“Don’t be quick to fly off the handle. Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.”
—Ecclesiastes 7:9 – The Message
Does anger, hate and discontent define your life?
Such strong emotions over time erode your ability to think productively, make good decisions and accomplish your goals. And even more troubling, there are serious consequences to your overall physical and mental health.
How negative emotions start
But where do these underlying and constant feelings of irritation, anger and hatred come from? Why have they become my typical response to life?
To clarify patterns of thinking and behaviors requires looking at how they got started. We all will feel angry and irritated and even hateful from time to time. It is when it becomes a typical response pattern that we need to ask ourselves why and do I really want to keep seeing the world in this way?
Keep a record for one week.
Jot down the times when these emotions occurred and what triggered them.
- What were you saying to yourself?
- Was it reasonable or justified in terms of what was happening?
- How did this response hurt or help you?
- How might you have responded differently and how would that have produced a better outcome for everyone?
If you are constantly irritated to the point where you feel dislike towards everyone, it will soon become your typical response to any irritation you might feel. It doesn’t take long for dislike to turn into disgust and scorn or even hatred. And it is important to realize that hate is destructive to everyone.
While every emotion is necessary, important and valuable, it is the excessiveness that becomes damaging. We need to be able to feel anger, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, and discouragement as well as love, hope, joy, excitement, contentment, and tolerance etc. Each has something of value to teach us. It is the typical and consistent response of anger that becomes excessive and damaging over time. It’s when it is directed to any minor infringement that we find ourselves in trouble.
Continual anger is like a fire out of control.
“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way. . .”
It is like an untamed beast, devouring everything in its path. It no longer activates a desire to make appropriate changes or to correct wrongs. We no longer can make legitimate distinctions between right and wrong and work to correct these wrongs. Instead it makes “force” and “have to” the designated way to deal with everything.
Anger out of control turns into rage.
We yell at the kids, we hold grudges against our peers, or we only see the bad in others. We find friends and people in general avoiding us. It is difficult to have intelligent conversations where we can argue our point of view without ignoring or trashing an opposing one.
“Rage is poison,” writes Bill De Foore, Ph.D., in his book, “Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing you.” We can find this rage in both men and women. When anger is not channeled appropriately, it can simmer until with the slightest nudge, it turns into uncontrollable rage.
Where did this out-of-control fire or beast come from?
It typically has its roots in our childhood. While some of us may have a greater sensitivity of being more easily offended than others, we usually can recognize and change hurtful responses. Without understanding anger’s nature and roots, we can become its slave and continue to hurt ourselves and others.
It’s not enough just to recognize you have an anger problem.
It is also unhealthy to ignore it or try to stuff it. In the words of Bill DeFoore, “Buried feelings, like buried vegetables, don’t just lie there. They get hot and generate energy, which has to come out one way or another.”
How do I know if I have an anger problem?
The suggestions below are adaptations from the work of Bill Defoore, Thomas Harbin, and others.
- When you get angry, you don’t get over it
- You don’t recognize your anger – it is as though it isn’t in your range of emotions
- You are constantly feeling “frustrated, disappointed or irritable”
- Everything in life is awful or terrible
- You have become “sarcastic or cynical” about everything
- You are easily offended
- You grew up in a home full of angry people
- Anger has become your typical way of communicating your thoughts and feelings
- You believe being angry is the only way to solve problems and conflicts
- Anger makes you feel less powerless
- Anger is your way to problem solve so resolutions are never found
- We overgeneralize, catastrophize and personalize everything that happens
Three things to remember about anger
Simply venting or acting out might release some of your anger in the moment, but it will not take away the source of your anger. Remember:
- It is okay to be angry
- It is not okay to hurt yourself, someone else, or anyone’s property
- You are responsible for what you do with your anger
If you find you are always feeling angry, have a history of anger and it is your typical and first response to whatever is happening, I encourage you to read some of the self-help books I have listed on the subject that I have used in my teaching and counseling career. Or work with a trained therapist.
Life can be so much more than what your anger is offering you. While it is a survival mechanism, it can also work against your best interests.
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When Anger Hurts – Quieting the Storm Within, by Matthew McKay, Ph.D, Peter D. Rogers, Ph.D., Judith McKay, R.N. New Harbinger Publications, Inc, 1989
Anger: How to Live with and without it, by Albert Ellis, Ph.D., A citadel Press Book, Carol Publishing Group, 1990
Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing you, Health Communications, Inc., 1991
Beyond Anger: A guide for men, by Thomas J. Harbin, Ph.D., Marlowe & Co., N.Y., 2000
The Dance of Anger – A Woman’s guide to changing the patterns of intimate relationships, by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D., Harper & Row Pub, NY, 1985