Note: the information in this article was gathered from personal experience, reflection, and work with my own feelings. Take it as you will.
Definition of Anger, on this page:
A condition wherein we can feel unbridled, sometimes directionless explosive feelings, associated with something being wrong, objectionable, or unwelcome. Can often go suppressed, or be subdued through constant effort to avoid what would otherwise make one angry, which may lead to an overly serious, rather than light-hearted, attitude.
Probable symptoms of Anger:
- Often feeling overly serious (as in, it creates a dark and downcast, dire, grim, struggling, or stubborn mood), even if otherwise not angry much at all
- Angry outbursts
- Can’t think straight or continue what you’re doing without getting angry
- People seem scared of you, or worried for you
- Find yourself blaming others
- Have issues with being judgmental or bitter
- Frustration in the face of failure
- Scared of change, or things getting out of control
What Causes Anger:
While the ultimate cause may be unknown, here is some of what I’ve been able to tell in my own experiences working with and simulating anger:
Anger seems to stem from trying to hold on to something that seems threatened in some way – things like our own self-image, a vision of how reality should be, or what we desire from the choices of other people. It seems as though the visceral nature of anger has to do with the fear at its root. Fear seems to be involved because we can feel threatened by the prospect of something we’re holding onto being taken away, and then anger erupts. Perhaps this is because the reality we’re trying to prevent from happening is one which we feel the desire to destroy, or disallow.
One of the manifestations of anger, in a more hidden, passive form, seems to be over-seriousness. That is, when one is trying to achieve out of fear, one can develop a kind of dark, desperate, or angry seriousness about it, and lash out in anger when that seriousness or those efforts are compromised or called into question. After all, without those efforts, we might face the harm we’re trying to avoid.
It’s important to know that I don’t mean taking something seriously, but in a positive fashion. When one is focused on the task at hand, one could call that “taking it seriously”, and that’s not necessarily a problem at all. This kind of seriousness is dark and brooding, and has a kind of angry, grim, or dire tone to it.
This observation, that seriousness is connected to anger, came from bringing together the feelings of this kind of seriousness with feelings of light-heartedness, which seemed to cause the serious feelings to devolve into a blind, incomprehensible rage. Whether or not this is an accurate observation is unknown, but it does seem to make sense that we only reach this kind of seriousness when we’re engaged in fending off what we don’t want (an act of fear and anger), and feel somewhat feverish from the fear of it.
One example of this is when people “get serious” while playing a game, like tennis, when their opponent starts gaining on their lead. While sometimes this can just be a joke, sometimes they mean it in this fear sense, for they might see the encroaching possibility of losing as a threat, one which they must muster all their energy to fend off.
Working through Anger:
I feel like working through anger is all about coming to terms with the realities you feel threatened by. Whatever we don’t want to happen, still can happen, or maybe has, so instead of getting angry, one can ask one’s self: “what do I do about it?”
After all, some threats are real. But it doesn’t seem like getting angry, itself, helps those threats to go away. Instead, by thinking practically about the situation at hand, one can put effort into figuring out how to handle the threat.
That said it can be hard to think practically while we’re angry, and sometimes it might take calming down first before we can begin to approach what we’re threatened by.
If you’re angry, here is an exercise you can try:
Note: whenever you work with feelings, you may feel things unrelated to the feelings you’re focusing on. Those feelings may lead you to things impacting you more than what you’re trying to focus on. Thus, with the following exercise it may help more to let yourself get side-tracked by other feelings when the moment calls for it.
- Find a place to write, and vent your anger through your words. Express that anger! Write down everything that you’re currently angry about, that you can think of.
- As you start to calm down, start responding to your anger with more reasonable ways of thinking, going to a new line when you switch to this other line of thought. For example, if you say “Gah, I can’t believe that happened!!!” you might respond with “Well, that’s just the way it works, isn’t it? And maybe you could’ve done this and this differently”.
- If you feel a response of anger to whatever you say from your reasonable line of thinking, then write that out too, and let it be a back-and-forth until that thread of conversation runs out of steam. After that, skip back to the main thread of writing out more things you’re angry about, from step 1.
- Keep going making these little conversations (between angry feelings and reasonable responses), until you feel better! And if you are angry because you’re not feeling better yet, you can always incorporate those feelings, too.
For when you’re not feeling angry necessarily, but overly serious, here is something you can try (note – this method has only been preliminarily tested once, and it seemed to work, but even so, I can’t recommend it with as much confidence as the above method for active anger):
- Start writing a list of the things you find serious. What kind of things do you find yourself being serious about?
- If you feel the impulse to contest any of these things, write out your objection to the thought that this thing in particular is serious. That is, why do you feel it’s maybe not serious at all? If these feelings come up, try to work through the conflict between them by going back and forth between the two sides until those feelings settle down
- For things you sincerely feel are serious – why are you being serious about it? Try to reflect on what you might be trying to avoid, and how you might be able to handle that eventuality if it happened. How could things be “okay” even if everything went wrong, and all your efforts proved ineffectual for stopping what you’re trying to avoid? Write out how you might handle what you feel is serious (these are usually things you want to avoid, in and of themselves). Try to be candid and honest with your feelings, as you try to figure out how you might approach these things you’re taking seriously.
- Remember: the goal here is not necessarily to make light of what you feel is serious, but to feel more like you can handle it. For example: someone who was once bullied as a kid might have felt it was an intimidating and horrible kind of experience, but perhaps now as an adult they feel they know how to respond and handle it, and maybe feel a little sorry for bullies, because perhaps they understand a little better why people might bully in the first place. Such a person has found a way to handle something that may have been a serious burden and source of fear when they were younger. That’s the goal here – to find one’s way towards being more at ease with things that currently bring up feelings of seriousness, or grimness.
Potential Benefits of Working Through Anger:
- More light-hearted
- Easier to smile and find things to be happy about
- Don’t hold onto resentment and so don’t contribute to divisions between yourself (or people like you) and others
- Naturally forgiving because you don’t bother holding on to your own visions for how people “should” be (including yourself!)
- Less objection to change, uncertainty, failure and mistakes
- Greater flexibility in the face of obstacles
Articles related to Anger:
Article on Fear – anger seems driven and made more intense by fear, so learning how to work with fear directly may help reduce incidents of anger.
Article on Impatience – Often we can get impatient because we’re angry that we’re not yet where we want to be. This article may help with learning how to handle that kind of situation.
“The Importance of Making Mistakes” – Article on how it’s important to feel free to make mistakes. Mistakes are a big thing we can get angry at ourselves and others for, possibly because we’re afraid of a reality where we make them, since we might get hurt from or lose something in the aftermath of a mistake.
Wikipedia article on Anger – contains some general information about many different schools of thought on anger, as well as how to approach it. No mention of “seriousness” in the article, so maybe I am wrong! But test it out for yourself and see what you think – I feel like seriousness has to do with the passive side of anger.