Welcome to Wize Living! In today’s story, I am going to talk about How To Deal with ANGER!
I’ll start with a short perspective on what really anger is, what is causing it and why is it so addictive. We’ll also explore, could there be any benefits of being angry, why it may bring certainty, and even cooperation.
We’ll explore modern-day psychology findings of anger and its connection to EFT, the ancient Buddhist perspective, the Bible, and what all that has to do with Star Wars!
Lastly, we’ll dive into my personal experience of dealing with anger through shifting my mindset (you can apply this technique in various situations). I will also share a creepy dream about anger that I once had. Enjoy!
“Anger is a brief madness”Horace
What Is Anger – a holistic understanding
First and foremost it would be useful to understand what truly anger is and what is anger caused by.
It’s been known to psychologists for decades now, that anger is not a primary emotion. It is merely a defense mechanism people develop to cope with “core pains” such as feeling disregarded, unimportant, accused, guilty, untrustworthy, devalued, rejected, powerless, and unlovable (Leon F Seltzer Ph.D, What Your Anger May Be Hiding, Psychology Today)
Interestingly, I was able to come up with the same conclusions throughout my personal experience during EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) sessions. At the time, I did not have any knowledge of what psychology has to say about anger. The very process of EFT revealed those same truths to me.
I discovered that I’ve developed a lot of anger toward my father throughout my teenage years and I’ve been holding on to it, deep into my subconscious, ever since. Through EFT, I realized this anger was my “safety island”, my protection against my father’s verbally aggressive dominion, regular frantic yelling, and despair.
Anger made me feel powerful and in control. It replaced the feelings of deep sadness and fear from the daughter-father relationship that had broken apart.
Later in life, I transferred this same coping mechanism to my other personal and professional relationships, friendships, and overall attitude toward social injustices and other distressful situations.
Jennifer Lerner, an experimental social psychologist, examined Americans’ reactions to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. She discovered that mass feelings of anger evoked a sense of certainty and control. Anger helped people to minimize the paralyzing fear and allowed them to come together in times of hardship. The study showed that people who became angry at the 9/11 attacks were less likely to anticipate future terror acts, while those who were fearful expected more attacks.
“Anger is the emotion of invulnerability – those of us who routinely use anger as a “cover-up” to keep our more vulnerable feelings at bay, generally become so adept at doing so that we have little to no awareness of the dynamic driving our behavior.”(Leon F Seltzer Ph.D, “Anger—How We Transfer Feelings of Guilt, Hurt, and Fear”, Psychology Today)
Aware or not, there is a solid chemical explanation of this dynamic, offered by Steven Stosny in his book Treating Attachment Abuse (1995). Anger, he proposes, can become a “psychological salve” when dealing with both physical and emotional violence in close relationships. This is possible, Stosny explains, because of one of the hormones the brain secretes during anger arousal – norepinephrine. It is specifically designed by the body to numb physical and emotional pain (even just the perceived threat of such pain).
Another chemical released at the time of an anger outburst is the amphetamine-like hormone epinephrine. It creates a rush of energy throughout the body, leaving you feeling empowered and in control over the provoking situation. No wonder why do people get angry so easily, and even become kind of addicted to the anger response.
As with other drugs though, anger is simply a momentary cover-up that suppresses other more painful emotions. I’ll talk more in detail about that below.
But first, let’s see why a growing number of social and evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and brain scientists support the idea that anger doesn’t have to be an all destructive emotion.
If channeled correctly, a “healthy anger” could be a massive driver of change, justice, and innovation. The trick really is to manage not to become the next “volcanic Steve Jobs”. He was well known for his chronic anger and how he used its power to “extract extraordinary performance from his most creative employees.” When overused, though, this technique could have the exact opposite effect. The end result of overdosing with anger, Jobs experienced himself when he was removed from the very company he founded.
Numerous brain imaging and electrical studies of the brain support this idea of anger as an expressive, driving force. There is steady evidence that the left frontal lobe (the area lightening up when angry) is essential in our pursuit of desired goals and rewards. While the right frontal cortex is associated with the impulse to withdraw or move away from unpleasantness.
The basic idea is that fear and sadness lead people to avoidance and escapism. People who choose (consciously or not) to suppress fear and sadness with anger move faster towards taking action and finding solutions. It is worth mentioning that this is only the case if the angry person is actively looking for resolving the conflict that made him/her angry.
