There are good kinds of anger that can spur us to act, as when we become angry if we see something wrong. We may feel angry that whatever it is has happened and try to correct it or do something to prevent it from happening again. This is the sort of anger that parents may feel if their children are hurt, or worse, killed. Once the rage has dissipated, the anger may not. It can become a positive force for good or it may result in death by suicide.
Then there are the bad kinds of anger that don’t do any good. The ones that are obviously destructive, we can see and understand. But there is a more subtle level that we can overlook. This is the anger that we create for ourselves.
What? Why would I want to create anger for myself?
There is a kind of resistance that we have when something makes us angry that sets up a chain-reaction that is fueled by anger. We think about what happened and why it made us angry. And that fuels more thoughts about anger and more emotions and more thoughts… Soon, we can easily be consumed by the universe of thoughts that fuel our anger. Whether the original matter that caused us to become angry was large or small, significant or minutia, it becomes consumed by the emotional fuel.
We spend time — this is the key — we spend our time thinking about this ‘internal anger.’ Sometimes, we are angry with ourselves for allowing things to happen that in hindsight, might have been prevented or avoided. Sometimes, we are angry with others who could have done something but didn’t. Sometimes, we are angry at unfairness or injustice, to us or someone we know (not the abstract, although that is a big factor). Sometimes, we are just angry at the universe for putting us in the circumstances where we find ourselves. It doesn’t matter, so long as we can be angry about something. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? … And on and on.
The focus is “this.” “This happened. I am upset because this happened.”
And that’s the problem. Now, whatever it was that happened becomes secondary to being upset. “This” has taken over. As long as we think about “this,” we will continue to be angry, continue to be consumed by it. It’s hard to stop the cycle. It’s really hard.
The first thing to do is to recognize that keeping internal anger is harmful to oneself. It doesn’t hurt anyone else.
Ok. Sure. Great. Now what? How do I manage it? Just shut off my emotions? Sometimes that is useful. Not let anything upset me ever? Tried. Didn’t work. Even if at the time I don’t react, later, I may find that I am actually quite angry. Not that outward destructive anger, but the internal anger.
I’ve struggled with this question for most of my life. Tried all sorts of meditation and patterning techniques to change it. Nothing worked. Not really.
Until (you were expecting that, weren’t you?) this year. Several things happened to me last year that have caused me to re-evaluate everything. Literally everything I knew or thought I knew. I’m still going through that process. It is hard, extremely hard. But it’s going to turn out to be a good thing. I’m already well on my way to finding a new footing.
I happened to be focused on the question of anger one morning and heard an interview with an Inuit Elder.
DOUCLEFF: Martha Tikivik is 83 and was born in an igloo. She says Inuits didn’t have time to be angry. It just got in their way.
TIKIVIK: (Through interpreter) Anger’s not going to solve your problem. It’s just going to stop you from doing something that you need to get done.
DOUCLEFF: She says that since ancient times, Inuit have seen anger as unproductive.
TIKIVIK: (Through interpreter). Anger has no purpose.
“It’s going to stop you from doing something that you need to get done.”
She wasn’t saying don’t be angry. She wasn’t saying anything about this or that that might make someone angry. She was going to the source and saying that being angry was going to prevent the person from doing something that was necessary, potentially for the person’s very survival.
The more I thought about what she said and the more I realized how much of my time — time I could be spending on things much more productive and enjoyable — was being spent on feeding my internal anger. Why?
For me, “not being angry” was something I wanted to do but found extremely difficult.
But once I looked at it in this way, instead of focusing on trying not to be angry, I began consciously switching my thoughts to what I wanted to do, away from whatever was making me angry. It wasn’t enough for me to try to ‘not feed the anger.’ I could do that, sort of. But even though I was trying to dissipate it, I was still focused on the anger, on “this” that made me angry.
By realizing that spending my time thinking about “this” and my own anger (justified or not) were getting in the way of my doing other things – productive things (such as planning some new online classes and organizing some workshops), things I would much prefer to spend my time thinking about, the change within was almost instant.
Now, whenever I find myself slipping into that cycle of ‘internal anger,’ I recall the Elder’s words. I refocus my thoughts and my energy on what I should be doing, what I need to be doing, and what can help me create a productive outcome. It’s not always easy. But the more I try, the easier it gets.