On Dealing With Anger

Two disclaimers before I start: 1) While what I’m saying in this post may at times seem contrary, I have come a long way in the past year toward achieving an emotional equilibrium.

2) I would never, nor have I ever, cause harm, either physically or emotionally, to my family or any other person/animal for that matter. I don’t believe that violence is a logical solution or answer yet occasionally my brain insists it would be a FANTASTIC way to solve immediate problems. My brain is occasionally a reckless idiot. To anyone in my reading audience wanting to participate in a play at home game, I invite you along a journey of possible self-discovery and possible growth . I should say ahead of time that if you suffer from severe and uncontrollable anger, please don’t follow this. Please seek the advice of a professional. I wish I would’ve long ago. But if you occasionally find yourself anywhere from mildly to almost raging mad yet can’t understand exactly why, I say let’s figure it out. I’m writing this in practice. I’m sitting on my couch, blood boiling, thinking if my dog jumps on my lap one more fucking time I’m going to put him through a closed window. Before I get to the point I want to make, allow me to first paint a picture: I just walked in the door after a so-so day at work. So-so because nothing really of importance or note happened, yet it wasn’t a bad day. I was in a great mood most of the day. I get home and my house is chaos, the kids are energetic, moody as all hell and wanting attention (as kids naturally do), Alex brought the neighbors’ dog over, so our pup could get some socialization and my son’s friend is also over. They are whining about Terraria (if you’re a parent of an 8-year-old and don’t know what Terraria is, I envy you). The energy in the house is manic to say the least. I walk in the door and the kids are immediately on me, talking about their day, asking me questions, and being rambunctious. I sit on the couch to take a breath in an attempt to emotionally adjust myself to the altered landscape I just entered. After being bombarded and mentally overwhelmed with words and sounds while talking to the kids for a minute, and feeling myself start to get slightly irritated, I sit on the couch and open my computer to write a little bit (or maybe escape to word processor world, where everything makes sense to me) and my awesome, also energetic, 7-month-old puppy is now jumping on me, wanting attention. The other puppy in the house follows suit and starts to jump on me as well, bending my laptop screen backwards and nearly breaking my computer. So, this is all happening simultaneously now. The kids are screech talking/yelling, the dogs are jumping all over me, I’m trying to actively avoid them while turning to the calm refuge of a word processor while my 60-pound puppy is trying to occupy the same lap space as my computer. All of these people/animals are excited to see me because they love me (or at least I assume so 😊) but I selfishly mistranslate what is happening. Instead of calmly taking a breath and reassuring myself that all of these conditions exist because the associated beings simply want my attention after a day of not seeing me, I instantly see red; my face gets hot, my breath short, and every muscle in my body tightens. I feel like a scared and trapped animal. One moment I’m trying to open a word document to do a little journaling and the next I’m seeing the world through a crimson filter of anger. The worst part is I don’t honestly know why. Admittedly, all of these things are stressful occurrences which are stopping me from avoiding them but should they so easily rocket me to insanity? Without meaning to my mind starts to focus on all of the lingering hardships I may have encountered throughout the course of my day, week, month etc. Everything I may have screwed up on or simply seen gone wrong and blamed myself for comes rushing back in a pummeling deluge of guilt, fear, anger and occasionally dread/misery; a bunch of frayed loose ends attempting to wrap themselves around my psyche and burn. I start to manically panic because everything is happening at once and it’s all happening to me. Outwardly I’m calm but beneath the surface I’m an electronically overloaded circuit board trying not to blow because I know it would be bad to lash out, but part of me thinks it would be so sweet. This is the point where, historically, Alex would ask me if I’m okay (y’know, wanting to help me talk it out and work through the emotions) and I would say “Yeah I’m fine.” Knowing full well I wasn’t fine, and honestly getting mad at her as well for asking (moronic right? Who was she to be in my business like that?). Then I would storm off to some other part of the house, crank some angry music in my headphones and marinate in the stew of my roiling emotions, self-abusing for no other reason than I was angry as all hell and, for reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, wanted to stay that way. Now that I’ve got all that off my chest, let’s step through a little exercise and see if anyone is on my same page. Imagine it’s fifteen minutes before your alarm is set to ever so rudely scream you out of a deep and peaceful sleep. You’re awoken by a sound (something hitting the side of your house/apartment because of wind, one of your children or animals