You know the feeling; sometimes an event smashes into you like a car crash . It feels like an unseen hand reaches into your chest and grabs your heart, squeezing it until you can’t breathe. Little black dots float in front of your eyes and you completely stop thinking about anything…but that. Sometimes, it’s more of a slow simmer- like a teapot on the stove. It just seems to sit there doing nothing for awhile. You (foolishly) think you have plenty of time before it starts boiling. You go about your business, ignoring it. But, just as you start an important conversation on the phone, it starts whistling. Gently at first, it lets you know the time has come to pay attention to it. However, if you don’t tend to it, it will scream louder. It will hijack your thoughts and conversations until you run into the kitchen to turn it off. This is how anger rules our lives until we deal with it.
For some of us, anger is our default mental switch. It is the first emotion we turn to when something disappoints us or when we feel we are not being treated fairly. My father always turned to anger to get his point across. He grew up during the Great Depression and World War 2. He had a lot to be angry about. Life wasn’t fair and he knew it. He grew up on a self sustaining farm and everyone worked hard 7 days a week. His brothers went off to war and the rest of the family kept the farm running. He became a man that had his own family. He worked hard for over 30 years in a factory. He paid his taxes, went to church and helped his children and neighbors. Yet, after almost 50 years of marriage and looking forward to retirement with his wife, she died of cancer. He was left alone. Yeah, he had alot to be angry about.
I watched my father be an angry man and because I respected him, I subconsciously started emulating him… and his anger. The problem is, anger can be a black hole. It sucks your laughter and joy into an abyss of self pity. Have you ever walked past a mirror and caught a glimpse of yourself when you are really pissed off about something? Yikes. I saw myself the other day, when I was deep into “Why me? Why did they do that to me? ?!” I was so angry. Then I saw my face in the mirror. The corners of my mouth were turned down tight. My eyebrows were all scrunched together – I looked miserable. And for what? That angry face and soul was not going to be able to fix anything in that state.
Don’t get me wrong, a twinge of anger directed into useful action can be a productive endeavor. When we see people being mistreated and suffering through no fault of their own, many of us feel angry because we know it isn’t right. If the anger spurs us into action to help, then the anger can be useful. Anger can also help spur us into action if we are unhappy with our own personal situation. If we don’t like the current situation we find ourselves in, a little anger at the unjustness of it all can be just the impetus we need to make a positive change.
However, sometimes anger gets untethered. It becomes a frighteningly powerful horse spooked by thunder, breaking free and wildly charging anywhere it can find an opening. It is dangerous and no one is safe from it’s rampage. The horse doesn’t intend to hurt anyone but it feels threatened for it’s safety and is acting in self preservation. This is what uncontrolled anger can do. It can hurt innocent bystanders and those that just don’t deserve it.
I watched a story on our local news today. A man, who apparently was distraught over a recent breakup, killed 3 people and then killed himself. One of the victims was his former girlfriend. The other 2 were in the wrong place at the wrong time and lost their lives. So many families lives were changed forever as a result of one person’s untethered anger. It was discovered, as often is in these circumstances, the man had a history of mental probelms and anger issues. This is an extreme example of anger. Thankfully, most of us do not resort to violence and murder when strangled by the emotion of anger. But, it reminded me of how anger unchecked can destroy what it touches.
I have read that one reason we resort to anger when faced with a challenging situation is because it is instant gratification. The moment we give in to that release of anger, we feel a little better – for a minute. But, if the anger is still festering or if the anger was directed unecessarily harshly towards an innocent party, then everything is worse. It’s like scratching your itchy poisin ivy bumps. It feels really good while you are scratching but then the bumps react negatively and they become even more itchy. It is a viscious cycle.
Unchecked anger can be insidious. It can seep into every facet of your life. It can color every interaction, no matter how silly or insignificant. You can’t laugh at a light moment because you see it as an afront to your self imposed victimization.
Let anger spur you into positive action. Whether it’s exercising, meditating, volunteering or taking a nap – go do it. While you are engaging in your chosen activity, release your anger into the activity. Accept there are some things you can’t change. You can not go back into the past and un-have that fender bender. Be angry for a minute – then let it go.
We are not victims of random acts hurtling through space. We are confident capable people that are driven by passion not anger.