A good reason not to get angry is anger broadcasts our own weakness. When we vent our anger, we are effectively shouting, “I’m scared! I’m frustrated! I’m hurt!.” That’s another way of saying, “I’m weak!” After all, we are only as big as the things that make us angry.
The following are examples of frustration: becoming angry when someone takes too long at the ATM machine, cuts you off in traffic, carelessly bumps into you on the sidewalk, or looks at you the wrong way in a public place. However, like it or not, people will always do these things. We have no control over the behavior of others. To become angry because the world doesn’t behave as we would like it to is childish, even infantile. In fact, our first experience of anger caused by frustration may be at birth! For the infant doesn’t want to leave the comfort and security of its mother’s womb; nevertheless, it is forcibly expelled into a bright, noisy, and cold world. The infant’s frustration is understandable, but as adults we need to accept the world as it is. When people act as I described above, they’re not being mean; they’re just being people. When we understand this, we can remain calm and peaceful.
When others do not follow our wishes or seemingly disrespect us, we become angry because of fear. We are afraid that we can no longer control them. But we were never intended to control others. Guide others by our example? Yes. Control others by power? No. Our desire for control is not wrong; it is just misdirected. It is ourselves that we need to control. When we give up our wish to control others and our environment, we will find that we have little to be angry about.
People say and do stupid things. They can hurt us. And when they do, the temptation is to get angry. But we don’t have to. We can forgive them! It’s not so hard to forgive others when you remember we are all the same. Nobody is perfect; we all have faults. How can we get angry with people for behaving like people? Besides, every time you give someone a piece of your mind, you make your head a little emptier. You don’t want to do that, do you? Despite good reasons for not getting angry, it’s a difficult habit to quit. That’s because it’s often more comfortable to feel angry than to feel the underlying fear, frustration, or pain.
Here’s an important point to consider: the consequences of one’s anger are often far worse than that which caused it. The following quotations will burn this point into your mind: “Temper is a weapon that we hold by the blade.” (Sir James M. Barrie) “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.” (Buddha) “Anger: an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” (Seneca) “Anger is as a stone cast into a wasp’s nest.” (unknown) “He who speaks with a sharp tongue cuts his own throat.” (unknown) As a simple example, in a heated moment you may blurt out something you later wish you had not said. But the harm is already done. You cannot take back the past. The moral? Don’t get angry!
Not that all anger is bad. On the contrary, anger can be justifiable and may be necessary. Or, as Henry Ward Beecher wrote in 1887, “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good.” Outrage over injustice is a good example. Angry American and South African blacks brought about sweeping political reform and civil rights, strengthening their countries. Another example: if we have to fight to protect our family or flee from a threat, anger will provide us with the strength to act.
Nevertheless, more often than not, anger is harmful and can result in the following problems:
1) Alienates others. You feel nobody likes you and you are right! Nobody likes an angry person. How can you get your message across by getting cross?
2) Health problems. According to a study of more than 1,000 people at a Western Electric factory in Chicago, over a 25-year period, those with anger management problems were at a high risk of dying form coronary problems, as well as cancer. Chronic anger is also linked with weakening of the immune system, leading to life-threatening illnesses.
3) When not managed, it can lead to rage, hate, and violence.
4) If not carefully monitored, it can lead to chronic anger and spiral out of control, as shown in the following steps.
a) Frequent anger makes one more sensitive and more apt to get angry.
b) The increased sensitivity makes it increasingly difficult to manage anger.
c) And the vented anger grows in intensity.
d) The amount of relief that follows outbursts decreases, making one still more sensitive, so the downward spiraling cycle continues.
5) Chronic anger blocks other emotions and avenues for self-growth.
Tips on anger management
a) “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.” (Buddha)
b) “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.” (Seneca) Counting from 50 backwards not only provides a delay, but shifts brain activity from the emotional part to the analytical part of the brain, decreasing the intensity of the unwanted emotion.
c) Study relaxation and meditation techniques to reduce stress.
d) Discuss the situation, not the person; discuss the unwanted behavior without name-calling.
e) Remaining calm allows you to examine the options and seek solutions. Getting angry blocks clear thinking.
f) No one can make you angry. Whether you become angry or not depends on how you choose to react to circumstances. Suppose someone cuts you off in traffic and “makes” you angry, and you decide to speed up and do the same to the other driver. What is the result? You have turned over your power to the other driver. You started out driving safely, but now you are driving dangerously because of what someone did to you. You gave them the power to change your behavior! Does that make any sense?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Not worth it, is it? Someone else wrote, “When you meet up with a disagreeable person, never allow yourself to be upset. Say to yourself, if a dowdy like that can stand himself all his life, surely I can stand him for a few minutes.” With these thoughts in mind, let’s remain in control of our most valuable asset, our mind.