book version of The Cow in the Parking Lot by Leonard Scheff while driving to remind myself not to be angry while driving. I already know how to do this, but I forget. I drive like a dick when I start feeling sorry for myself. I’m just a jerk in general when I feel sorry for myself. And that may be the difficulty that many people deal with. By taking a moment to step back and act with empathy rather than reacting with anger breaks that cycle of violence, both internal and external.
I’ll close with this; as anxiety increases empathy decreases. The more we focus on our problems the less we are able to see the difficulties our fellow humans face. So it follows, and I have found it to be true in my life, that as empathy increases anxiety decreases. When I make it a focus of my life to help other people, no matter what I am dealing with, it is always easier to deal with when I am able to help someone else.
The strongest people make time to help others, even if they are struggling with their own problems. What could be more manly than that?