Just imagine for one moment that you’re walking down the street, minding your own business. The sun is shining; you’ve got money in the bank and a hot chai latte in your hand. Even better, you’re shopping for your best friend’s birthday present. Suddenly, everything begins to go wrong all at once. You get to your favorite store, the only store that carries that one thing you need, and it’s closed. You continue down the street, searching for a similar store, and you come upon a crosswalk. Like the dutiful, law-abiding citizen you are, you wait until the distinct “walk” symbol appears above the crosswalk, and then begin your crossing when suddenly a car pulls up and executes a hasty right hand turn directly in front of you. Of course, there just so happened to be an inanely large puddle from last night’s deluge directly in front of you. Now the vast majority of that puddle has transferred itself to your face and your favorite cardigan. To put the icing on the proverbial cake, the distracted driver honks repeatedly at you, an incredulous look on his bearded face as if the fact that he very nearly made you a permanent part of the pavement is your fault!
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That’s when you start to really feel it. That burning rises like the tide deep in your gut and gradually works its way up to your cranium. Your muscles clench violently, your teeth grind, and your mind races in no particular direction. All you want right now is to punch something very hard, or to scream your frustration into the sky. Anger: this emotion can be such a nasty thing. It’s that nagging, lasting feeling that keeps on reminding us about that one thing that happened last month. It can even be the knee-jerk reaction that makes us lash out at a significant other when we’re really angry about something an acquaintance said in biology class this morning. Understanding anger and how it affects our behavior is the key to preventing this emotion from controlling our lives. You’ve felt it plenty of times before, and you’re probably right where I’ve been. Maybe by understanding how our anger affects how we act, we can act our anger away. If our anger controls our actions, perhaps we can force our actions to control our anger.
So the first question we must ask ourselves is this: What is anger? I see anger in two different categories: short term and long term. Short term anger is that brief burst of frustration or ire that comes from something small that happens to us, or perhaps something big that we can get over fast. It causes temporary changes in mood, or perhaps a minor argument. Long-term anger is something I rarely have experienced personally. This breed of anger is something that comes from a big event that can seriously impact your emotions and even alter the way you think about something or someone. Long-term anger is that deep smoldering feeling that simply won’t let you go. It continues to hang in the corners of your mind, just waiting for an opportunity to rear back up and take control of your mind once more. We’ll talk more about these two types of anger, and hopefully we can get to the bottom of what we can do about them. First, let’s talk about short-term anger.
Short-term anger is that sudden anger that comes from that little thing that just drives you nuts. It’s basically the temporary anger that stems from a frustrating situation that can happen regularly. Take this for example. One day when I walked into the house after class, I beheld a terrible sight. My one-year-old pit bull had discovered that he could remove the lid of the trashcan. Upon removing the lid of the trash can, it looked as though he had proceeded to search its entire contents for the tastiest morsels. This search necessitated spreading the household garbage all over the kitchen and living room floors. Needless to say, I was absolutely livid. I yelled and stomped my feet, which would have probably been quite the comical sight to witness. I grabbed my dog’s collar and led him to his kennel, which we mostly use for punishment, and shut him in. I spent the next few minutes cleaning up his mess in a huff. This anger I experienced dissipated after a little relaxing post cleanup. This anger experience falls into the short-term anger category. My behavioral response, had I been among other adults, would have been viewed as ridiculous at best. So why does minor anger cause us to act so foolishly? The mere force of that anger, however minor, is simply not meant to be kept internalized. The real question is this: if short-term anger has such an effect on our external behavior, what does long-term anger do to us?
This may be a little hard to believe, but long-term anger is essentially the same thing as short-term anger. The only difference is this: when anger is a long-term part of our minds and emotions, it is because we are unable or unwilling to find a way to let that anger out of our bodies and minds effectively. Because that anger is internalized rather than expressed, it festers in our minds and can drastically affect how we act externally as well as internally. For example: perhaps your anger is because of something crass or unreasonable someone said to you. Those angry emotions toward that person will cause you to act differently towards them. Maybe you will simply be uncomfortable around them, or maybe your anger is so incredibly potent that you become openly hostile towards them. Your deep anger could even affect other relationships in your life. Long-term anger is an unhealthy, caustic acid in your life, and that definitely needs to be overcome. Sometimes, it is simply time that is needed to overcome the wounds that anger has caused. Sometimes it takes something more uncomfortable, such as a confrontation or a deep discussion, maybe even therapy, to overcome anger. Does anger take so long to repair because it causes such deep emotional scarring? Perhaps the anger is, in and of itself, an emotional scar that we have to figure out how to heal.
An incredible, wise man named Mark Twain once said, “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.” Anger is definitely a very powerful, and very painful emotion… so painful that many are afraid of it; especially that deep, burning anger that stems from wounds that fester over time and staunchly refuse to heal. That being said, anger can be overcome, although it is not easy. Now that we know how short-term anger and long term anger impacts us, both physically and emotionally, the question is this: what is next? The next step is to simply practice being at peace. When we find ourselves getting angry, the simplest thing to do about our anger is to express it. Expressing it in a positive way, and not a way that is harmful to others or yourself, can be an extremely difficult thing. Try writing those waves of terrible feelings down, or simply sitting down and thinking about them. Organize your mind and then attempt think about what made you angry in a more rational way. You may discover that, after calm reflection, your anger seems silly or trivial and then you know that you have truly conquered your own angry beast. Overcome your anger and you are truly in full control of your wonderful, exciting life.
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