“When individuals believed there was nothing they could do to rectify an angering situation, they still reported being angry, but they did not show increased left frontal activity compared to right frontal activity. it’s most accurate to say that anger is associated with left frontal activity only when the anger is associated with approach inclinations, the perception that there is an opportunity to fix the situation, at the least cost to oneself.”( Eddie Harmon-Jones PhD, “ Clarifying the emotive functions of asymmetrical frontal cortical activity”, Wiley Online Library, 2003)
It is interesting to look at anger from another angle too, dating back thousands of years ago, and to see a connection with modern psychology.
The idea of justifying anger is not new, in fact, it is well touched in the Bible too, under the term “righteous anger”. It’s the idea that a person has the right to be angry in the face of injustice. A very well known example of this is when Jesus entered a temple and threw upside down the tables of the “money changers”. This was interpreted by scholars as an act of anger that is not sinful but rather rooted in a strong sense of justice.
I would argue here that there is no way we know if Jesus was really angry or not when turning the tables upside down. He could have done so and still felt love and compassion in his heart for the “money changers” as they, as everyone and everything else, are one with him and God.
There is even a contradiction with another Jesus story – when someone slapped him on the cheek, he turned his other cheek to take another slap. Wasn’t slapping Jesus an injustice? Why he acts with humility and compassion in one unjust situation but with “righteous anger” in another?
Anger (also referred to as hatred and aversion) is well-known in the Buddhist tradition as well. It is depicted as one of the 3 poisons that cause suffering and deprive us of happiness in Life. The other two poisons are greed (desire, passion, attachment) and ignorance (delusion, bewilderment). Both greed and anger arise from ignorance. This is illustrated right at the center of the Buddhist Wheel of Life where a cock and a snake, representing desire and anger, emerge from the mouth of a pig that represents ignorance.
In the Buddhist sense, ignorance is the belief that “I am one and only and I am separate from everything else that is not me”. This ignorance causes apathy, insecurity, and a feeling of being powerless, hence anger and greed are born.
As we saw from modern-day psychology findings, anger does indeed rise as an empowering defense mechanism or an empowering driving force.
Buddhist teachings warn us though that under the influence of any of the 3 poisons (including anger):
“We make unskillful decisions, which affect our future. They cause us to have self-serving and dishonest intentions, which in turn cause us to act unethically and immorally. They are the roots of not only our own pain and misery but those of our loved ones’ and of society’s.“
Even Yoda gets it in his famous Star Wars quote:
“Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”Yoda, Star Wars
Dealing with anger (my personal story)
There is one shared point of view among science, philosophy, and spirituality – this is the understanding that anger should never be suppressed. One way or another anger needs to be expressed, channeled, or transformed without harming others physically or emotionally on the way.
One of the greatest pitfalls of anger is that a person can easily get carried away and escalate anger unconsciously to verbal or physical hatred and aggression.
This is exactly why concepts such as healthy and righteous anger could be dangerous. They can be easily abused by people who get high on the hormonal rush going on in their brains at the moments of anger.
A good place to start dealing with anger is by asking a simple question:
Why am I so angry?
Start by making a list with all the situations you can remember that made you angry today, yesterday, this past week. I’ve been writing in a journal for the last 10 years, not so often as I wish but still at least once every couple of months.
Going back through my writings today, I can see a pattern in the situations that make me angry. You will see a pattern too, and won’t need 10 years to pay attention to it if you start making it on purpose right from the beginning. Simply write down in a journal every situation that made you angry for let’s say a month and then go back and summarize your patterns.
Here is what I found out about why am I so angry at times. Quite a long list as you can see and quite some of it could be named “healthy or righteous anger’. Which ones relate to you as well?
I am angry when:
- I need to feel strong and overcome feelings of deep sadness and hurt
- I need a defense – protective mechanism to make me feel empowered and safe
- Someone wasn’t doing what I was expecting them to do after a mutual agreement between us before that
- Someone does not behave up to my moral standards, especially if this is someone close to me
- I or somebody else make mistakes
- I seek control over a situation
- I am in a situation I don’t want to be in and I feel trapped
- Someone is inconsiderate
- Other people are lazy and don’t act upon their full potential and waste their time
- I feel underappreciated by others
- Someone is being unjust with me or other people
- I give an advice that I am 100% sure is right but people don’t follow
- Others don’t treat me the way I treated them
- I must deal with corrupted institutions
- Someone lies to me and avoids responsibility
- Someone doesn’t apologize for their nasty behavior
- Someone is not taking seriously my desires and inner struggles
- I don’t get what I want
- I am treated unfairly, offended, my opinion and effort being undermined and wasted
- I am accused of something unjustly
Now that you know what triggers you, it is very important to decide that you want to deal with anger. This may sound silly but without a true motivation and determination from your part, chances are you’d continue sailing on the anger waves, trying to justify it in one way or another while hoping that you are not hurting anyone around you or yourself.
