Some days, we try to justify our momentary rage by finding the faults in others; other days, we believe that being angry should be permittable or even encouraged at the personal level. In fact, many people around us are convinced that the only way to control anger is to express our feelings in an assertive but non-aggressive way (simply to show we are annoyed). As you can see, anger is a complicated matter. It seems simple, yes, but deep down it lives its own life.
Many philosophers and writers saw anger as an entirely negative, unmerited emotion. An excess that can not only create a dangerous situation but also make the person displaying anger an easy target for their opponent.
Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. Aristotle
But can anger ever be a positive force? Let’s look at what we mean by ‘anger.’ Aristotle defined it as “a longing, accompanied by pain, for a real and apparent revenge for a real or apparent slight, affecting a man himself or one of his friends, when such a slight is undeserved.”
Did you notice two interesting issues in that definition of anger?
- Anger is driven by a desire to revenge – in general, to harm another person (of course, that harm might be indirect or mitigated by the nature of the relationship, but the desire for revenge is always present because without it, we are not experiencing anger on the same level).
- A slight has occurred – if we consider those times where we have become annoyed at the words or actions of another person, it is usually because we perceive ourselves to have been slighted, ignored, or disregarded.
And it always starts with our private judgments! Being unhappy about what other people do or say should NOT feed our fury or desire to harm. It won’t solve any of the problems we are facing. Of course, in some cases, feeling anger is unavoidable, but it’s not in itself helpful. The key to avoiding being constantly angry is to turn it into something constructive. Create something to bridge the gap between how you feel about the issue and how it should be. Create a physical manifestation. For example, if you are creative, draw it, write about it, sing, dance, etc. Put the emotions you are experiencing into something pleasant and real. Take a step back and observe it for a moment…
Learn from Martin Luther King, who, despite the outrage and injustice felt by the Black community, always tried to avoid violence and unleash wrath upon its oppressors. Even Seneca claimed that destructive passion or rage is alien to our human nature.
What is gentler than the human being when he is in the right state of mind? And what is more cruel than anger? What is more loving to others than the human being? What is more hostile than anger? The human being is born for mutual aid, anger – for destruction. Seneca
Anger shouldn’t motivate us. It is part of our lives but not part of our nature. We are born with instincts of love and openness. But as we grow, we learn to become attached to external good, thinking or behavior. All of a sudden, aggression is born…
Let’s take a quick look: what actually annoys us?
- When specific social rules are broken
- The perception of a personal slight (e.g., when our partner or friend makes an indiscreet remark and we feel embarrassed) – this often triggers an angry response or even punishment, and we become quiet, with no eye contact
- Irritating behavior of others (neighbors, kids, dogs, birds)
- Our temperament
How can we fight all that? And more importantly, why should we? Here are some good reasons to avoid anger:
- The look – we have all seen it, right? Check your face in the mirror next time…
- When we are angry, we are driven by fury and make stupid decisions. Plutarch said that anger commits criminal acts faster “after having replaced intelligence altogether and shut it out of the house.” He compares it to being trapped in a house on fire. Of course, we often feel when angry that we are giving people what they deserve, but we are fooling ourselves.
The comedian Louis C. K., in his stand-up show Oh My God on driving, expresses his surprise at the extent of his own fury that can emerge behind the wheel of a car (many of us have been there!). You can watch it in the video after the post.
We have been slighted and we wish to punish our offender. The two classical elements meet: harm done and harm wished. The seductive logic of revenge creates a chain of escalating violence.
Don’t worry, though…
Let’s discover ways of removing anger!
- REBT or ‘rational emotive behavior therapy’ united with Cognitive Therapy – CBT
If you keep saying to yourself, often and loud, “I’m really shit; I’m no fucking good at anything; I’ll never possibly get better,” all the positive thinking in the world is NOT going to help you. You must learn to monitor and evaluate your negative thoughts and see how they relate to your daily feelings and actions. In CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), we learn that our judgments cause problems. We have to question what is in our control and what is not, reminding ourselves to return or focus on the present moment rather than fixating upon the past or future. And we have to remind ourselves of that daily!
In CBT, anger begins with a trigger. After the trigger, we form a judgment. Next – our inhibitions: what we consider to be the appropriate thing to do. And the last is the resulting behavior.
During that process, an enormous role is played by our core beliefs and mood.
- Feed your fire/get creative/ or resist it in the beginning
Plutarch said, “anyone who doesn’t fuel a fire puts it out, and anyone who doesn’t feed anger in the early stages and doesn’t get into a huff is being prudent and is eliminating anger.” The enemy must be stopped at the very beginning because if we wait, it will advance, and in the end, it won’t respect any boundaries and we will lose our heads.
William Davies, in his book Overcoming Anger and Irritability, describes anger in terms of a leaky bucket: it gets filled and can overflow if we keep topping it up. But if we give it time, our anger will dribble away.
Wait. It will allow you to make a better judgment of the situation.
- Resist curiosity
The man who is trying to find out what has been said against him, who seeks to unearth spiteful gossip, even when engaged privately, is destroying his peace of mind. Do you really need to know every single detail about everything people think or say? This can lead to many outbursts of unnecessary anger.
This also applies to social media. We want to know what people are thinking about us. And then we get angry, we change our opinion about that person, argue back and try to control something outside of our control. It’s a waste of time! Just block or mute anyone whom you find annoying.
Remember, we come to our anger. It’s enormously liberating NOT to feed the beast. So, when your ears prick up, practice resisting curiosity.
- Use imaginary friends
The trick of bringing other people to mind is of enormous use in dispelling anger. Use a real friend who is far away – an admired person or a fictitious character – as someone who can spring to mind when you find yourself incensed. By imagining how they’d offer advice on the topic that perturbs you, you are slowing down and becoming more phlegmatic. Having such an imaginary conversation brings us out of ourselves and detaches us from the disturbances and emotions.
- Lower your self-belief – you have the same faults as those who annoy you
We are not so different, right? This thought was adopted into Christianity, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Seneca alerted us in his texts how much anger could be avoided if we would first say to ourselves in silence, “I myself have also been guilty of this.”
Understanding the offender’s motivation might also help sometimes.
Think of everything, expect everything; even in good characters some unevenness will appear. Human nature begets hearts that are deceitful, that are ungrateful, that are covetous, that are undutiful. When you are about to pass judgment on one single man’s character, reflect upon the general mass.
- Stop blaming others – stop blaming yourself
In 1959, British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together that way – and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”
Empathy and connectedness are key. Instead of constantly being detached from the world, feel connected, feel joy. Right here, right now. And always remember the words of Lao Tzu, “The best fighter is never angry.”
This post is based on the book “Happy” by Derren Brown
Next post – Funny, crazy, erotic, and cruel absurdism of Fernando Arrabal