Imagine a creature that wakes up every day to do nothing but gossip about you, try to destroy your reputation, and put you down at every chance they get…in general. Wouldn’t it be so satisfying to punch them in the face, yell at them until your soul breaks loose, and counterattack with each attack they’ve made and so much more?
Did you find that upsetting? I’ve been there. I’ve been that angry in my life. But I can say I’m not that angry anymore at this point…
Anger is a powerful emotion. So powerful that if you’re not careful about the actions you take while it’s clouding your mind, you could suffer unbelievably terrible consequences for the rest of your life.
You know what anger is. What you might not notice is that although you could be angry at a lot of things, you usually end up getting angry because of someone. Yeah, a person. There’s always that somebody to blame for something undesirable and huge that’s happening in your life.
I know I tend to do that. In my quest and commitment to improve myself, I can’t avoid situations in which I wonder, “Is this it? Is this the best I can do? Why? Why not?” Of course I know such monologue is trivial—because trivial is easy, but sometimes I get into the rabbit hole of looking for causes of this and that, and then I end up identifying (usually in a forced manner) a person responsible as if they were the dead-end cause of it all.
Then I might go further and remind myself that it isn’t them—it’s the freaking culture. But if it was culture, then why didn’t they at least ask the right questions and come up with a solution so that I don’t have to be the one suffering unnecessarily? It becomes a loop until eventually I give up (over)thinking and do something else rather productive.
But there’s still anger…deep in my subconscious that could easily manifest in my daily life, especially with the people I love.
The weird thing, however, is that anger, specifically, has been relatively neglected in the field of psychology. Depression and anxiety are buzzwords, but not anger. It doesn’t even seem to be really related to illnesses such as those. How could such a homicidal emotion not get the attention it deserves?
In any case, it shouldn’t be neglected, for sure. If the people you trust start telling you about your uncontrollable anger, then take heed. And I hope you’re not the aggressive type—research tells us that 90 percent of aggressive incidents are preceded by anger.
What is anger for, then?
I’m glad you asked.
I’ll just go ahead and say accepting things as they are is a great way to be human. Yes, even if you get angry before accepting things. You see, anger is a universal emotion that tells you something is wrong. And nothing is exempted from that wording—there could be something wrong even with you. After a few hours or days or weeks contemplating, anger should spark a realization that something needs to get fixed. It tells you something you would never hear otherwise.
That’s the use of anger. Being angry doesn’t necessarily mean being entitled to throw random expensive things at the wall and curse while playing the victim. Anger should be a good thing.
Take the angry case of Martin Luther King Jr. One of the angriest moments of his life was, in his high school years, when he and his teacher were cursed at by a white driver of the bus they were riding and were forced to stand up throughout their 90-mile trip…
… Or when someone threw dynamite at their house, which could have killed his family. Who wouldn’t get angry? If I were King, I might have even gotten angry at my skin color and life. I might have gotten angry at the fact that the world is unfair.
Now King wasn’t Socrates—some accounts say he sometimes took it out on people around him (who absolutely did nothing wrong) but King always reminded himself to let go of bitterness, and that anger is only the start of a process in which forgiveness, redemption and love followed.
Anger is necessary. Behind every action is an emotion. Everybody talks about the importance of action, but nobody seems to talk about this “ugly” emotion that can drive us to do greater things.
Of course you’re not Martin Luther King Jr. either, but you can emulate how he used such intense emotion to do something like what we all now remember him for.
How to Deal with Anger
Calm the fart down.
Yeah sure this might be one of those hackneyed pieces of bullshit out there.
Calm down? Well, how the hell do I calm down? I’m not a weak sonofabitch!
But this is the first thing you have to do in the face of boiling anger. Why? Because you don’t want to suffer pointless consequences because of a stupid reaction. Justify your anger all you want, but you don’t want to be looking back and telling yourself you could’ve done better, which you absolutely can, by the way.
I remember a piece of news on road rage. Two motorists got into a fistfight for a few seconds. By the looks of it, you would guess that after the fight, both have already cooled down. They were heading to their respective vehicles and seemed to be back on their usual route, but one of them went back to the other guy, calmly, with a loaded gun. The other guy appeared to be reaching out for a handshake. He should’ve just ran away.
That gunner might have been a psychopath for all we know, but he was about to suffer horrible consequences of not truly calming down. On the other hand, the dead guy shouldn’t have been.
Forget logic, forget reason, forget everything—for now. Just calm down. You are way bigger a rational being than your anger.
