Don’t ignore anger: Embrace it, learn from it, resolve it

by Leah McClellan

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When we embrace anger and take good care of our anger, we get relief. —Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week, in my post Why I’m jealous of men (it’s not what you think), I wrote about feeling jealous of some big bloggers like Leo Babauta and Darren Rowse.

I wasn’t feeling jealous of them specifically because they’re men or because of their success as bloggers. I was thinking of the old gripe “behind every successful man there’s a woman” and wishing I had one of those (or at least a personal chef).

True story. I sat down to put some final touches on a blog post I had written a few days before when suddenly, faced with my only breakfast option of hot oatmeal on a hot day and wishing for cold cereal, I just had to write about an entirely different subject: what I was feeling.

I called it jealousy, but you know what? Jealousy isn’t a pure sort of emotion.

Many psychologists and sociologists place emotions into four categories: mad, glad, sad, and scared or nervous. Within each category are many variations, synonyms, and degrees of intensity. Jealousy belongs under “mad” although it can also manifest in fear and sadness.

I was feeling angry. Since it was a certain type of anger that involved other people, it’s called jealousy. Envy is actually more accurate, but “Why I’m envious of men” just didn’t cut the mustard. And that is called poetic license.

Anyway, I wasn’t really angry. Just peeved. Irritated. Irked or piqued.

I felt annoyed with Leo Babauta, for starters. His blog post The Simplest Diet for Lean Fitness got on my nerves.

Why? I like the stuff he writes. I’ve been following him for a couple of years. I live pretty much the same way he does, more or less, and I agree with or understand the reasoning behind most of the stuff he writes about.

So why would I get annoyed with an article he wrote about how he eats?

My feelings had nothing to do with him. My anger—annoyance, irritation, or what-have-you—had nothing to do with his article. It had everything to do with me.

That is the nature of feelings.

When we’re angry or upset with someone, even when we actually know the person—a friend, a relative, a spouse—our feelings have nothing to do with the other person.

Some of you already know that. Others might be thinking Hold on. What if someone does something really mean to me or makes fun of me, calls me names, insults my mother, or steals my car. Isn’t it that person’s fault that I’m angry?

No, it’s not. Our emotions are our own. Our feelings are our own. How we react emotionally to anything is a choice, even if that choice is made in a nanosecond.

It’s not like people hurl a lightening bolt at us or inject us with a drug when they say or do things that piss us off.

What someone does or says or writes might trigger our emotions, but our emotional reactions are just that: reactions. They aren’t part of an inevitable cause-effect situation.

Leo’s blog post triggered my anger (low level though it was). That led me to thinking about Darren Rowse on Problogger and a bunch of other men bloggers as I did some browsing around on the blogosphere.

And that triggered even more annoyance, which resulted in last week’s post.

Here’s something I didn’t mention. That feeling of irritation toward men in general who, as I imagine, have the luxury of a wife to take care of the home and cooking while they work goes way back for me. Many women have felt that way and, even if we aren’t in that situation ourselves, we might think about it on behalf of all women.

As one or two readers mentioned in the comments last week, a well-known essay was written on the subject awhile back: I Want a Wife.

I first read it in a freshman literature class, and it was in the back of my head as I wrote my post.

Traditional gender roles have not been easy for women or men, but fortunately we have many more choices these days. But that wasn’t what I was really thinking about, and I definitely had no idea (nor cared) what kind of set up the guys I referred to have. That was just the trigger for a “poor me” or overwhelmed sort of feeling.

All that aside, here’s what we can learn from anger.

When we’re angry at someone or something, it always points back to ourselves. The trigger is secondary.

In my case, I’ve been frustrated for awhile with the lack of organization in my household (which is just me, my two dogs, and my cat), especially with the lack of a system for grocery shopping and meals. Since I work at home doing freelance writing and editing work, I have to have some sort of system.

There are reasons I haven’t spent time on developing skills in that area—divorce, buying a fixer-upper house, moving, job issues, family issues, quitting a job a year ago, deciding to freelance and setting that up, caring for two beloved but medically-involved cats and a dog and grieving their passing—all sorts of rough stuff in the last four or five of years.

