“Anybody can become angry, that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” – Aristotle
I’ve quit cigarettes.
I’ve quit alcohol.
I’ve quit my comfort zone
I even quit anger.
But sometimes, I fall off the bandwagon. I give in to the urge to be angry and to take it out on those around me. These can be very un-spiritual moments, to be sure, but now, they are few and far between.
I remember that feeling of my stomach tightening into knots, my heart rate increasing and the insane desire to scream and shout and lash out because life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, or because someone else wasn’t behaving the way I wanted them to. That was how my anger manifested itself – I exploded.
Perhaps you resonate with this feeling. Or maybe your anger is the type that implodes. Instead of striking out at others, you drive it deep into your body, where it sits and simmers, making you feel like a pot of boiling water with the lid pushed down by alcohol, drugs, criticism, resentment and even depression.
Why do we get so angry?
It’s usually other people who make us angry, isn’t it? If it’s not your annoying boss or insensitive partner, then it’s your unruly children, the bad drivers on the road, and just stupid people making stupid decisions that impact your life.
Perhaps you feel that you simply can’t help getting angry because anger is a personality trait, something you were born with. It’s your fiery temperament, your hot head, or an uncontrollable characteristic that you inherited from your mother who in turn inherited it from her mother.
You might even feel justified in your anger, viewing it as a survival skill, a tool to help you get what you want or to control those around you.
Sometimes we simply don’t know how else to do what needs to get done without our anger, because anger gets results. Anger gets people to pay attention.
But anger isn’t the only thing that gets results.
Anger and control:
My philosophy with just about everything in life, including anger, is simple. I remind myself that we can’t always control the things outside of us, but we can always control the things inside of us. It’s that simple.
I was only able to overcome my habit of reacting with anger when I finally internalized the idea that I am truly responsible for every one of my actions and reactions, and even getting angry is a choice that I make. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a choice at the time, but it is.
There is no point in getting angry about the things we can’t control. Our anger won’t make any difference, since we have no control over them. So that annoying boss, slacking co-worker, traffic jam, disappointment, rejection and other external stimuli that we allow ourselves to get upset over might not go away at all, but the option to choose inner-peace is always available to us.
Once I took responsibility for my anger, and accepted that I was choosing to react with anger to certain stimuli that was coming my way at the time, I realized that I could choose to respond differently.
It’s not always easy, of course, but I regard choosing peace as a practice, so I work at it every day.
I know that sounds and feels like an anti-climax. “Self-empowerment” and “choose peace” as alternatives to reacting with anger lack the necessary drama and mystique that powerful “change your life” tools should have.
These simple ideas that revolve around self-empowerment have no glitter, they don’t sparkle, they lack pizazz (insert jazz hands here.). In fact, I think I can hear you groaning already. That’s it, you ask? We’re back on the whole self-responsibility thing again?
Well, yes. We are.
Because that’s where the magic happens.
Learning to take responsibility for yourself and for the ways in which you choose to respond to the world you live in, is like having a magic wand. Once you start taking responsibility for your actions and reactions, including the thoughts that you choose, then you can start to make changes in any area of your life.
You will no longer be at the mercy of the emotions, opinions or actions of others.
You will truly be the master of your own destiny.
And isn’t that the whole point?
- Take some paper and pen and write down 5 things that really get you hot under the collar – 5 things that you know trigger your anger.
- Now, for each one, imagine choosing a different reaction the next time you bump up against one of those 5 things. Which choices are available to you?
The point of this exercise is for you to see, in black and white, that you really do have many options available to you in any given circumstance. Some choices are better than others, and getting angry is just one of them – it doesn’t have to be your go-to reaction.