Genes do play a role. Someone is simply more temperamental than another. But you could always teach yourself how to relax. Being angry and being relaxed can’t really happen at the same time.
I’ve been practicing meditation consistently for about a year now, and I’ve been learning how to objectify my emotions—as if, with no other choice, they were the air I breathe, the thunder I hear, that itch I just can’t resist. Meditation has given me a level of awareness, sort of a protective film and lens, about how I see all things in general, especially those that are hard to figure out, like emotions. In moments of anger, I tell myself, “It’s okay”—the simplest and most reasonable affirmation I know.
Learn how to calm down first. Find the flavor you like—yoga, deep breathing, etc.—and practice it consistently. Anger is either a desirable or horrible emotion. It only depends on how you address it.
Another great way to practice calming down is by not interrupting anyone talking. This forces you to carefully listen and think about what you’re going to say. Now you can translate this exercise in that instead of not interrupting somebody else, you now do not interrupt yourself in the face of anger—you carefully listen to yourself, and think before you talk and act.
Laugh at it. Laugh at yourself.
Not gonna lie—sometimes I handle anger pretty bad. But simply laughing (of course not in a contemptible way towards somebody) can derail any ugly responses that might follow. The last time I had an outburst (over an honest but trivial mistake), I just laughed it out with a sarcastic joke (because I was quite pissed off), and then the couple of people around me followed along.
Humor and laughter are powerful agents. It’s so easy to forget about them if you usually focus on the bad.
Laugh at yourself for being angry. Laugh because in five years it’s just another nonsense to laugh about. Laugh because it’s nice to laugh.
What would _____ do?
Doesn’t matter whether it’s Socrates, King, or your neighbor. Be aware of scripting, or conditioning, in which from a very young age you’ve been taught about different, and probably traditional, ways to deal with life. Do I have to appear intimidating? Rude? Bossy? Through this conditioning you’ve created beliefs you still hold on to until now.
Take the time to look for other healthier answers. You know, from books, the internet, or through a drink with your happier neighbor.
The key is to make time and be specific in looking for answers. You might not be aware that in a different country, with a different culture, anger isn’t as bad as what you’ve known it to be. That maybe other people have other ways of dealing with it. You can adopt their ways of coping rather than the chaos everybody else around you wishes to be true, let alone be effective.
After you seriously calm down, it’s time to think. It’s quite funny how anger can make you the most illogical and irrational person, isn’t it? Anger can make you think the only way to deal with that person right now is to attack them, too, because that’s what they already did and because let’s face it, who the hell cares?
But remember that—whatever the case—it’s most probably about that person and not about you. The way a person talks to you is most likely similar to the way he or she talks to others. Their actions are tailored to you, sure, but there’s a common behavioral theme towards everybody.
Let me ask you: Do you know someone that seems to have a problem with everybody? Do you hear gossip about how horrible their personality is and therefore people are just “adjusting” to such behavior whenever that person is around? Yeah that sounds like a toxic place, but you could pick some gems in there.
Logic or, better yet, philosophy, helps you ask the right questions. Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe the other person just made a mistake. Maybe they live in a hostile and angry household. Maybe you’re only overreacting and just need to vent.
There could be a bunch of reasons for your anger on any given day, but it only goes to show that you could explore them to better understand yourself. Through them you could make real changes.
Get enough sleep.
Another one of those “cycle” problems. I’ve written about sleep procrastination and how our self-resources operate by the hour. The idea is that going to bed can be hard because by bedtime, your self-control resources run out—which you still need for the act of going to bed itself. And then you’ll hate yourself on the next day for failing yet again in at least minimizing your owl-ness.
Studies show that lack of sleep intensifies anger and impairs adaptation to frustrating circumstances. Of course we all know sleep is important, but sometimes it’s just hard to follow the routine.
A great antidote I’ve found to this is regular exercise. I consider myself lazy when it comes to working out, but I work out at least three times a week. It’s a nice keystone habit—whenever I follow the routine, everything else feels like they’re the exact thing I have to be doing at the exact time.
Physical exercise makes bedtime easier.
Or any type of music of your choice, actually.
There are different opinions on this, but the takeaway is that you simply can not listen to a certain type of music in an attempt to change your mood—you listen to music that fits your mood.
Therefore it doesn’t necessarily mean that heavy metal increases the risk of depression or anxiety. It could simply mean that on a shitty day, heavy metal is the go-to kind. Or classical. Or jazz. Or glitch hop. Whatever.