Still, it’s time to take care of some things. Every time I’m in the middle of working and there’s nothing reasonable to eat in the refrigerator, I feel frustrated and promise myself that I’ll somehow get it organized. Soon.

And when I read Leo’s article about his diet—eating right is super important to me—my feelings of frustration with myself and my situation welled up.

When we get angry, it’s not because of someone else. It’s what is in us. Seeds of anger planted long ago. Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, explains:

We can look deeply into [anger] and gain many insights. The first insight may be that the seed of anger in us has grown a little too big, and it is the main cause of our misery. As we begin to see this fact, we realize that the other person is only a secondary cause. The other person is not the main cause of our anger.

If we don’t take care of our anger by looking into the reasons for it and resolving them, then we stay angry.

We all have seeds of anger in us. My choice has been to examine my anger any time I’m feeling it—even if it’s very slight, as was the case with the jealousy I was feeling that turned into last week’s post.

I knew I wasn’t really and truly jealous of anyone—but I was feeling that way. By looking a little deeper, I was able to see very clearly where it was coming from: anger at myself for not getting my act together.

Underneath that is some residual anger toward my ex-husband. Behind that is anger at myself once again. And underneath even that are seeds of anger that were planted a very long time ago, but that’s another story for another day.

When it comes to anger, it always has to do with us primarily—nobody else.

And certainly Leo Babauta, Darren Rowse, and the other guys I mentioned have absolutely nothing to do with all this.

Thinking about and writing what I was feeling and why—and why the hell these bloggers were getting on my nerves—really brought the emotion up into my awareness, into my consciousness. It brought it up enough to feel the full feeling of irritation at myself and the situation—and resolve to do something about it.

If we repress anger or any other emotion—try to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist—it doesn’t go away.

It gets buried and it pops out in other areas of our lives: dark moods, snapping at people, irritation for reasons we can’t figure out. Bitchiness and backstabbing. Hostility. Power trips. Or it gnaws at us inside and causes other problems like depression, insomnia, anxiety, and physical diseases.

It’s like a dormant seed, always there, waiting to be watered. And as I dig up little seeds of anger like this one—and water seeds of compassion and caring for myself instead—I make my life that much more peaceful.

Anger (and related emotions like jealousy) isn’t anything to be afraid of.

The beauty of embracing it and making friends with it is that we can do something about the roots of it.

Read more on how I handled a really rough situation with anger as it was happening—and never once broke rank.

What about you? How do you handle anger? Do you stuff it? Scream it? Journal it? Or something in between? Tell your story in the comments.

And please Tweet and Share if you like what you read!

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{ 12 comments }

marc van der Linden

I believe anger is an reaction of a feeling of powerless. It has always been one of my primary emotions up until the last years where I’m living every day with more empowerment.

I learnt it not a good idea to suppress anger, as it will just come back. The best way to deal with for me is changing perspective.

Thanks for sharing!
marc van der Linden´s last blog post ..How to change your perspective to balance your emotions

Leah McClellan

Hi Marc,

That’s a good point–I think when we’re feeling powerless we’re much more likely to get upset or angry with others or see the negative in things much more than the positive. I don’t think we can even be happy if we’re feeling powerless over our lives. Changing perspective is definitely a good way to go.

Thanks for stopping by!

Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

Hi Leah, this is a great read and makes me think. I know exactly what you mean! I’ve chosen to live in a messy house ( i have three kids and a husband) so I can focus on my writing (not cleaning or cooking) but I still get angry because I have to live in a messy house! We have to learn that everything involves compromises plus, most days I don’t even notice the mess but on a bad day it drives me nuts:)
Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot´s last blog post ..Twitter Tips For Bloggers

Leah McClellan

Hi Annabel, I agree–everything has to be a compromise. Mess doesn’t bother me so much (looking at my desk right now–sheesh!) although dirt does. With 2 dogs, a cat, and allergies it’s got to be fairly clean underneath the mess! And I just can’t stay focused on a project when there’s (literally) nothing to eat in the kitchen. Junk food, fast food, etc isn’t an option so I just have to work on my organization! Nice to see you :)

Ken G

It’s all God’s fault! If God didn’t want me to be angry then He shouldn’t have created humans with that emotion!

