Anger: That Old Acquaintance
Although we tend to blame others when something is bothering us, getting angry or not is our choice. Anger is an emotion that resides inside us.
Anger is that old friend that’s capable of transforming us in a matter of seconds. Hence, it isn’t that easy to deal with. Some people express it the moment they feel it. Others repress it or camouflage it with pleasant words. Likewise, there are some people that turn it into a more pleasant emotion. Anger is a complex emotion that requires profound inner reflection and re-examination.
How many times have we raised our voice? How many times have we seen someone react aggressively to something they later considered stupid? However, it’s true that sometimes we do expect a scolding from our parents, partners, bosses, or friends for something we’ve done wrong. But, what’s behind anger?
For years I’ve been listening to friends and acquaintances argue that expressing this emotion is a good thing. Namely, that we should express everything we feel to be able to be at peace. But is this true? Should we say the first thing that comes to mind? To understand this emotion better, we’re going to break it down thoroughly. Everything isn’t always as it seems, so let’s dive in.
In general, we feel anger when we consider that one or more people have intentionally offended us. Specifically, it arises when we feel that they’re humiliating us. Therefore, it’s not only about not having achieved something that we had proposed. Instead, it also arises when we feel insulted or injured.
We can also experience anger when we observe social injustices. If we walk down the street and witness a father or mother abusing their child, we can feel anger or great indignation.
“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.”
Many of you could be thinking, “I know somebody who gets really angry when the printer doesn’t work”. In this situation, oddly enough, that person may also feel humiliated. How is this possible? Well, that person is so negative that they interpret a lot of what happens in their life as personal attacks. If the printer doesn’t work, they may think something like: “Life is mocking me and now it broke the printer”.
This example may help us understand that we don’t need a physical or external agent to feel humiliated or angry. Instead, it’s all about how we interpret someone’s intentionality. Thus, do other people upset us or do we upset ourselves?
Anger and ego
Whenever we react with anger, in some way we’re trying to safeguard or boost our self-esteem. Thus, when we feel that somebody is threatening our ego, we may direct our anger at that person.
If we get angry when someone honks at us while we’re driving, it’s because we interpret that as if they were accusing us of wrongful behavior. Thus, we may feel that they’re threatening our identity.
Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, argued that “to endure being insulted and put up with insult to one’s friends is slavish”. This statement reveals a simple enough justification to unleash our anger. Is it worth getting angry over an insult? Sometimes we invest too much energy on stuff that doesn’t really matter.
On one occasion, Buddha’s disciples asked him: “Master, wherever we go people laugh at us and insult us. How does that not affect you in the least?” To this, Buddha replied: “The insult may come out of them, but it never reaches me”. This valuable lesson opposes Aristotle’s argument of cowardice. The first lesson implies suffering and the second implies peace and serenity. So which one should you choose?
Anger and action
Whenever we feel that our personal identity is being attacked, we experience a great physiological activation. Consequently, there’s an urge to attack the person we consider responsible for the damage. This attack can be either physical or verbal. This will depend on our self-control and how we interpret the situation.
For example, if we feel that our boss has attacked us, a way to express anger may be to underperform at our job. We know that if we respond aggressively, the consequences could be severe and we could end up losing our job. So, in situations that put some aspect of our life at risk, we may choose to take more indirect actions.
Once we’ve unloaded all of our anger onto another person, we may feel guilt. When we’ve had time to analyze the situation, we may feel guilty because we realize that we overreacted. Thus, guilt makes us reconsider whether our reaction was the most appropriate.
Finally, let’s mention those people who always seem to be angry. They may have an anger trait in their personality or they’ve made anger a way of life. Thus, they only know how to react with anger. In fact, there are different questionnaires and tests to measure this emotion, such as the STAXI-2 (State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2). This questionnaire was created by Charles B. Spielberg, Ph.D.
How can I manage my anger?
You should take a few diaphragmatic breaths to calm down. Additionally, you can reflect on whether that person whom you believe hurt you really wanted to offend you.
On many occasions, we react because we’re oversaturated by demands. Or perhaps we’ve had a bad day and anything may set us off. Therefore, we should understand or at least consider the possibility that others also have bad days. That way, we’ll understand why they’re reacting that way and not take everything personally.
If our boss speaks badly to us for something we’ve done, they could have talked to another employee in the same way. Thus, we shouldn’t take it personally. Instead, we could have just been caught in the crossfire of how the other person reacted.
Although it may seem that others have control over your emotional state, you have the power over your anger. You decide if you get angry or not. Leaving something as valuable as your happiness in someone else’s hands is undoubtedly too high of a risk.
Finally, I invite you to see yourself as an active agent when you feel harmed by others and not just a passive person who simply reacts. The power is in your hands.