knocking or scratching on your door, or any other completely random household occurrence which lies outside of your realm of control) and you cannot get back to sleep so you decide to just lay there and stew because you’re up before you wanted to be. You’re awake and irritated because you missed out on fifteen minutes of sleep. Your traitor of a mind starts to tell you that those were the good fifteen. If only you had those fifteen minutes you wouldn’t be cranky right now. You sulk your way to the bathroom to hop in the shower and stub your pinkie toe on the door jamb. Cursing under your breath (or maybe out loud; you’re damn upset and possibly want others in the house to know), you put a towel on the rack, get undressed, step in the shower and realize you forgot to grab the new bottle of body wash out of the cabinet…you don’t have any soap in the shower with you. You instinctively blame your spouse because he/she’s the one who does the grocery shopping, it’s definitely not your fault for not checking before you got in. If he/she would’ve just thought about what he/she was doing when putting this damn stuff away, you would have soap right now. So now instead of just being cranky, you’re getting pissed. You make a split decision to say screw it, reach your upper body out of the running shower to grab the body wash from the cabinet and succeed but now there’s a puddle of water on the floor. Now you’re mad but also a hypocrite of sorts. You yell at your children for splashing water out of the bathtub and now you’ve done it as well. That clinches it. You’re furious because nothing is going your way right now and that’s not going to cut it man. You lose the next ten minutes or so adrift in the miasma, ruminating on all of the injustices acted upon you this morning and feeding more coal to the firebox of the runaway train you call a mind. You come back to yourself and realize you’ve wasted that time. You’re now running behind and are probably going to be late for work. You are frustrated as all hell at the house, your spouse and yourself. You decide the rest of the day is going to be absolute shit and there’s nothing you can do to control it, so the best bet is to just strap in and ride the tidal wave of fury until, ultimately, you go to bed that night and prepare to do it all again tomorrow. Are you mad? If not, then I applaud you. I was just as I writing this. But why? In my case it is because I let all of those innocent random happenings and circumstances coalesce into one co-mingled string of events which, in my mind, was directly created by some external force strictly to piss me off. The most likely situation here is, after being initially awoken early, as the anger was gaining a stronger foothold, I was causing those follow on circumstances by focusing more of my attention on how mad I was as opposed to what I needed to be doing. The less attention I paid to the task at hand, the more likely it was that I would become careless with what I was doing; therefore setting myself up for further turmoil. Have you ever felt your emotional barometer rising and, at the point where you can tell the mercury is going to bust from the top of the thermometer, just took a deep breath and examined why exactly it is you’re mad? Case in point: I was playing board games with my children one day. Whenever it was their turn, whichever one was going, they would lollygag, mess around, move their game piece too many spaces or just do the kid thing and take FOREVER. I would ask them to quit goofing around and finish their turn, so we could get the game done with. Naturally, as kids are wont to do, they ignored me and kept being silly. I would ask a second time as I felt myself getting a symbolic rush of energy which always indicated my temper is flaring. By the third or fourth times, I was losing my mind on the inside, actively holding back a scream. The last time it happened I stopped what I was doing, froze to the spot, and actively looked into myself to find out why I was so mad. I like to think of emotions as being like children, they just want attention. Our emotions are a part of us and serve a definite need. Fear can keep us safe, happiness and joy are healthy for the heart, sadness is a coping mechanism helping us along the path in times of loss, even anger itself is not a terrible emotion when you don’t become addicted to it. So thinking of emotions as children, I decided to start using a child tactic against my anger. Anyone who has ever had a toddler will be very familiar with the question. WHY? The more I questioned the motives, the more questions I was left with. The only conclusion I could seem to reach was that my anger stemmed from some sort of biological logic bomb, a negatively programmed response to dealing with stressful stimuli. On the inside, I NEEDED to have full control of the situation. Logically I know there is no way that is possible, my daughter is four and my son is eight. They were merely doing what children do yet they weren’t doing what I WANTED them to do. I find this gets me irritated quite frequently. Whenever I take one of those steps back and attempt to assess exactly why it is I’m irritated or angry, the conclusion I reach is that I don’t have control of the situation or things aren’t going exactly the way I want them to. I’ve learned over the, thus far, short course of my