Before we start to talk about anger today, I want to address a problem that we’ve had forever, but we still seem to not move forward on, and that’s intimate partner abuse and violence against women. We all know that, overwhelmingly, women are at the receiving end of this violence, and women being killed by current or former intimate partners is still common, yet still does not get the attention it needs for real change to take hold. So I’m asking for two things here. Firstly, wherever you see this kind of abuse, or hear about it, do something about it. There are bystander intervention classes available everywhere, so learn and then act. Secondly, go ahead and support organizations in your area that provide aid, awareness and assistance surrounding violence against women. Thank you.
So today we’re going to talk about anger. Super-general topic, yes, but we are all familiar with anger and we all know a situation that we have personally been in, or caused, where anger steered the outcome to bad. Not, “OMG I pushed that entire family into the alligator sinkhole” bad, but bad enough that, later when you thought about it, you wished you had handled it better, differently, and more level-headed. That’s what we’re going to talk about today, where that anger comes from, why you have it, and the best way to redirect that energy into something better.
First, let’s talk about what the word and the emotion mean. Anger is a noun defined as “the strong feeling that you have when something has happened that you think is bad and unfair.” And, actually, the American Psychological Association describes further as follows: “Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.” Of course that’s specific, but we’ll break this down in how you got angry, who you’re angry with, and why it matters a bit later. Let’s take a quick look at some quotations to put this into a less angry context, maybe, or not.
Our first quote is from long-dead, but not forgotten, Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and, as a party trick, was a much quoted and studied Stoic philosopher. He said: “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.” We will go into more depth about the regret of anger later, but, just so you know, Marcus was mostly right on this one.
Our next quote comes from Ambrose Bierce, an American short story writer, journalist, poet, and Civil War veteran and who was regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States. He died, um, well, sometime before World War One, apparently. They’re honestly not sure when. Anyway, he said: “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” We see the regret condition here again, but this time it has an element of control. This is more the direction we will go in this episode.
Our final quote comes from Malcolm Little, better known to everyone today as Malcolm X the African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist who polarized the civil rights movement in the 60s and changed the focus of the civil rights movement. He said: “Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” It’s not the violence aspect that I want to focus on here, it’s the element of change. Yes, anger, when recognized, can be a tool for change. Imagine that? Let’s get started.
The first thing to know is that anger, like other emotions, exists for a reason. It’s an automatic condition to feel anger as a response, especially to pain. Also, the release of adrenaline associated with anger is a key to our fight-or-flight response. So from that perspective there is some reason to embrace anger, and to absolutely recognize when we feel angry. It can actually help us. So, that’s the positive side. The problem is that we tend, as a society, to feel anger as response to situations where it simply is not warranted. Road rage is the perfect example, but there are many. And anger, especially if you use this emotion as the first response to everyday situations, may be more than just inappropriate, it might actually be bad for your health – physical AND mental.
So, let's talk about your health and anger for a minute. There are many studies that cite anger and anger outbursts to all manner of physical ailments from muscle aches and anxiety, to digestive and gastric dysfunction. In an report on a meta-analysis titled "Outbursts of anger as a trigger of acute cardiovascular events: a systematic review and meta-analysis" by Mostofsky, Penner, and Mittleman, the results indicated the "There is a higher risk of cardiovascular events shortly after outbursts of anger". Other research found that healthy people who are often angry or hostile are 19 percent more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease. Still other research studying anger in patients with irritable bowel syndrome from Romania found that “trait anger contributes to development and evolution of IBS.” So your brain, heart, muscles, bowels, everything fare worse when you are angry. But hey, keep smiling, because it gets worse.
In modern society, the need to be around those with a strong fight-or-flight response is less important than our early human ancestors. In fact, when we recognize that individuals demonstrate high incidents of anger, we tend to push them out of our social circles, mostly for our own self-preservation. So if this is you, and you exhibit signs of what they call trait anger – defined as a dispositional characteristic where one experiences frequent anger, with varying intensity – then you may see a decrease in your social interaction. Sadly, that social isolation itself can cause a higher degree of anger and what psychologist refer to as rumination - the habit of obsessing over negative events that happened in the past. It’s a cycle that leads to more anger, sort of like like trying to eat enough chocolate to forget how much damage your chocolate problem is causing you. Sweet.
