The Acidity of Anger
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. - Mark Twain
A few weeks ago, I was talking to an associate about repression. I covered this topic in my article “Learning to Cry,” where I discussed sadness and the necessity to express it. My friend asked about other emotions we might internalize, specifically anger. Her query was basically, “isn’t that something else we tend to repress?” I admit I hadn’t considered this idea. After some reflection, I realized it’s a concept more nuanced than I thought and worth diving into.
To start, we must make a critical distinction between emotional reactions and responses. Jeff Widenhofer spoke about this in Episode 1 of the RARE SENSE Podcast. As he stated, any reaction in its raw form is no different than a reflex. There’s nothing wrong or improper with feeling a certain way about something. It’s an entirely natural process. However, problems arise because of our responses to these reactions. When we maladapt the way we deal with and process feelings, as we do by repressing sorrow.
In the case of anger, we certainly can do the same thing. Which means that, like sadness, it may get trapped in your body. As I’ve mentioned before, feelings are energy, not material things. You can’t see or touch them. They exist purely as an output of the human instrument. And if they don’t get out of you, won’t simply dissipate. That’s as true with fury as it is with misery.
However, I would argue that suppression isn’t our most prevalent inclination with anger. If anything, it’s the opposite. Although it’s undoubtedly true that we can tamp down our ire and harbor resentment, our proclivity is to vent. And collectively, we are making that choice more and more often. Instead of resisting the impulse to express various shades of irritability, we seem to be increasingly justifying, encouraging, and even championing outward displays of annoyance, frustration, and indignation.
I couldn't cry about anything when I first got out of the military. But I could easily yell at the drop of a hat. And to some extent, I felt like I was entitled to do so. I clearly remember losing my cool on more than one occasion and flying off the handle in completely inappropriate ways. Thinking back on those times, I can’t recall what I was mad about. But I now realize that my default mode network had become programmed to extinguish sorrow and ignite anger - two totally different responses.
This is true for a lot of people. And what concerns me, beyond the fact that we don’t seem to recognize these tendencies, is the news media industry we’ve created that feeds on stoking the flames of fury. It doesn’t matter what channel or stream you are viewing. The whole thing is essentially Outrage, Inc., or what I refer to it as “anger porn.” So many Americans wake up each day, tune into their favorite echo chamber and essentially get off on getting pissed off. Being angry has become an addiction because we embolden people to act this way, and it feels good.
Our rationalization for such behavior is the belief that the source of our misery is “out there.” But we have zero control over most external factors in our lives. Therefore such a mindset and the rage that ensues are largely useless. In fact, they place you at the absolute lowest level of mind fitness possible – victimhood. Ben Bergeron talks about this in Episode 2 of the RARE SENSE Podcast. Resigning yourself to being a victim means you have relinquished all your mental power and decided things happen to you.
The reality is that things happen around you. And the only thing you can control is your internal response. Given those facts, how much utility is there in leaning into an angry response in most situations? Does it benefit you in any way? Quite the opposite. Because even though it’s usually directed at someone else, it only hurts you. The damage you end up inflicting is to your own psyche.
Consider this the next time you feel compelled to take a hit from the emotion peddlers at your favorite 24-hour “news” network, engage in road rage, or like me, find yourself getting mad at inanimate objects. “Dammit, you stupid phone, stop sending me so many notifications!” or, “Why won’t this Bluetooth speaker connect?!” None of that is worthwhile. And all of it stems from a fundamental lack of awareness of one’s internal responses.
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Another way to think about this is by using the everpresent term “triggered.” Many people don’t like that expression because they infer “innate helplessness.” But it’s a reasonably accurate analogy. If we liken our mind to a weapon, then an angry reaction is like placing your finger on the trigger. The question is whether or not you pull it. Realize this, and be more conscientious about when you decide to fire. Because, as I just stated, regardless of who’s in your sites, the figurative gun is almost always pointed back at you.
Before I close, let me clarify that I’m not stating anger is never justified. There are entirely valid reasons to be mad. And quite often, our irascibility comes from a place of personal pain. We may have been legitimately slighted or wronged, even repeatedly. But the solution is to communicate effectively with any antagonist in question or get to the internal root of your suffering and deal with it appropriately. Leaning into an emotional outburst does neither of those things.
Unless you are exceptionally adept at holding a grudge, every irate thought you’ve ever had has gone away. And any similar one in the future eventually will as well. Ask yourself how long it’s really worth being mad. Do a better job of noticing this feeling, resist the temptation to immediately identify with it, and empirically analyze its utility. Is there some external problem you can legitimately solve by displaying this irritability? Almost always, you will find the answer is no. So maybe choose to simply let it go. You’ll be better off for it.
Developing this habit isn’t easy, but it’s extremely valuable. You might be amazed at how quickly anger can dissipate if you choose the proper response. It’s about diffusion vice repression. You can slowly open the soda bottle instead of popping the top off. Maybe you can even avoid shaking it up in the first place.
DISCLAIMER: RARE SENSE content is not medical advice. Nor does it represent the official position or opinions of any other organization or person. If you require diagnosis or treatment for a mental or physical issue or illness, please seek it from a licensed professional.