exploration that my anger stems from a place of egoic selfishness. Now I don’t believe myself to be an outwardly selfish person, maybe Alex would tell a different story; however, when it comes to my emotions there is an extremely deep-seated part of me which believes injustice is defined as me not getting my way. This has been identified and is being reconditioned by my active mind. I’ve learned some new techniques recently and wanted to share these with anyone who would care to listen. If I could find a sandwich board and a ride to Times Square I would stand there day and night singing the praises of two books which helped me scrape the rage film from my eyes and understand that most everything I was experiencing was self-inflicted. I made two discoveries in August of 2017 which led me down a path to a change in my life. I read two books and discovered the practices of meditation and mindfulness. The first book I read is entitled “The Mindful Way Through Depression”. I read it in four hours, cried several times because it felt like it was talking to me, shining a halogen light on the dark corners I felt I was living in. I then reread it twice as I took notes over the next couple of weeks. This book was written by a team of psychologists whom also specialize in the practice of mindfulness. One of them is John Kabat-Zinn; if I ever met him I would probably hug him. The other book, which seemed to peer directly in to the heart of my aggression and methodically deconstruct it was simply titled “Anger”. This book was written by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as his students call him. Thay writes in a language of complete transparency. Everything he commits to paper is simple yet chock full of deep wisdom and knowledge. He helped me understand exactly where/what my anger stemmed from and how to talk myself off the cliff when times got difficult. The major lessons I took from both of these books are meditation practice and mindfulness practice. Through the practice of meditation, I have been able to find that calm space I need when the mercury is bursting through the top of the thermometer. The simplest lesson I gleaned from meditation is how to be alone with myself in difficult times, to return to my breath during times of intense stress. As I mentioned above, I tend to ride the waves of my intense emotions. I have historically found a sense of comfort in the anger…it felt right, but I don’t think that exactly encapsulates it... I felt justified. After several months of practicing I began to see myself gravitating more toward noticing the arising of the feelings, accepting they were there (because they will most likely always be a part of me) and just breathing through it. Sounds simple? It is. This is a practice in which you focus on your in and out breaths instead of ruminating on the negative emotions. The dark storm clouds split long enough for you to toddler yourself and realize that you aren’t as mad as you may think. Even if you do still come to the conclusion that you are actually pissed off, focusing on your breathing helps you calm down enough to get to the root of what’s making you angry, so you can begin to right the wrongs or understand the miscommunications. Mindfulness runs hand in hand with meditation. Mindfulness is the focusing of your attention first on your breath, then once you have calmed down, on the individual things which are upsetting you. Practicing mindfulness has helped me see clearly when I would normally let the anger fog take control. I found myself blaming all manners of external forces for the problems I was having, knowing full well that I was really the cause of most of my temper issues; my refusal to accept the present circumstances for what they were. I’ll stop droning now. I feel I could write a dissertation on anger itself as I have dealt with it for MANY years. Alas, I won’t. Here’s the summation of my advice: Allow yourself to get angry but don’t allow angry to get you. Concentrate on your breathing when you feel yourself start to spiral. Start a mindfulness practice, this will really help you begin to realize those trigger points. Look in to meditation. From the outside looking in it seems like you’re just sitting still for seemingly insane periods of time, but if done right, meditation can be an intensely eye-opening journey to the core of who you really are. You can peel back all of the layers of who you tell yourself you are and actually meet the real you. Lastly, stop getting so angry with yourself for getting angry in the first place. Anger is nothing more than a physiological response to external stimuli, aggravated by your frame of mind. The quicker you can recognize that and begin to alter that initial reaction, the quicker you can begin to take your life back from the stranglehold of that beast. Once again, if you’re here I thank you so much. If you know anyone who may benefit from reading my blog posts or you just like reading this and would like to share, please do so. I also appreciate comments and would love to entertain suggestions for future posts.

P.S. photo credit goes to my always amazing wife, Alex. She does a lot of photography and I’ve got to say she is pretty damn fantastic. Although, I may be a little bit biased. Check her out on Instagram @ AlexjAnton

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