Recognizing the Presence of Anger
After realizing the anger in me (read part 1 if you haven’t), I began to be more conscious of anger’s presence in my life.
I noticed that I would feel really ticked off whenever things didn’t go my way. It could be the littlest of things, such as the bus arriving late or arriving later than I would like (which would be immediately). It could be people standing in my way (physically or metaphorically) whenever I was trying to get from point A to point B. It could be little kids in my neighborhood screaming at the top of their lungs when I was trying to get stuff done.
Whenever these situations happened, I would feel very peeved and annoyed. First, I would try to eliminate the source of the problem, such as letting my friend know that I would be late (if I was running late), blocking out undesired noise (if the issue was noise), and so on. Next, I would shake off my angst by thinking about something positive or changing my train of thoughts.
While these actions would help, it didn’t change the fact that the angsty emotions were stirred up to begin with. While there would be people who would be unaffected by such situations, I would be angered by them, for one reason or another. And the anger stayed…
Beyond day-to-day trivialities, I would be aggravated by people who behaved out of my expectations as well. For example, when my neighbors beat the sh*t out of their kids, causing their kids to yell and cry. Or, when I worked with people who delivered subpar work. Or, when people tried to get something out of me in a shady manner, which I greatly abhorred since it violated my value of authenticity.
It didn’t hit me how damaging anger could be until I saw it on someone else.
It was a good friend who totally “lost it” on me. He was angry about something which I had done and he took it to text messages to convey his anger.
The issue wasn’t that he was angry as much as how he had chosen to deal with his anger. For he went livid and began berating me via text messages, adopting a highly authoritative voice, airing unkind sentiments, and egoistically criticizing my personal actions. Despite my attempts to mediate, he held a high hand throughout the communication, and continuously shut off my efforts with mono-syllabic, terse responses.
In between his bursts of anger, it was clear that he was totally engulfed by anger. I felt sad, for this person whom I was communicating with was a far cry from the jovial, kind, and cheery person I had come to know and love in the past 25 years. Here, I was speaking to someone totally livid, unconscious, and unbeautiful. It felt dark. It felt cold. It felt distant.
The anger was entirely in his court, for I did not feel angry at all. All I felt was sadness. All I wanted to do was to reach out to the dear friend whom I had known for 25 years, if he even still existed in that consciousness, and reconnect with him. All I wanted to do was to restore the friendship which seemed to be breaking further and further with each passing second.
When it became evident that he had become totally consumed by his anger and there was nothing I could do to salvage the situation, I decided to stop trying. I sent a final message in peace (which received another mono-syllabic, terse response), and drew the line in my communication.
As I reeled back into my space, I felt a deep wave of sadness wash over me. Not anger, just sadness. Then, I bursted out crying.
I don’t know why I had cried. Perhaps it was to release the sadness that had built up inside me in that 30 minutes. Perhaps it was helplessness from not being able to salvage the situation despite my best efforts. Perhaps it was from the knowingness that this friendship had reached the point of no return. Perhaps it was from the incomprehension of why people would want to use anger to handle their problems, or even hurl their anger at other people, when rational, conscious, discussion could be an option.
I decided that this was the last leg for this friendship, and there was nothing more I could do.
It didn’t matter whether this individual’s anger was justified or not. As I had mentioned, my problem wasn’t that this person was angry, but how the anger was handled. I have little to no capacity in my life for reckless displays of anger, for anger has been such a dominant theme in my life since my youth.
I can’t choose the family I was born into, and if my family members happen to be angry people, then so be it – I shall deal with them accordingly. But I can choose who I spend my time with, and as much as I can help it, I would rather not spend any time with angry people (including my family), much less such an irately angry person, or people who have yet to learn to deal with their anger in a conscious manner.
While I didn’t feel any ounce of anger during the “conversation,” this episode made me think of the times when I was angry. My experience with anger up till that point was that I was an agent and bearer of anger. This episode with this friend was one of the first times when I got to “witness” anger as a third party (not including my encounters with my family).
Being on the other end of the spectrum opened my eyes as to how damaging anger really is.
#1. Anger Has Damaged My Relationships
Firstly, my friend’s anger burned away the final ropes that tied our friendship together.
Like I mentioned in part 1, because I was brought up in an angry household and knew how bad it was to be surrounded by anger, I made sure never to lose my temper at my friends, no matter what happened (so I thought). However, reflecting on my life, I could think of a past incident when my anger broke apart a budding friendship I had with someone in school. I was unhappy about something and my friend was trying to appease me, only to be caught in my “fire.” Honestly I don’t even remember what I said and I didn’t really direct my anger at him either (I was angry at the situation and ranting), but I guess it was enough to make him feel upset. Unfortunately, he refused to respond to any of my messages since that incident and I decided to stop trying too after the tenth outreach attempt, so we’re no longer friends. If not for that incident, we might still be in touch today. We might be closer friends than we were. I would never know.
#2. Anger Has Damaged the People I Love (Whether I Realize it or Not)
Secondly, my friend’s anger had caused me – at the very least, someone he used to care about – much sadness.
While I have never asked the people whom I had lost my temper at before whether I had hurt them with my anger, I think it goes without saying that I probably did. From my family to sporadic friends and acquaintances here and there, these people had probably felt saddened, at one point or another, by the words which I had said or things which I had done during my moments of anger.
As much as I might have been angry during those momentarily outbursts, I never want to cause hurt to someone else. It brings me much pain to know that I had probably caused anguish to someone else at some point in his/her life, because of a moment of anger.
#3. Anger Has Damaged Myself
Thirdly, throughout the whole “conversation,” it was evident that my friend was utterly consumed by his rage. That livid, out-of-control, and unconscious individual sending those rage-filled text messages? I had no idea who that was. I had never seen him before.
I felt so bad for him. I could see him burning in his own flames and fraying his heart, body, mind, and soul in the process. And the worst thing? He probably didn’t even know he was doing that to himself.
Reflecting that onto myself, I realized that this was precisely what had been happening to me all this while. The fits of anger whenever things went awry, the unhappiness toward people who had let me down before, and the dormant anger from past events… I was being burned by my anger all this while. I was letting anger keep the narcissist alive and well.
No wonder my dentist once asked me if I clenched my jaw a lot (I didn’t realize it). No wonder my facial muscles would sometimes feel tired toward the end of the day (from all the pressure on my brows and forehead). No wonder I would feel scrunched up in my heart whenever something violated my expectations. I had been hurting myself all this while with my anger, without even realizing it.
And those were just the physical side effects. Can you imagine the spiritual implications? The wear and tear my soul had undergone? The fraying of my soul? Or the mental implications, such as self-inflicted mental pain? All these had been unnecessary.
Other Damaging Effects of Anger
The 3 damaging effects I listed were not the only shortfalls of anger.
Another, more serious, implication of anger would be its far-reaching effects on innocent, third-party recipients who had nothing to do with it. Consider kids who grow up with deep mental issues due to anger issues in their households. Consider that I have many past friendships whose emotional issues and/or personal problems can be traced to a certain angry upbringing from their past. Consider that there are probably many more individuals out there, impacted by others’ anger, who live their lives as slaves to their anger without ever knowing so.
On a personal productivity and well-being level, I observed that I would frequently get thrown off-track by little irks and annoyances, such as being irritated with my neighbor’s kids’ incessant yelling and screaming, babies’ crying, loud chewing noises, people who impose, and people with a low comprehension ability. These feelings of irritation would never last long, or would they??
By Brian Nadon