What Can You Do About Anger?

Irritation swarmed through me as I listened to her, shouting at me down the phone. “Get your bloody head out of the sand and realise that your son is a bully” she shouted, almost perforating my eardrum, I moved the handset away from my head. I could feel the venom in her voice.

She got louder. “I don’t want my son spending the next two years afraid of school,” she screeched, being overdramatic, as ever. Should I put the phone down? Was I enjoying her rant? Was I getting a perverse thrill out of the fact that she was losing her shit?

I think so. 

Her anger was unjustified. Absolutely unjustified. My son was not a bully, he was merely sticking up for himself, and she didn’t like that. But the fact that I wasn’t rising to meet her anger with my own, stung her even more.

“There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on its own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, if foiled, none more insane—since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.”  Seneca

In Seneca’s essay On Anger, he speaks about anger as being ‘hideous’ and ‘wild’. I would agree with him. She was certainly hideous and wild on that phone call. To lose one’s temper is never a good thing and almost always leads to problems. I haven’t spoken to her since, nor will I. Loose canon. As my Nan used to say.

The news is frequently dominated with stories of people who have done things because of their anger – particularly around Brexit. These people should act as reminders to us all that anger leads us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. In fact, it makes things worse, in some cases, so much worse. Consider Ivan the Terrible, who killed his own son out of anger.

When we lose our temper, we lose other stuff too

But we all do it. Everyone gets angry sometimes. We might take offence to something someone says to us, we see red and then we let rip. The trouble is that, when we’re angry we lose so much more than our temper. Our dignity for one. As Seneca wrote. “Anger squanders things and rarely comes without cost.” Anger can lead to lost friendships, lost business, and lost relationships. And it can overcome us at any time – even during those times when you’d think we were least likely to get angry – on a family holiday when the person in front puts his airplane seat back; or, when a sibling says something that reminds you why you hated him in your teens. 

When we are angry we are not in control. She wasn’t in control when she lost it, to me, on the phone. We need to recognise what is at jeopardy if we continue to indulge this volatile emotion. Our friendship, in this case – she’d overstepped the mark. 

Accept what you cannot control

We also need to accept that we cannot control the world around us. To believe we can is very egotistic. To think that everything will go our way is foolish. Her son was provoking and harassing, my son was retaliating. Her sense of entitlement led her to believe that her son’s behaviour was acceptable. 

The world is mostly outside of our control. And bad stuff happens to us all. Someone in another car may cut us up, or someone walking in front of us may let the door close in our face, someone may have betrayed us – we have no control over any of that. What we do have control over is how we react to these events. We can respond in a certain way that doesn’t demean us or give our power away. 

If we accept that there are people and events that are going to happen that will annoy or anger us, then we are one step closer to controlling our responses. If we expect everyone to behave impeccably around us, won’t try to hurt us or annoy us, then we’ll be sorely disappointed. This is how our anger escapes – through thwarted expectations. 

Why does anger feel so good? 

Anger can feel good, it can be cathartic, it can be energising and make you feel as though you are standing up for yourself, that you won’t be walked over.

Sometimes it can be really hard to resist. It was so tempting to fight and argue with her. But that would have been easy, that’s what she wanted. I chose to hold my tongue. When we lash out at someone we feel has done us wrong, it rarely ends well. It takes an immense amount of power to waft them off and walk away. 

Social media and anger

This is why social media is so very toxic – the me-first attitude of so many users has bred a society of ego-maniacs who troll and flaunt their daily-life minutiae; what their kids had for breakfast; other trivia that is part of everyday life. These are the people who are quick to bite if they see something they don’t like. With social media, there are too many ways to complain, to get upset about a post, to get upset if one’s own post doesn’t get ‘likes’ or ‘loves’ or ‘shares’ any other positive response. There is too much blame, too much revenge and too much spite. It has been shown that despite the number of ‘likes’ flying around on social media, it is anger that spreads more virally.

Anger is trying to tell you something

Anger is not all bad. By learning to listen to our anger we can learn something of ourselves. Our values, our allegiances, our sore spots and our loves can be revealed when we get angry. Listen to what the anger is telling you – what has that other person said that has got you so wound up? Why do you perceive it as a threat? Don’t try to suppress it. If we try to force it back inside of ourselves, it will come out in other ways, to people who don’t deserve it. If we keep all the tension from our suppressed anger deep inside it will eventually erupt like a volcano. Running, swimming or another physical activity will release all that emotion without disruption. 

How to respond to feelings of anger

Everyone has people that irritate and annoy – colleagues, family members, school gate acquaintances and it’s not always easy to hold our tongue, especially these days when anger and frustration surrounds us. But it’s not the event that make us angry, but our judgment and opinions about it. The way we think about a situation or event affects the way we feel, which affects what we do in response. 

I went for a long walk after the telephone call. That’s how I dealt with my anger, by doing something constructive, something that helps get it out of my system. I didn’t lose my temper or my dignity, I maintained my control.  I also realized that her anger was a response to fear or sadness. This made me feel sorry for her. She was unable to take a deep breath and deal with her anger more constructively. 

“The person who does wrong, does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves — making themselves evil.” Marcus Aurelius

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