As most children did, I learned about anger in my early childhood. Not getting what I wanted led to frustration and then anger, generally played out in the form of stubbornness and then tears. That anger frequently led to getting a nice long sit in the yellow and green flowered “timeout chair” in our family’s formal living room. Anger was simply not ok with my mother. Of course, I hated being sent to the boring timeout chair, and thus learned to manage my anger by creating a simmering, yet seething, moody state of resentment instead.
Even from my favorite wise sage, Yoda, I got the message that anger was not ok:
"Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight"...
As I reached the tumultuous teen years, I began to wear my anger outwardly, cultivating a hard exterior that screamed “Stay away!” The punk rock fashion of the 1980s came in handy. My journals were filled with page after page of alternating martyr and victim prose. My weekends were fueled with cheap beer and bonfires where I would complain of mistreatment by this person or that person, and how my anger was warranted. I lacked the coping skills to handle any frustration and it quickly turned to resentment against cheerleaders, rich kids, police officers, “the Man”, and society in general.
As I entered the workforce, the victims of my simmering resentments became “bitchy coworkers” and “unfair bosses.” And I simmered for another decade.
When I started my spiritual recovery, years of simmering anger smacked me in the face, as I was asked to list my resentments and start to unpack “my part” in the situations. Slowly, I worked through each resentment, yet was still somewhat oblivious that anger was an underlying factor. I had a block against even admitting I had anger. Anger was a base emotion. It was beneath me. I suffered from the much classier affliction of frustration.
I recall once in a therapy session, the therapist asked me to beat out my anger with a bat against a pillow. I couldn’t do it. What was the point? Anger makes me feel crappy. It feeds itself. I recall spouting at him research that “proved” I was right: A study of workers in Japan who were provided a room to express anger actually became more angry, stressed, and ultimately suicidal. A quick Google search today to find that study proved unfruitful, but I found a number of other studies that confirmed my recollection: Acting out anger to release it, while seeming logical, does not actually work. One article noted:
"Steven Stosny, Ph.D., a therapist who treats people for anger and relationship problems, explains that “Participants are training their brains to associate anger with controlled aggression rather than compassion and reconciliation. In other words, we create bad habits. We train our brains when we do something, anything, and it makes us feel good—we want to do it again…and more often. The rush of anger is addictive. Allowing yourself to lash out as a means to control your anger is like drinking to control your urge to drink."1
My search also unearthed some surprisingly information on the popularity of so-called “anger rooms.”2 In these rooms, for a nominal fee, you can go destruct stuff with a bat, prybar, or other implement of destruction. (Note to self: they solicit donations of unwanted TVs, laptops, and dishes to keep the rooms stocked. But unlike the Salvation Army donations, you won’t get a receipt for your itemized tax deductions here!)
Yet, you won’t find me as a customer. Luckily, I’ve learned a few tips for managing my anger that are a little easier on both my wallet and my cortisol levels.
First, the feeling of anger is a warning sign. If I can become aware of it in my body, then I can start to work on diffusing it. Not stuffing it. Not repressing it. Looking it straight in the face and asking, “WTF is going on here, mind?” Most often the answer is non-acceptance. Someone did or said something I didn’t like. So, the antidote is acceptance (sometimes with a healthy dose of forgiveness).
I’ve discovered many roads from point A (anger) to point B (acceptance). Meditation, talking with a trusted friend/advisor, journaling, yoga, hiking, have all proved worthwhile routes. True, sometimes I hit roadblocks, traffic jams, or massive construction. But I’ll take a difficult journey to peace over being stuck in the Dark Side of anger any day.