Image from Gettyimages.com
I was angry the other day. Really angry.
In fact, I was downright pissed.
You see, I bought a used car about a month ago. I got a really good deal on it and it runs and looks great. Little to no maintenance required as of yet.
As we all know, when you first buy something new (regardless of it technically being used) you want to keep the new thing looking as good as you can for as long as you can before the inevitable happens and it starts to get worn down.
Just think about your phone.
When you first take it out of its case you want to protect it with your life. You buy screen protectors and a nice case and handle it ever-so delicately. God forbid you get a scratch on your brand new shiny hypno-square. But then, what happens after a few weeks? You drop it. You look at it and if you’re lucky there’s only a little ding or scratch on the corner of the screen. Some of us aren’t so lucky and spiderweb the whole thing a week after buying it.
Usually, when these accidents happen after owning something for a long while, it’s much more accepted as an inevitable accident and we get over it relatively quickly. Were it to happen the day after purchasing it, however, and your inner child is ready to throw a tantrum over their broken toy.
So, I’m driving down the highway the other day and notice a piece of wood in my lane up ahead. It looked like a small piece of plywood. I noticed it sort of flapping up in the wind as I approached. It didn’t seem that big, but not wanting to run directly into the thing I veered a bit to the left to avoid it. I didn’t get far enough over though, and ended up running it over with the right side of my car.
I heard a noise, but nothing so bad to warrant concern. I forgot about it all day until later that night when I went to leave my house and noticed a strange mark on the passenger side by the wheel well. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the piece of wood I hit had completely ripped apart my front fender and bent the side panel inward. I also lost the housing unit and trim for the fog light. It literally looks like the fender was unzipped in some way because of the weird zigzag pattern of the tear.
Not a month into owning this car and this is going to be a $2000 dollar job, at least. I hadn’t even gotten insurance on the thing yet, but I’ve since resolved that.
Needless to say, I was furious. I couldn’t believe how much damage that small piece of wood had done. If only I made a point to veer a bit more to the left I could have avoided it altogether, but now I was stuck with a new car freshly busted. Granted, it’s aesthetic damage, but like dropping a new phone after you buy it, it’s the principle of the matter. Maybe if I had owned the car for a year or so I wouldn’t have been so angry, but that wasn’t the case.
I noticed something after it all happened, though.
My anger over the entire situation disappeared fairly quickly. Over the course of about an hour I went from dumbstruck, to furious, to angry when I thought of it, to frustrated over the time and money I was going to have to spend on it, to feeling sad and annoyed, and eventually evening out into a bland neutrality.
I ended up in a sort of emotional limbo which, over the course of the rest of the night, faded back into my normal state of mind.
It felt a bit odd. There was this weird sense of being pulled back into the feeling of anger that I appeared to be ignoring. It was as if the anger itself was trying to entice me to feed it with outbursts and rage. Like it deserved it, or better yet, was trying to convince me it was worthy of madness.
The pull toward indulging the anger felt the same way an addict might feel the pull to use despite knowing the negative repercussions.
I would know, I used to be an addict, and can tell you from first-hand experience exactly how it feels to have an impulsive and toxic desires gnawing away at your better intentions.
That ex-addict’s wisdom is partially what allowed me to see just how good I had gotten at handling these kinds of pervasive emotions.
Over time and through enough effort to read about, write about, and think about the sources of our feelings in general, I’ve been passively developing the capacity to handle unruly emotions on an almost subconscious level. I didn’t realize how far I’d come until I sat down and really thought about it.
So, that being said, here are the five essential signs that you’ve outgrown, or are on your way to outgrowing your anger:
1. You don’t let it linger.
When something happens to you to warrant anger and you allow yourself to indulge in the feeling, that’s fine!
There’s nothing wrong with getting angry at something worthy of the emotion. Anger can honestly be a great fuel to burn when you’re in danger or even need a burst of motivation in certain situations. It can be the primary driving force behind a lot of social change. It exists for a reason. When people get angry, they get shit done.