I like my anger. It’s one of the greatest gifts given to me and I am a self confessed hot head.who always paid the price for my anger. Go to a gym sometime when you’re angry and tell me what kind of work-out you’ve had. I was in Toastmasters for public speaking and the speeches put together from being angry about a subject were the best ones. Even with writing I look get involved with discussion with the worst possible behaviors in order to master the art of writing. Just this morning I joined a group from anger about the behavior of an individual. This stretches me into moving into the unknown and facing the challenge of dealing at whatever is presented me to deal with.

One thing I noticed is the part about your ex. In that area of my life my anger was directed at myself for making the choice of marrying in the first place. Then later in life she wrote me that she was dying of lung cancer and it was time to make amends. Amends means to make right which she was doing before she died. We made things right between us but I also sat down and made amends to myself in writing. We’re just human beings so we make mistakes in life but how many of us ever make things right to ourselves, even if that includes anger.

Leah McClellan

Hi Ken,

You’ve got some really interesting points here! I wonder. When you think of God giving us the emotion of anger, do you also think of everything else we’re given? All of our emotions–the pleasant ones and the not-so-pleasant ones– plus things like sexuality, the ability to have children, the ability to do harm to other people, and so on. Then if we think further, we were also given free will and the ability to make choices with all the things we were given. Also, if your belief system is Jewish or Christian (I’m guessing, since you mentioned God) then you know there is a lot in both the Old and New Testaments about anger.

It’s true that in can be channeled! I can’t imagine going to the gym angry, though–when I’m angry about something I usually like to be alone and work it out (meditate etc) if possible before going anywhere. Plus, it’s just an emotion–I don’t like to be the emotion. I like to be me. Make sense? I like what you say about making amends–with yourself too. That’s great. And yep, we’re humans, we make mistakes, all of us. And it always great to make things right, including stuff with anger. I’ve had plenty of those times!.

pea

Really, really interesting. I’m wondering though whether I have to embrace it or give it any more attention than I give my good nature. Both come and go. I suppose…(and I’m thinking as I’m writing here!) if I were hurting other people then yes I guess I’d have to deal with it.
I do wonder though if sometimes we are too critical and over-analytical of ourselves pulling apart every aspect that makes us less than us saintly…interesting though.

Hallo, in any case!
pea´s last blog post ..What If You Die…Suddenly? pt 1

Leah McClellan

Hi Pea,

Welcome to Peaceful Planet! You’ve brought up a few very interesting points that need an entire post to respond to–and I think I’ll do that in the next few weeks or so because they’re really important. But briefly–

I believe that we are innately compassionate. Anger clouds that. Anger also clouds our judgment and distorts things. It can also hurt other people, hurt ourselves. It causes physical problems like heart disease, stress-related diseases, even accidents when our bodies are all tight with anger. I have found this from experience as well as reading, for example Thich Nhat Hahn, whom I quoted.

As for being too critical–maybe we can do it out of love for ourselves and for others. Why be angry? And if we don’t know what we’re angry about, why not figure it out? Our emotions don’t lie–they point the way to issues in our lives that can be resolved. If we ignore our emotions we miss opportunities to improve our lives. As for “saintly”–for me that’s not the motivation. It’s not about being a “better” person or a “good” person. It’s about living a better, happier life and simplifying things. Emotional minimalism, if you will. Why not declutter and let the “real” me shine? :)

Checked out your blog–cool! Nice to “meet” you.

pea

You are right of course. I agree with all the top bits. Emotional minimalism? I’m..not sure…and I’m not sure what I’m not sure about. Maybe the idea of sloughing off some emotions in favour of others. Would that really leave the ‘real’ person, or a manicured one?

