The Optionality of Anger
I get angry a lot. Angry at myself, angry at others, or angry at the whole world that I live in. And considering that I am a pretty happy and positive person, I can only imagine how often a person, who is going through a rough time in their life, gets angry. I often find myself irritated about an insignificant situation that happened to me, and that one irrelevant thing can ruin my whole day. And then I get mad at myself for being so miserable and pathetic, and then I am even angrier and the vicious cycle goes on and on.
After years of struggling with taking control of my emotions, I stumbled upon an interesting concept in a book titled ”The courage to be disliked” by Ichiro Kishimi. It’s written in the form of a conversation between a philosopher and a young man searching for a way to be happier. During one of their conversations, the young man told the philosopher about his burst of anger in the coffee shop after the waiter spilled coffee onto him. He shouted at the waiter even though he wasn’t particularly infuriated.
The philosopher explained the concept of anger using a simple idea. He said:
“Now listen, I have a story. One day, a mother and daughter were quarreling loudly. Then, suddenly, the telephone rang. “Hello?” The mother picked up the receiver hurriedly, her voice still thick with anger. The caller was her daughter’s homeroom teacher. As soon as the mother realized who was phoning, the tone of her voice changed and she became very polite. Then, for the next five minutes or so, she carried on a conversation in her best telephone voice. Once she hung up, in a moment, her expression changed again and she went straight back to yelling at her daughter. (…) In a word, anger is a tool that can be taken out as needed. It can be put away the moment the phone rings, and pulled out again after one hangs up. The mother isn’t yelling in anger she cannot control. She is simply using the anger to overpower her daughter with a loud voice and thereby assert her opinions.” Ichiro Kishimi, The Courage To Be Disliked
Anger is a tool for which we reach to achieve something or to justify our actions. This idea blew my mind. I always thought that I can’t do anything about these emotions because they’re not under my control. They’re caused by something external and I can’t control that. However, the truth is the complete opposite of that statement.
The truth is that we create the feeling of anger to justify the need to shout at, insult, or attack someone. It’s all under our control because it’s a tool. A tool which we can decide to use or not to use in tough situations. If we choose not to reach for that tool, we can stay calm and clear-headed in any difficult situation we face.
Therefore, an important thing to remember is that we fabricate anger to achieve something. That emotion is just the result of our desire to feel angry. We want to shout at the waiter so we get mad. We want to feel justified or good about insulting the bus driver, so we get irritated that he is late. Every time you start to feel enraged, you need to ask yourself what is the goal you want to achieve through that anger and address that.
If you realize that you want to shout at the waiter, it might be that you have something bothering you, and you want to transfer the negativity to get that load off your mind. Or it might be that the waiter looks alarmingly similar to your ex, which brings up bad memories. It can also be something completely different, thus it’s necessary to look within and find out what’s really wrong.
It is definitely easier said then done, but – like everything – it comes with practice. Every little bit of awareness and asking ”wait, why am I acting like this?” is a success that brings us closer to taking full control of our emotions and not the other way around.
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