Anger has been a potent habit in my life. There were a lot of things in my youth and young adult life that justified anger. Anger, real and synthetic, was prized in the Army to make you fierce. Killing and wounding is easier in a rage or or anger.
Anger stimulates production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These push you higher physically. It can take a toll on you physically in the aftermath, leaving you feeling drained, but the adrenaline-fueled rush can feel powerful, reinforcing a sense of invulnerability. I think this can be addictive, at least in my case. Being angry or allowing a near-constant presence of anger, allows suppression and numbing of other emotions. It became easy to just let this stuff sit beneath the surface and call on it between one breath and the next.
any other addiction it begins to wear thin over time and you need more anger to keep your “high.” This is hardly a problem as there is a lot to be angry about. Even better, you don’t even need a legitimate reason to be angry. You can spend time running conversations in your head with someone who have a minor issue with and give them responses and reasons for their responses that justify being angry at that person. This also allows you to be at least be ready to angry at them in real life when you meet to talk. One can also just create all sorts of justifications to be angry at something in the news even if one is totally ignorant of the subject. You can be angry at the weather. Or you can be angry at the weatherperson for being an hour off on a projection or for your lack of understanding what probability means.
Basically, there are a whole of ways to be angry, real and imagined.
The thing about anger is that it has a spillover effect as it rarely stays contained. This is especially true as anger becomes habit. And not only do you then spend time being angry with people you have no reason to be angry with, especially people you care about, you start becoming angry at yourself. You get angry at yourself for being angry at someone you shouldn’t be, you become self-critical in a way that leads to more anger, whether the criticism is legitimate or not. Ultimately, this leads to self-hate and self-doubt, well beyond imposter syndrome.
Self-hatred and self-doubt (which is really fear and anger is very often a response to fear, after all it is part of the “fight or flight” response) just fuel a cycle of anger. I think once you are at this point, habit is not only ingrained, it is self-feeding. Cyclical, and the cycle itself is pleasurable because anger is familiar, it’s comfortable. Something unusual happens, anger occurs, “Ahh, I know this feeling, I am on familiar ground. I am comfortable. I’m angry.”
Ultimately this lifestyle is exhausting. The body just can’t handle the constant flood of these stress hormones and the following recovery. High blood pressure, weight issues at either end of the spectrum, and a wide variety of mental health issues, are affected by the anger lifestyle. There are ways and resources to the break the habit, to change the lifestyle, but they all depend on two things (which will be familiar): recognizing the problem and choosing to do something about it.
This is what I have been trying to do to move away from anger as a lifestyle.
First, I have spent a lot time and self-searching to recognize that a lot of my unhappiness is based in the habit of being angry. I mentioned earlier that anger numbs and hides other emotions, allows one to ignore them. Happiness, joy, sadness, sorrow, frustration, and all the normal emotions of living never really get experienced or processed. By recognizing that I have not truly appreciated and fully experienced positive emotions in a great many years, I’ve learned the real price I have paid for my anger. So, no more. The lifestyle must change.
Second, as evidenced by previous blog posts, I have been wrestling with the fact that vulnerability and weakness are not synonymous and that there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable. According to some, vulnerability is a necessity for a full life. I have not fully come to turns with this, but I can articulate it and I am beginning, I think, to accept it as truth. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
― Brené Brown,
Third, following the advice and modeled behaviors of someone I truly respect, I have been engaging in a great deal of self-care. Complete change of diet, commitment to an hour of exercise each night and achieving 10,000 steps daily when possible (sometimes schedules just don’t allow for a walk at lunch), and simplifying my life to create greater focus. And now that some of these changes have sunken in for 17 weeks, I am tackling sleep and making seven to seven and a half hours per night a priority. Along the way I will also reduce my coffee intake, less than half what I drink now. I have also been talking or writing through things, working to articulate where I have been, why I have been there, and where I want to go – and these have helped greatly.
Fourth, I am practicing kindness. Even towards myself. I have put the inner critic on notice, and am working to silence the external critic. It’s hard. Attitudes and habits of thinking and responding at the age of 55 are hard to change. Especially if they are habits based on sloppy thinking. But I am being more kind and supportive. This also means ending the inner dialogues that have too often become habit when wrestling with difficulties. It is far more successful and productive when I am accepting of people as they present themselves and remove my expectations and pre(mis)conceptions.
Fifth, I’m letting others help. I’ve stopped trying to do it all or to carry it all. I’m learning to ask for help and allow help. This does worlds of good for reducing resentment that leads to anger. I’m also back to encouraging others, particularly colleagues, to ask for help, to not spin their wheels struggling with a problem for more than a couple hours before saying something. Struggle is good, developing self-sufficiency is good, but there are reasonable limits for that. I’m also encouraging Melinda more and more to be responsible for her own care to take it off of my shoulders.
Sixth, I have reduced input. I have reduced screen time of all kinds. I struggle with this a lot because these pocket computing devices (smart phones) were what I was waiting for much of my life. (And I said the same thing about my Casio PocketPC.) Also, where I used to always have the TV on as audiovisual wallpaper for both entertainment and to drown out the tinnitus, I am on my way of making tinnitus my friend. Accepting it. In the last six weeks I have spent more time in silence than I have in the last seven years, excluding outdoor activities. Reducing screen time has helped to starve some of the anger and irritation away, stripping it of its power.
Finally, I am learning to accept that I, Tod, have limits. There is only so much I can do, only so much I can be responsible for, and only so much I can do well. So I must learn not to be angry at when I hit those limits. I must accept there is absolutely no reason for me to be angry if I mishit a silly little white ball in the middle of a manicured pasture. It is a damn stupid thing to get angry about.
Anger can be positive force. There are things we should be angry about, such as injustice. It is all around us. Injustice feeds my anger but I know how to use that anger positively. I have avenues for working for justice and fairness, for equality for all. Anger helps me know when I need to step up my game there. But it shouldn’t stand in the way of living an emotionally engaged life fully connected and intertwined with others.
So not “no more anger” but “no more of anger as a lifestyle.”