There are numerous anger management techniques available. I would like to share one of my personal experiences. While no situation is the same and there is no one person like the other, I believe that the example in the following story could be applicable to all.
I would also like to emphasize that this is no magic trick or a quick fix promise. This is the result of years of inner working, observation, and practice of basic spiritual concepts.
Here we go:
I used to be munching upon thoughts of how to deal with my anger toward a family member who happened to live in our house back then – grandma.
On a regular basis, she would lie, criticize, say or do things to hurt you in purpose, judge, talk bullshit about others, talk negatively about almost anything, and so on. More often than not this behavior would be directly pointed toward me and my husband. Of course, when that happened, both I and my husband did feel deep anger and frustration.
My usual response was to withdraw from interaction in such moments. Then I started realizing that not expressing how I truly feel keeps coming back to me and bites me later on.
So, one time, I decided to stand up for myself, express my condensed anger, and yell it all out. I felt, that too, was a mistake the very moment I started making my point. It was like I was yelling at a wall and not just any wall but a wall that can reply back with even more nonsense, just to irritate me more.
I felt the anger rising stronger and stronger in my stomach and heart. I disengaged. I knew that this was her way of demanding attention and energy from others and I knew that responding on the same vibrational level will do no good to either of us.
My husband takes it in more personally and with more rage because she is his biological grandmother. We had this very interesting conversation on the subject once:
Me: How does your grandmother’s behavior make you feel?
Me: What are you angry about?
Him: I am angry because she is lying and criticizing and she goes into my personal space. I feel emotionally abused when I am around her and she acts like that. She only wants taking and taking and taking and not a single thought of giving. This makes me irritated and mad because she is depriving my own energy, my own field.
Me: You sound like you are a victim
Him: Well, in a sense, I am a victim, she is constantly attacking me emotionally!
Me: Yes, she truly is and I can understand very well how you feel, I often feel the same way. However, being a victim is your choice. You are an all-powerful, almighty being and you have complete control over your own emotions and reactions. You can choose to be a victim OR you can choose to rise above that mentality and see what else is there.
Him: But she goes into my personal space!
Me: You allow her into your personal space every time you feel a disturbing emotion such as anger or frustration towards her. This emotion “opens up a hole in your own energy field” and allows her to suck upon your power and energy. This is exactly what she wants and seeks subconsciously with her behavior because she simply doesn’t know better how to empower herself and feel good. All she wants is to feel good and she had discovered that by draining others’ energy she feels somewhat better, at least for a while. If you maintain your higher vibration of pure Love your space is invincible to others. By indulging in your anger you give her your power yourself. You can choose to feel Love instead.
Him: But how to feel love, respect, and humility towards a person who acts like that?
Me: She acts the way she does because she is disconnected from her heart, from her source of inner Love and well-being. When you react in any way different than, Love, respect, and humility, it simply means that you are not connected to your source of inner wellbeing at this moment either.
“When you are in the momentum of feeling anger or frustration towards someone, don’t try to stop it or change it. You cannot un-feel what you are already feeling. Rather disengage from the situation and accept it, take a few deep breaths, tell yourself: I am angry at her and this is OK, I now choose to let it go. This anger is not serving me I choose to let it go. Keep breathing deeply and repeating this until you relax and then take further action.”Abraham Hicks
I was put many times into many situations that gave me a chance to actually practice what I preach.
“Life will serve you the same lessons over and over again until you learn.”
One of the most frustrating situations I regularly faced at home, while sharing the living room with my grandmother, was the constant battle over TV time and channels. It seems like a small mundane thing, and this is exactly what it is BUT…..
For someone who hasn’t watched public TV or any TV for that matter, for the previous 5 years, having to spend hours of my day in front of a big flat screen, slowly but surely made me angry. I would then feel guilty for allowing myself to be angry for such a minor but daily annoyance.
Years passed by and every time I entered the living room, space was be occupied with the TV spitting out an incomprehensive amount of emotional trash. Turkish and Indian soap series or dramatic reality shows, followed by a multi-kill report on the news or something similarly disgusting…
As this is the common room where we eat and meet, it was nearly impossible to avoid it.
My husband and I tried different tricks, like buying headphones for grandma or as a more radical approach – setting up a TV for her in the other room. Everything worked for a little while but her character and temper would simply bring her back in front of the TV in the living room, regardless of our pain.
Day by day my frustration and annoyance grew and brew inside me. I reached a point I felt unwilling to spend time in the room unless I had to eat or prepare a meal.
