pace your rage
Hey all! This week I am writing about something that has particularly affected my life in the past and which I had (and still have) to work on: Anger management.
Aristotle defines anger as ‘“...a desire, commingled with pain, to see someone punished, and which is provoked by an apparent slight to the angered person, or to something or someone that belongs to him, when that slight is not justified...”
So, for the Greek philosopher, anger is strictly connected to a need to respond to something unjust. Which, you may say, it’s a fair understanding, but also perhaps limited. Many other intellectuals and scholars have delved into the subject of anger: Pythagoras would recommend countering anger with melody, Sun-Tzu would advise to refrain from anger as it clouds the judgement in battle, and Seneca would seek to completely eliminate anger by training a tranquil mind. If you think about it, little has changed from these approaches today.
We all feel emotions, and most likely we have all snapped at some point because someone, or something, triggered a reaction in ourselves. When this happens we usually feel overwhelmed, as if our bodies have been momentarily seized by a ghostly presence within. In other words, anger makes us hurt who made us angry. During these times, we tend to explode and exaggerate our actions towards others in a way that can be painful for them, but also for ourselves. As a matter of fact, after we act upon our feelings of anger and frustration it is not unusual to descend into a spiral of guilt and regret, which in turn make us anxious and weak.
It would be silly, and probably impossible, to think of eradicating anger from our lives all at once. Nonetheless, there is something that we can take away and learn from those beliefs system that differ from our own. Anger is, in many cultures, is thought of as a godly or superhuman feature which is not acceptable for men. When it does show, it is usually attributed to witchcraft, or else considered an extremely shameful and inappropriate behaviour.
Of course it would not make sense to understand anger in these terms for us, simply because these beliefs do not fit within our system and would not apply to our way of life. Still, perhaps there is some wisdom in creating a divide between ourselves and anger. Yes, because if you think about it, we associate our identity with our feelings way too often. How many times have you said or been told ‘do what you feel is best’ or anything similar? This kind of reasoning can create many issues and lead to regrettable decisions, because not always what we feel is good or relieving is also right for us.
Recently I got into a small squabble with one of my good friends. I am very impulsive by nature and my first intention was to make my point heard, and to somehow overtake his opinion. Usually I would go for it, but this time I did something else instead: I took a break and walked around the block. Just for a few minutes I stayed with my thoughts and looked within, piercing through my anger with reason and calm. I realised why I was feeling that way and instead of trying to convince my friend I was right, I just explained what I felt, and also that I loved this person and I had no intention to fight over small things. We cleared the air in no time and in a much more harmonious way than if I would try and have an aggressive approach.
What I learned from this situation is that we always have a choice, even when we think we don’t or are convinced that what our emotions tell us is the only truth. We can choose to pause, think and reconnect to ourselves. I think of this as a nice big invisible button that is in front of me at all time, and by ‘pressing’ it I allow myself to take a step back and look at the situation with new sight.