The thing is, you have to be able to differentiate between what deserves a continuation of that level of anger, and what isn’t worth the energy required to hold onto it.
Seeking justice for the wrongfully accused? Determined to stop and prevent pervasive and unjust oppression? Get angry. Stay angry. Those kinds of changes don’t happen overnight, and you’ll need the fuel to keep the heroic fire alive.
Bird shit on your freshly washed car? Maybe don’t hold onto that one. Give it a solid Oh, for fuck’s sake, shake your head, and move on.
It’s okay to give the event the energy it warrants, but it’s imperative that it’s not a drop more than that. Allowing yourself to continue returning to the initial burst of red hot anger you felt only keeps it around and spoils the rest of your time which could be otherwise used in much healthier ways.
Nothing is more pervasive to your health and wellbeing than holding onto anger and stress.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, with one person dying from cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds.
Knowing that, the next time you get mad over something petty, maybe take that 36 seconds to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and lower your heart rate.
We wouldn’t want something like pigeon poop turning you into another statistic now, would we?
If you already find yourself doing something similar to handle your anger, you’re already going in the right direction.
2. You accept what you can’t change.
At least, not immediately change.
This is a big one for a lot of people. It actually plays into the first one as well, because accepting what you can’t change is the first step to letting your anger about it go.
When you know you have the ability to fix what caused your anger, it’s easy to hold onto that anger and let it fester until the problem is solved.
Again, as I said before, this can help when you have a long-term goal you’re trying to reach or fundamentally rectify with continued participation, but it isn’t good for much when you know that the only thing that can help you is time.
Think of a traffic jam.
It’s the perfect example of unfounded anger and the completely unreasonable assumption that you can do anything about it.
People will sit in traffic and piss and moan and yell and honk like if only the universe could see their utter disdain for other drivers and knew the reason they need to get to where they’re going, the lanes would part like the Red Sea for a Mazda-driving Moses.
In what way does anger serve you in this situation?
It can change literally nothing about your circumstances, and yet people will continue to indulge that emotional state if for nothing else than to feel the temporary high that cortisol provides when their brains are flushed with adrenaline.
When you’re bored in traffic, why not get high on your own supply? Work yourself into a frothy rage and drown in your own stress hormones, am I right? Maybe you’ll even have a heart attack, blackout, and rear-end the car in front of you. That way they’ll get just as angry and the cycle can continue like an angry set of dominos all the way to the front of the line.
Nothing will test your patience like seeing hazard lights for miles.
Vivid imagery aside, we all know what I’m talking about. When we can’t change our circumstances, it serves no one to work ourselves up over what is so clearly inevitable.
Keeping with the example, when you do find yourself stuck in traffic, or in a waiting room, or some other place where passing the time is the name of the game, use it as an opportunity.
Check out a podcast, listen to that one band your friend told you about, call your mother. You know she wants you to.
What else are you going to do? Continue mentally and physically seeing red while staring at brake lights?
When you find yourself starting to let go of these things unconsciously, when you don’t have to think about accepting the inevitable or using the found time for something more constructive, that’s when you know you’ve made that much more progress in overcoming unnecessary anger over things you can’t change.
3. You don’t project it outward onto anyone or anything else.
When you get angry, it can be easy to want to toss that hot potato onto anyone within proximity, whether their hands are free or not.
As much as a small part of our brains actually enjoys the rush of adrenaline we feel when we get worked up, we still tend to seek out the source of our anger to in some way reflect the anger it gave us back onto it.
Almost as if to say, “Why did you give this to me? Here, take it back. ”
The energy buildup we feel from anger needs to be expunged. We have to get up, pace the room, go for a walk, do SOMETHING to let some of that energy out.
Unfortunately, in unhealthier situations you’ll see yelling, arm-waving, fist-slamming, wall-punching, inaudible screeching, and closest-object-in-grabbing-distance-throwing.
