Anger is a problem for me. It is difficult to admit that because if you asked anyone who knows me, my outward persona doesn’t project anger. By most accounts I could probably do with standing up for myself more often. It can be easy then to deny the inner problem. I can say to myself; anger isn’t a problem for me, I’m not violent, and I rarely even raise my voice. But it is a problem because it can spoil my day, and it makes me feel like a shitty person.
The time I usually get angry is when I am walking home from work. I have to walk past three schools right around finishing time. I find myself getting frustrated at parents chatting and blocking off the pavement with their pushchairs. At children and their notoriously erratic movements. At people who generally just get in the way and move slower than I do. I like to call this pedestrian rage. I have pedestrian rage and I am trying to do something about it.
One thing that helps is to practice mindfulness. For me I find that focusing on sounds, or the sensation in the soles of my feet as I walk tends to prevent me from getting caught up in bouts of anger without even really realising. The point of being mindful isn’t to stop it happening, but rather to not let it snowball so that I become anger, and before I know it I’m cursing people left right and centre for no apparent reason. Mindfulness helps to see the anger come up, and then watch it go away.
Another thing I try to do is counteract angriness with friendliness. If I’m mindful and I notice I’m directing anger at someone, I apologize to them in my mind and wish them well.
The other evening I realised that I was doing all this, but I was fixated on eliminating the part of me that gets angry. You could say that I was angry at being angry. You can’t solve your anger by getting angry at yourself. It occurred to me that it is important to accept that it’s alright for those feelings to come up in me, that it doesn’t make me a bad person, and that it’s important to treat it with love.
I think the issue comes when we get caught up in our anger, it becomes who we are. I like to envisage it as a hideous gremlin that we all have as a pet. Angry, bitter people are the ones who have fed their gremlin too much. It’s got too big and it’s dragging them around on the leash, smashing things, and being horrible to people. They kick it in a vain attempt to discipline it, it bites them. The whole scenario is a nasty mess.
It has really helped me to view my anger as a little gremlin. Let’s call him Rage. The poor beast doesn’t get much love. Even I have been getting resentful and upset at him. Nobody else wants to know him. I’m stuck with him. Poor old Rage is alright really. It’s okay to have him as a pet. It’s alright to love him. Part of loving him is to be his master. To reign him in when he starts barking at cars and strangers. To apologise to them, and not be too hard on myself for looking after this beast that nobody else wants to know.
I then also realised in showing Rage a little love that he can sometimes do things for me. That he might ultimately spur me on to do something that changes the world. Perhaps that is too ambitious, but there are plenty of people in history who mastered their anger and used it to achieve great things. Sometimes anger at injustice or oppression is all it takes to change the world, but you’re not going to get there if you only feed your gremlin junk food and let it pull you around. Not only can your anger motivate you to do good, it can also teach you things. When Rage starts growling at a stranger that has absent mindedly stopped in front of me, he’s trying to tell me something too. I can listen without letting him bite them.
Be the master of your own anger.