Why be angry? Because it’s raw and real. It’s not been edited. Because it can initiate real change. Because it lets off steam. Because it feels more creative than calmness and I say this as a laid back person.
I have a sneaking suspicion that we may be saying the same thing but in different ways. You’re saying (I think) analyze anger, know where it’s coming from. I’m saying sure, do that but let it roll like thunder! Express it! Both these things will help alleviate that gnawing, resentful anger your post talked about…

I’m going to have to wait until you write the next piece and see if my questions have clarified themselves. I very much look forward to it! I hope you don’t see it as pulling apart your post and more as a discussion…which doesn’t happen a lot on blogs which is a shame.
pea´s last blog post ..Prisoner

Leah McClellan

Hi again Pea,

I love discussion. Like many bloggers, though, I only have so much time due to work and life and whatever else, but I do try to make time and love it whenever someone takes time to explain their response to a post in the comments. It’ll be a few weeks before I get another post up about anger, so….

I think “emotional minimalism” might give an idea that I don’t intend. We can’t slough off emotions. But we can understand them and not be drama queens/kings flying off the handle back and forth on an emotional roller coaster all the time. I know people like this–some are loud about it, others are quiet.

Did you get the Peaceful Planet Manifesto? It’s free in the upper right corner. That will help you understand where I’m coming from.

I disagree that anger is “real.” Of course it’s real, in a sense, but it’s an emotion, produced by our thinking, beliefs, and past conditioning, and underneath anger is a need that’s not getting met. It always points to us, inside. Nobody else. What’s “real” is what the person is really needing and lacking underneath that anger. That is what is real.
The “real” person (as I see things) is the person underneath all that suffering. With the angry people I’ve known, I wish I could get to know the “real” person. But it’s not possible because they are hiding behind their anger, fears, hurts, assumptions, and so on.

I’m not sure what you mean by expressing anger. How we express it or deal with it is something different from actually feeling it and being acquainted with it (a lot of people don’t even realize they’re angry sometimes). When I say “anger” I mean only the emotion. And one of the reasons I write about anger is to help people know it’s OK to feel it, understand it, and get to know it. I’m personally very familiar all sorts of less-than-great way ways to express anger. I’ve done way more than my share of that. But not everyone is or has.

Also, in this example I gave in this post (and the previous one), the resolution to the anger couldn’t come by yelling or something (not sure what you mean). That wouldn’t provide the underlying need, which is to get some better organization with my food/eating situation at home. So I could jump up and down and fuss and foam at the mouth all day about it if I want to, but it’s just going to come back next time I’m hungry, have work to do, and don’t have any food in the refrigerator. Might as well take care of business, no?

I hope that explains! There are lots of good books on this including the one I mentioned. You might also want to read this post:

Anger Management: It’s Not Just For Bullies
http://peacefulplanetcommunication.com/2010/09/23/anger-management-its-not-just-for-bullies/

Knowing how to handle anger is so important. In this case (in link above), I did, in fact, blow off some steam with someone very prepared and trained to handle it. The kind of anger I discuss here, though, is really (really) way high up on the scale. Out the roof. Totally different from the mild annoyance I talk about in the recent post. But practicing on the small stuff helps us handle the big stuff.

Hope that helps! Anger, if not expressed in healthy ways (get down to what the need is, not hurt anyone, not destroy a marriage or friendship etc), can be destructive. It’s what is behind violent crime, child abuse, or terrorism, wars, etc–all that. It’s an enormous topic, and best bet is for you to explore on your own and see what you find out :) I’ll have more on this in a few weeks more than likely. Cool that you’re interested! Very helpful to know what readers are thinking of because it informs what I write about :)

pea

Interesting…(strokes chin). Okay (smile) I got me some reading to do, so I’ll take my time and read the recommendeds and come back on this one…
pea´s last blog post ..Calm Oasis Vibes

AstroGremlin

Anger is always about you, and it typically stems from fear of some kind of loss. Loss of control, loss of freedom, loss of opportunity, loss of time, loss of face. It’s important to own that and change your attitude or behavior. But then it’s also important to inform the person making you angry. If they persist, then you have lost the power to control your world. Get away from them.
AstroGremlin´s last blog post ..Fear of Public Speaking

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