All of that is our body’s way of relieving ourselves of that boiling-over feeling. We can’t stand to hold onto it all ourselves for very long, so we have a bad habit of taking it out on the people and objects around us.
Usually, your rage makes you blind to the fact that it’s most likely not that person’s fault for why you’re mad. It’s really no one’s fault but your own. No matter what happened, it was still you who got angry about it. It was still you who projected your own instability onto someone else because you were incapable of keeping your emotions at a simmer.
This is similar to what I spoke of at the beginning of this article about my own anger. It felt as if the anger wanted me to feed it, to give it energy. As if I was doing the emotion a disservice by not indulging in it. This is what happens when we project our anger onto others. We feel as if we’re almost participating in some sort of injustice by not giving them our anger. As if they deserve it and we wouldn’t be doing our part were we to not give them what they deserve.
This obviously isn’t true. All you’re doing when you take out your own anger on someone else is trying to transfer those uncomfortable feelings to another person so you don’t have to hold them anymore. You’re avoiding the hard work of handling it all yourself, so you try to share the burden.
When you start to see yourself outgrowing the need to place blame on anyone else, you also start to see how the cause of all of your suffering is exclusively in your own mind. You are the source of your frustrations despite the external forces which seemingly caused them.
When you start outgrowing this need to project, you’ll start automatically stepping back and will stop looking outside yourself for the answer to your anger.
Eventually, you’ll start to see how much more control you truly have, and have always had, over your reactions to these situations.
4. You ignore the craving to indulge it.
Like I said before, I have experience with that sort of thing.
I know how it feels to have a nagging feeling hanging around the back of my mind that will only shut up when I finally do the thing I know I shouldn’t do.
When we’re having a hard time letting go of something that made us angry, even when we think we’ve moved on and are trying to distract ourselves from the feeling, it still sits on our shoulder like a little angry devil telling us all the ways to rectify our frustration.
It tells us to Give them a piece of your mind and, You should fight that guy and, Get her back, she deserves it.
Even when the source of our anger is no one’s fault, we still have that voice pestering us to do something about it. When you pretend to see you anger as an anthropomorphized creature tempting you into making poor decisions, it surprisingly becomes a lot easier to ignore.
It’s exactly what I used to do as a drug addict. Turn my temptations into characters. Give them voices and personalities. Then, ignore them.
Getting a handle on your lesser impulses becomes fairly straight forward when you see them as little bite-sized demons, whining and crying and poking your ass with mini pitchforks in an attempt to be acknowledged.
I started to notice I was doing the exact same thing for unwarranted anger. I could feel the pull to indulge the feeling, and I turned it into an annoying buzzing bug. Something that was going to pester me for a while, but would eventually fly away bored.
After enough time being able to do this, it started happening without my conscious effort. These feelings and impulses started shrinking the moment they were born. I acknowledge their existence and just continue going about my day, just with a bit more background noise than I’d prefer for the time being.
If you see yourself doing something similar, like being able to ignore your lesser impulses, you’re on your way to fully realizing that these feelings aren’t as convincing as you think they are. It’ll get easier over time, but you’ll be on the right path.
We all need help every now and then to navigate the ocean of our subconscious behavior. But with the right tools for the job, we’re much more capable of keeping ourselves from capsizing in uncharted waters.
Tools such as:
- Not letting negative energy fester in our minds
- Knowing when anger can be used productively
- Knowing when it can not
- Determining how much anger a given situation warrants, if any
- Resisting the urge to project your anger onto anyone or anything else
- Ignoring the impulse to continue indulging the feeling after the fact
Like any habit, the more we remain aware of these situations and take proper action when they occur, the more unconscious those actions will become.
If you find yourself already doing some or all of the things I talked about, then you’re already on your way to outgrowing your anger completely.
So now, the next time something infuriating peeks its head into your purview, well, you know what to do.