As a guy who can play a couple of instruments, I say music is a savior. It’s an outlet. Sometimes it’s a dialogue between you and the lyrics. It makes you think. And it sure makes you feel you’re not alone. Music is an enchanting thing.
Name it “huff-puff.”
Here’s the deal: anger isn’t a definite, zeroed-in sort of emotion, as if anger were accurately similar for everyone. Anger is rather a family of emotions. Anger to a certain group of people might not be what it’s like to you at all.
For example, Thais could express anger by saying “I’m displeased,” while Germans could say “Backpfeifengesicht!” I don’t speak German, but I might not want to express my anger through that alien word; I might go with the former. However, in situations that seem hopeless and rushed, that German expression could actually get handy.
Like wordplay, you could name the sorts of anger you’re experiencing. Maybe you could use “sleep anger” that comes about right after you wake up. Or “goat anger” when your goat needs to shut up so you can concentrate on the paperwork. Or “oven anger,” because a hot weather can make a hothead.
You can name yours however you like.
Psychologists call this technique emotional granularity. Studies show that the more emotional granularity a person has, the more self-control they can seem to muster. In other words, they’re less likely to do stupid shit when they’re angry.
Ask your loved ones to participate.
Some people say there’s no such thing as anger management, that innate anger is innate, that it doesn’t just go away.
But that doesn’t mean you should do it alone or resort to inwardly expressing your anger that you shut other people off. Why not talk about it and come up with plans to follow in cases of outburst? And I bet you’re not the only one. If your clan passes on the anger badge from generation to generation, then everyone might be suffering the curse they also want to dispel but doesn’t talk about.
So talk about it—without judging—even though it can get really hard with people you’ve known all your life. Let everyone understand that anger is just an emotion that can be expressed more healthily. Challenge your ancient beliefs about it. This if course possible only if they’re willing to listen.
Such a burden can be managed easier with a little help from each other. There are a lot of things to be angry at—but it has never been the point.
Be very careful with social media.
I’m not saying you must quit social media because it’s going to be the downfall of humankind…although if you genuinely don’t need it then why not?
Social media after all has been a revolution. Snail mail may be the most intimate, but breaking all barriers to be able to reach anyone—right now—is a privilege you shouldn’t just throw away.
With progress, however, comes some annoying “little” things.
For example, Facebook ran a week-long “Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment” just to see how many words people would write after implementing a bunch of digital tweaks. Facebook did things to people’s feeds so that they could answer questions like, “What would they do if we showed them a happy/sad/whatever kind of posts?”
Of course making things secret raises ethical questions—especially if they became triggers for your weird behavior at work that week.
But we could all assume that those social media giants are always manipulating stuff we see and hear. And if you’re the type that just passively scrolls down into oblivion until you fall asleep, then maybe it’s about time you changed how you handle social media consumption.
Follow only those that enrich your life and make you a better person. Maybe start unfollowing those that attract a lot of toxic comments; on the other hand, also those that make you believe that life is all rainbows and unicorns. Look for those that interest you and are actually good for your wellbeing. It does take time to sift through all the infinite amount of clutter, but if you want to better manage your emotions, then it’ll be worth it.
Anger is okay.
Any kind of emotion is okay. It’s usually in how we deal with those emotions that becomes the problem.
It’s also worth noting to not suppress your anger—but this doesn’t mean you could just run amok anytime like YOLO. Not suppressing your anger means recognizing it, examining it, and looking for healthy solutions to the real underlying problem. Remember that anger is only a signal that something’s wrong.
Now think about it: you might be dealing with anger itself rather than the cause of it. If that’s the case, then it only compounds the problem because 1) you’re only addressing the symptom and not the cause, and 2) this Band-Aid approach only gets you more frustrated.
A lot of people would opt for that kind of diversion because it’s convenient. After an angry fit, it’s so easy to catch some air, meet up with friends, or just work it out. Although they are healthy ways to cope, the real underlying problem gets neglected…on purpose. It eventually becomes a “make me feel better” cycle with the next angry episode just around the corner.
Moreover, there are hopeless situations in which other people won’t simply compromise, even after you’ve done everything you could. Situations in which you really need to cut ties. Whatever your decisions, just remember that you have to achieve something good because of anger.
If you’re having thoughts about getting even, whether verbally or (hopefully not) physically, then consider therapy. Trained professionals are there to help you with conditions that are probably around for thousands of years that we’re only starting to understand in this generation.
Unless you allow anger to consume you—or you focus too much on taming it—you’ll see what it’s trying to show you.