A Treatise on Anger
“Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.”
Robert Green Ingersoll
We should banish the world of anger – expel it to the farthest reaches of the Universe – prohibit all and every person from being or becoming angry – especially men. It is a toxic emotion that serves no purpose except to incite war and death. Way back in Rome at the time of Christ, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (otherwise known as Seneca the younger) knew this when he wrote,
“Anger: an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored
than to anything into which it is poured.”
But is this really true?
Aristotle, 350 odd years earlier in Greece wrote,
“Anyone can become angry, that is easy.
But to be angry at the right person, to the right degree,
at the right time, for the right purpose,
and in the right way – that is not easy.”
So, here lies our issue, it is ridiculous to say that any and all forms of anger are bad. We needed it way back in the day when could be set upon by a tiger walking through the jungle. Faced with the choice of death and the fight, flight or freeze response I’m sure most would agree we’d at least like one brave soul to become as outrageously angry as possible – so outrageously angry in fact that they might be foolish enough to actually stand up to the tiger whilst the rest of us bugger off as quickly as our shaking little legs could carry us. So in survival mode sure, bring on the anger and make it as fast and as irrational as possible.
The mechanism here is seated deep in the brain – rational mind gets ‘blown out’ by a little almond shaped part of the brain’s limbic system called the amygdala. Thought processes get hijacked by massive emotional responses. Hence ‘brave’ man doesn’t even think of fear or even consequences, adrenalin and emotions take over – irrationality rules.
Problem is, of course that ‘brave’ becomes ‘dumb’ when ‘tiger’ gets confused with ‘person in car who cuts us off in traffic’. New research, thanks to advances in neuro-cognitive science, also shows us with the benefit of fMRI machines that our ‘self regulatory’ function – yes, that’s the bit that says ‘No dummy that’s not a tiger!’ – is diminished by things such as stress, lack of sleep, lack of caffeine and – bet you might have guessed this one – how fairly we think we are being treated…
Hence, if you are working long hours (see latest research on work trends), are sleeping badly (see the effects on sleep patterns of using more mobile gadgets – and if you sleep with your phone on your bedside table here’s a free tip – STOP IT NOW!), and/or feel like you have been slighted in some way – then guess what? The person in the car who cuts us off looks a lot like a tiger!
Hmmm… But wait there’s more – neuro-cognitive research informs us that we all have what’s called mimic neurons in our brains which means that if we see or experience an angry person, for example, we actually mimic their anger. Neat huh? Anger actually attracts anger – the person in the car who cuts us off in traffic may see us in their rear view mirror giving them the proverbial finger and cussing at them, and guess what – mimic neurons kick in and bingo – tiger sees tiger after all!
Ok – so let’s back up a bit before this all gets out of hand. Lots of beautiful teachings tell us that all anger arises from within. We fear we are going to be eaten by a tiger so we get angry to spur us into action or at some point in our lives some miserable bugger (otherwise known as venerable teacher) hurt us in such a way as to cause us to store such level of emotion to allow us to tap into extreme anger to ensure it never happens to us again. And some of us have been repeatedly hurt in such a way that we have masses of emotional pain stored inside us that we can only access and hopefully release through anger, conflict and a good fight.
The problem is, as you may have gathered from above, that once the genie is out of the bottle – look out! Hijacking begins, we are not in control, we are wild and emotional. So, where lies opportunity? BEFORE the hijacking that’s where. Because as Aristotle says, we would like to be angry in the right way not just be the vehicle holding the poisonous chalice.
Own your anger. Don’t ever blame anyone else for your own anger. Self-awareness is the start – What makes you angry? What happens when you get angry? What happens to your breathing, your thought processes, and your physical body? Recognise what presses your buttons? What is the trigger? – is it self worth, pride, old patterns, past experiences? Recognise the signs and the stages and know that the opportunity to prevent a hijacking occurs only in the beginning stages.
Make a choice to love yourself unconditionally. Make a choice to choose what it is that you actually want in your life. Be clear on what the boundaries are. Become aware of when those boundaries are being crossed. Don’t kid yourself that you can reason with the dummy who thinks they are seeing a tiger and recognise that your very own mimic neurons will undermine your calm response. WALK AWAY.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
In peace and love always.