ANGER IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
Anger could have been the title of my biography, though I hope for catchier than that. A scholarly discussion about anger would take volumes and footnotes and more patience than I have so we’ll go with the following, understanding that I’m no expert, just a knowitall.
Anger is mostly Fear plus Ignorance. Sometimes it’s burning your tongue on the first sip and that’s for real but usually it’s just fear and ignorance. Afraid of something not understood, and ignorant of a remedy. Those two factors are noisy, I tell ya. What I’ve been witnessing lately is overwhelming emotion neither recognized nor understood. A lot of fear plus ignorance equals anger has been allowed to take root and accepted as inevitable, natural. No! It’s being fomented by how easy it is to stay ignorant (thank you for allowing me the use of foment). That then just allows fear to keep guarding the gate. It’s not only the obvious crap we’ve almost gotten used to over the course of the last few political cycles, culminating in whatever the fuck is happening in Washington, D.C. in 2017. Though I admit I wouldn’t be writing this if someone else were occupying the people’s White House. I’d happily be working on poo and grandma jokes. It can also be as quiet as not wanting to face deficits in my open-mindedness because it might be uncomfortable. When I’m afraid to face inward, ignorance flourishes. Like not cleaning out the fridge. Question: can anything that’s fermenting in there technically be called kombucha?
It’s ironic but I’ve never been happier since making friends with Anger. At least I think it is, the biggest irony being how many times I have the definition of irony wrong. I may as well admit now that I kinda maybe believe Irony is The #1 Cause of Death and Disease (also that Life is a Series of Realizing Your Worst Fears but I don’t want to give away my children’s book idea just yet). I don’t know what this has to do with anger but I suspect it’s something. Maybe it’s humor. Aside from anger, it’s the biggest emotional memory I have. Okay, humor may not be defined entirely as an emotion but this ain’t no textbook, Picky.
Speaking of childhood, I was a bit of an explosive kid. Emotion was reeled in pretty quickly, though (via shame, more anger, fear, guilt, etc.). Yup, emotion in either direction, sigh. <cue more violins, really sad ones> Funny how the constant, low, simmering undercurrent of anger was okay. I quickly learned to turn it inward so it would only spurt out on occasion, fortunately at a rate commensurate with the rest of my angry (and funny) family. Then it could be left to fester in the dark for a good long time, getting all stinky.
More succinctly (okay, is that ironic?), recognize Anger as a valuable source of information before you piss away too much of your life. I can’t not have anger but I can filter out all the extra noisemakers. Think of it as an annoying roommate you can’t kick out because it’s on the lease. There’s also something about it you don’t entirely hate and/or can’t entirely kill. Then again, fighting anger seems only to make it stronger if it’s just a fight not to feel angry. What, am I just going to replace it with good intention? Tell myself simply not to feel anger? I think not. Have you ever tried NOT to feel what it feels like to grind your shin into a stupid low table? Riiiight, I can make it tickle simply because I don’t want it to hurt. Yeah. But instead my body says, “Holeeee crap that hurt! Do something!!” and tries to get me to take care of it or at least avoid making it worse. It does literally everything it can to tell me that shit hurt. It sure takes less energy to realize “ouch, that shit hurt” and address it, than to try to convince myself it didn’t hurt when even my heartbeat and sweat glands are telling me otherwise.
Alright, alright, so I walk into a lot of furniture. Bike racks. Doorways. Small animals. I’m sorry if this isn’t an example that works for you but when I tried to think about other sparkers of quick emotion I couldn’t get past my shins and how fucking angry coffee tables have made me over the years. That and golf. Okay, and maybe driving. Certain things in life present one with a picture of one’s self one would rather not have. I have been blessed with many, many of those things in life but traffic, way too many inanimate objects, and golf have been my gawddamn gurus. If you saw how over the top angry those things have gotten me, you would see their value. They’ve provided me with an emotional barometer that beats any mood diary I’ve ever had to keep.
An important first step was to stop thinking, I’m an angry person who needs fixing. I updated that to, What happened to cause me so much anger? It’s less angry to begin with and allows for investigation without self-judgment. I didn’t ignore my anger, I asked it questions. At first it activated Fear so fast my defenses would shoot up like an Insta-Armor Erector Set. Self-knowledge, then self-acknowledgement – two big and different things in my opinion – took anger from enemy combatant to informant pretty much instantly. I get that anger generates enough energy to live on, and many do. It just wasn’t working for me. Oh it generated a ton of energy but it was powering all the wrong stuff. After I recognized that, grief set in. Sounds awesome, huh? Aren’t we glad we tackled Anger? Now we can be extra special sad, yippee. But guess what (else I believe)? Anger gets you ready to take on sadness. So yeah, I got really sad, but B) I surprised myself with the strength I already had. I was a fucking Anger Navy Seal with all those years of being pissed off. If this makes any sense, I’ll be so happy. Anyway, this Sadness was different from Depression. It felt clearer, less toxic. It was tiring but not poisoning me anymore. It was grief at all those What Ifs and Whys. It was sadness for time lost. It was exhaustion. A flood. But anger had already given me the curious defiance I needed to get through this with renewed compassion for everybody, me included.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry (for some reason I bet you knew that) but now it’s just another member of the commune. I don’t give it more power than it deserves. Acting only in anger, without taking the whole gang into consideration, well that isn’t what I recommend anymore. I have enough Emergency Room bills and Home Depot repair runs to know I’m too old for that shit. It’s such a misdirection of energy. So instead I see anger as a wave that washes over, sometimes so hard I lose my bearings, but it’s a wave. I need to let it pass, assess what it (and everyone else in there) is telling me, how to proceed, and whose ass needs kicking. Or not. If that hot, highly activating energy subsides a bit the next move will probably have fewer regrets and/or stitches. Anger’s accompanying wisdom will vanish if I get carried away by its initial force. I hate that particular brand of adrenaline but resisting only makes it worse so I’ll ride it like a really shitty surfer. When I first get hit, the clamor in my brain is what I imagine it was like when they were trying to build the Tower of Babel: lots of yelling and no one understanding shit. Yeah, acting whilst that dustup’s still swirling is a recipe for disaster. Now I try to hold on and let it settle so Messenger Smartypants can rise up.
Check your barometer, then learn to surf.
Traffic is a good one. Or maybe waiting in line sets you off. Irritating and rambling women telling you how to be better, maybe? Whatever gets you angry, practice noticing and letting it wash past.
Be curious, not accusatory.
“I hate it when so-and-so does thus-and-such. Why I oughta…” could maybe be, “Wow, I wonder why that bugs me so much.” Breathe. Be a loving investigator and ask Why questions with the intent to grow, not tear down.
If Anger has you acting like a child, babysit.
Wouldn’t you be kind to another human who is overwhelmed? How about if you were a kid about to melt down? Nope, no hitting or putting yourself in the corner. Treat her like you love her. Take time to let the wave subside before you decide to beat yourself up about it.
Like breeds like.
A struggling teenage friend was frustrated because trying to talk about it with his dad just made them both angry. He described the conversations to me knowing I knew both his father and mood issues pretty well. Fortunately, I could hear his dad was afraid of not being able to help. I could hear frustration and helplessness. Mostly, I could hear his dad’s love and was able to remind my friend of that. He got caught up in his father’s anger and forgot. He got through that patch, and I’m happy to say he’s on to bigger and better things to be pissed at his dad about.
Channel this shit.
Seriously, I can’t deny there’s a lot to be angry about right now. Listen to what it’s telling you to do – not the first possibly felonious thing, but the post-emotional spike message – the smart next action that uses the power of anger for good, not evil. Then it’s superpower stuff.