I knew deep inside that the most difficult people in my life are my greatest teachers. This was a mere intellectual concept in this particular situation, with not a hint of a practical application. I kept repeating it to myself though – every time I felt angry with the TV. I felt relieved for a while and I also kept telling myself that if there is a lesson for me to learn from all this, I am ready and open to receive it.
Breaking through vs controlling anger
So, there I was one day, already starving and headed for having lunch. I opened the door and as usual, the soap opera melodrama was hanging in the air at full force. I felt an immediate rush of anger, a frantic desire to scream, to break the TV set, and then scream some more.
I felt overwhelmed with anger and left outside the house. I took a deep breath several times, striding around the house in the strong chilly wind until I started feeling humble again.
I needed a solution. I wanted to eat really bad and I knew that suppressing my anger was unhealthy. Arguing with grandma was useless and exhausting. For a moment it all seemed like a mission impossible in my head.
I took some more deep breaths. I knew there were only two options – either the TV had to stop working or to stop bothering me. I kept taking deep breaths, curled in two in the lee of the house.
I started considering my moves. I wanted to just shut the TV off, for sure. The other option seemed absurd. Then I started envisioning in my mind’s eye, how a possible negotiation about stopping the TV would roll out (based of course on many past experiences). In my mental state back then, it wouldn’t have gone by without some peppery comments. It was highly possible for the conversation to grow into just another home scandal. I didn’t want to do that, somehow it seemed not right. For a moment I considered a third option – not to eat at all and just wait for the soap series to be over.
I took more deep breaths and then one simple key question popped in my mind – why did these soap series bother me so much?
The answer came instantly – Because I think and believe that soap series pollute my personal space and mind with needless and unwanted drama.
This was certainly the case but then I started asking myself more questions:
How often did I really watch them?
We almost didn’t spend any time with grandma unless while having meals together, which is exactly when the soap series are on …
Is it fair to ask her to stop watching it if that is the only thing she enjoys doing?
Is it fair to ask her to go watch it in her bedroom and don’t spend time with us at all? Is she or the TV responsible for my inner peace and wellbeing?
Is there anything else I could do?
Suddenly, a brighter thought penetrated my mind! If the whole problem was my own attitude and beliefs about how the series make my life miserable, MAYBE, I could simply shift my beliefs and change the entire situation completely!
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at start to change”
Perfect timing to put that quote into use and to see if it actually works!
I recapped my 3 options:
- Fight – to stop the TV and confront a conflict
- Flight – to wait and eat after the series are over, thus avoiding the conflict
- LOVE – to shift my prism and realize there could be no conflict at all
Shifting my prism was just a matter of introducing a new thought. Instead of: “These series are stupid and polluting and bothering me”, I told myself: “Maybe it is possible that I could hear something that might be useful for me at that moment. Maybe I can use the time to start a conversation with grandma instead of focusing on the drama in the series.”
I took one last deep breath and I entered the living room keeping the bright thought in my head. It really felt like a miracle – there was no frustration, no annoyance, no anger.
The only thing I felt was the warmth and ease of my inner peace. I could still hear the squeaky, melodramatic voices from the TV, but they were suddenly not bothering me at all! The nasty words no longer nailed and imprinted in my brain; they were somehow away, keeping a distance, just flowing and passing by me.
I ate in peace, had a nice small talk with grandma, and YES I did hear something from the TV that gave me a new idea about the project I was currently working on!
P.S. With gratitude to grandma who is no longer among us. May she rest in peace.
A creepy dream came to teach me about anger
Speaking of Love as a response to anger, a dream I once had came to my mind.
I was in a room with a very angry, mindless person and a child. All of a sudden the angry person tore out the head of the child with his mouth. I was shocked. Then my mother entered the room and her reaction absolutely amazed me. She was able to see the inner child of the crazy, aggressive person and showed compassion towards him, regardless of what he just did….
This dream left me with a mixture of feelings. I caught myself several times to get angry with other people’s mindless or aggressive behaviors. What a wonderful reminder this dream was to love and accept other people as their are and to always be able to see their inner child. This is something that my mother always does and came to teach me even in my dreams.
I felt it is important for each one of us to develop a sense of ever loving mother’s love for all human beings. If we could allow ourselves just for a moment to imagine what it would be like to love all people as they were our children! What a wonderful feeling!
I decided to pray for the ones who are still expressing anger. For a short moment, I imagined a sphere of white light embracing all angry people on Earth, suiting them and shining a spark of love in their hearts. I did not feel overwhelmed or stagnated by their anger as I usually do around angry people, I only felt mother’s love, as in the moment of seeing her children fighting one with another for something. I felt the suiting mother’s smile and calming hug.
What still makes you angry?