Anger lesson #2

Anger itself is not a problem. Nope.

Anger is often connected to unpleasant outbursts, to yelling and screaming and cursing at people, to heated arguments, to fights, to conflicts both verbal and physical, to abuse, to violence.

But anger is not the problem.

Anger is a feeling. It is not bad; it is not good; it just is.

Anger is a feeling, and a feeling is a message. Physical pain is a message to you about some sort of physical damage happening to your body. Emotional pain (anger, in this case) is a message to you about some sort of emotional, mental, psychic, or spiritual damage happening to you. Whether the damage is perceived or real doesn’t matter. The message is there to get you to wake up! Pay attention! Check it out! Make it stop!

If you check it out and determine that there’s no damage, cool. Then you can let go of the feeling. If you can’t quite let go of the feeling, maybe you should check it out again.

There’s a problem when anger, especially a whole lot of anger, occurring over a long period of time, isn’t expressed.

When anger isn’t expressed, it isn’t alleviated. It doesn’t just disappear.

It simmers.

Anger is what motivates us to take action and fix, change, stop, or fight something.

Not all of our anger is well-directed, of course. Sometimes it motivates us to take stupid actions. Very often we try to fix (or change or stop or fight) the wrong thing entirely. But that’s another story.

The anger that doesn’t get to be, and act, and solve, and express, becomes something much darker than anger. It becomes bad, bad juju.

It’s bad for the person holding it in. After a while, it starts to color all your emotions, your perspectives, and your assumptions. It will poison your relationship with the person who instigated the anger, but that’s not all it will do. It will poison your relationships with other people.

You will become a weird mix of very sensitive and rock-hard.

That’s because of the super-sized steel tank you’ve put around your pressurized anger. It’s big and impenetrable and it takes up a lot of internal space and people go clanging around in there, trying to be friends and connect, and suddenly they get this rock-hard, cold, metallic response from you.

At other times, they’ll get a completely over-the-top sensitive reaction from you. That’s because all your other emotions – joy, grief, wonder, appreciation, insecurity, disgust, so on – are now all smushed uncomfortably into tiny little spaces around your big anger tank.

They get squished and pressurized, too. One of those emotions gets a random poke and it just fizzes up and bursts out all over, and you’re just left standing at the zoo, sobbing uncontrollably because of the beauty of the panda bears, and you don’t know why. Or you’re inexplicably, deeply, horribly wounded by a friend’s comment that “Maybe we shouldn’t go to the zoo, it was a little… tricky… last time.” And you spend days crying, hiding in your room, living on peanut-butter-filled pretzels, because you can’t stop thinking about the implications of every single word and your friendship and the animals and what does tricky even mean and who even says that? and it keeps on going until you manage to pull yourself together.

But you don’t know when it will happen again, and you don’t know why you respond that way, and you hate feeling out of control, and you hate the deep dark rage that pushes its way up sometimes because it scares you and you don’t know what to do with it and isn’t it bad? and what will happen if you let it out? so you stomp it back down, back into the tank, and you twist it shut and hope it stays that way.