So, you need anger to trigger the all-important fight-or-flight response, but not so much that it causes social and health problems, so you’re left to question exactly how much anger is enough, or when anger is appropriate. And, I know, you’re looking to me for an answer, but the truth is everyone is different, and your response will depend entirely upon your social realities, to a point. I mean, if your anger expresses itself as violence to others, that’s a massive red flag right there, and that needs professional attention at the very least. Beyond that, the key is to look at some coping mechanisms that can help you recognize, modify, and channel your anger so that it becomes a positive force in your life. And, hey, I’m a fucking life coach, so I have some ideas – buckle in.
To start off, I want to clarify that I’m talking about what to do with your own anger, not the anger of those around you. Managing anger is complex, and I simply can’t cover it all in 15 minutes, so I recommend that you do some of your own research on this. The Mayo Clinic and the American Psychological Association are great places to start, but there are a million other places to look. The first thing they’ll tell you about your own anger is to recognize when it’s happening and to immediately take the steps you need to mitigate your response. As we already said, anger itself is not the problem, it’s natural, it’s what you do next that is important. Remember, your response to a situation where you’re being attacked or insulted says more about how you feel about yourself then it does about what the other person is saying. So recognize your anger, and think before taking your next step. You may feel compelled to react immediately – don’t do this. Also don’t eat kleenex. Or do, I don’t care.
Another great strategy is simply to walk away. You may have heard the concept of counting to 10, or 100, or whatever arbitrary frigging number some generic life coach throws out, but the benefit behind this strategy is sound. Walk away, say nothing, do nothing, just go and think. It is only after your anger subsides and you look at things with a calmer, more analytical mind, that you can really see what’s happening, why you were angry, and what you need to do next that is best for you. If someone or something caused you to feel anger, you have no obligation to respond or act on it. And never look back on your decisions with ruminations, going over and over the facts to see if you did something wrong, or could have done something else, or something better. That’s like continuing to pick that massive scab off your elbow from when your stupid neighbour ran you over with his ridiculous fucking riding mower or, you know, whatever. Anyway, it’ll never heal, that’s the take-away here.
Also, use the anger to your advantage. Again, this may not be something you can do on the spot, but anger can be a huge driving force, and has been the impetus for change throughout history. Remember the Malcolm X quote from the beginning, and you’ll get what I’m saying. Social justice and change movements have always plugged into anger as a motivation for creating a better future, and that’s what you need here. It can be small changes, like managing your schedules and social media to interact with more positive people on a more regular basis, or it could be motivating a large group of people to create larger change in your community. Non-violent anger against a known problem is a massive generator for realizing change.
Finally, and I’ve said this for the last three episodes, be better to yourself. Know what makes you angry, find a way to be at peace with those things, or change those things, and live a less angry life. We all feel angry from time-to-time, so don’t ruminate about it. Don’t judge yourself harshly because of it. Use your anger as a source of information about yourself, be kinder to yourself, become your own emotional bodyguard, and live your best life. You deserve it. Well, that and pizza, just sayin’.
Okay, so that's it for this episode. As always, I'll leave you with a Disgruntled nugget in a second, but first I want to thank you for listening. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, I’m on all the major platforms platforms, and please visit www.disgruntledlifecoach.ca for all my podcasts – yes, w-w-w- don’t get me started. Please also follow me on twitter @lifedisgruntled, there's a link on my website – DM me if you want some stickers, seriously – free stickers. Right? Also, if you like what you've heard today, tell your friends. If you think this is ridiculous, still, tell your friends, I mean how hard is that.
A German proverb says “Fire in the heart sends smoke into the head.” And that’s true, but Buddha adds that “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Then the thoroughly modern Mark Twain adds a new level by saying “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” So if the fire in your heart and head leads you to a vessel of acid, you should stop carrying your angry coal to smoke your head, or something, I don’t know, whatever ...
Again, thanks for listening, and thanks also to Audionautix and Partners in Rhyme for music and sound FX, thanks again to Neatnik for visuals, and thanks for your patience - see you in two weeks, or not, whatever...