In the course of a day I see a lot of angry people, and I don’t even work in an office anymore! But, when I did, wow! It was as if getting irrationally angry had become an Olympic event, and no one told me (if it has, btw, I have some fantastic nominations for team USA).
Let me define what I mean by “irrationally angry”. My personal belief is that all anger is irrational and unwarranted, and that it stems from a place of fear within the person exhibiting it. I understand that many people disagree with this. Many people believe that anger is a natural reaction that happens to you when something bad/negative/not what you want occurs. I have even heard people (and most therapists) say that anger is healthy.
I believe everyone is responsible for their own emotions and reactions, and that with enough work it is possible for a human being to transcend issues like anger and fear. I don’t think anger is ever an ideal or healthy response. I think the person who is angry is responsible for their own happiness, and not whatever/whomever set them off.
That being said, I know that we live in a world that is highly imperfect. Horrible things happen, and sometimes people react to them with anger. I often react the same way to extreme events in the short term, even as I strive not to. If someone’s house is foreclosed on, or or they get in a horrible car accident, or they are cheated on, I can see why anger would be the first reaction. None of us are perfect, and sometimes it takes time to come to terms with really difficult things.
What I’m talking about in this piece, however, is an even more irrational and insidious form of anger. I’m talking about anger over inevitable things that are literally just a condition of being a human being.
I’m talking about people swearing because they’re stuck in traffic, or getting angry with their spouses because they didn’t respond or do something in exactly the way they were “supposed to”. I’m talking about yelling at waiters when your order is wrong, or basically any time your main reason for anger or upset is that someone isn’t doing exactly what you wish they were doing. By the way, anger isn’t always exhibited by yelling and screaming, for some people anger is quiet.
When I had my office job, I remember frequently listening to people vent because they were upset and offended that someone disagreed with them during a meeting, or feeling a sense of betrayal that someone failed to follow through on an assignment, or my favorite of all- angry about the weather. THE WEATHER. When you have reached a point in life, emotionally, where you are upset that it is cold during winter, or that there is traffic during rush hour, or that a friend/spouse/relative/coworker isn’t doing what YOU want them to do…it’s time to reassess your emotional maturity.
These things are inevitable. Sometimes in life you will get ripped off, sometimes your favorite mug will break, sometimes you’ll be late because of traffic, sometimes your order will get screwed up, sometimes people won’t be very nice to you, and sometimes you won’t get your way. To set the expectation that every single person you interact with fully grasps who you are, every struggle you’ve been through, and operates with individualized sensitivity to your exact needs is unreasonable.
Getting angry over the inevitable is like being a toddler who tantrums because they don’t want to go to bed. You know that every night they have to go to bed. They know that every night they have to go to bed. In fact, at some point, everyone has to go to bed. But it doesn’t matter, because human beings who are toddler aged are completely self-absorbed creatures. They are literally unable to think about other people’s experiences, which is ok, that’s not their fault. They literally don’t have the hardware to react any other way, but adults do. Whenever I see a grown adult blasting their car horn and swearing, or someone shouting angrily on a cell phone- all I can think of is a little kid having a temper tantrum.
Hopefully, as we age (another inevitable thing people get angry about) we mature.
Imagine how amazingly stress-free your life could be if you didn’t get angry over little stuff! The other day, the fella was getting something from storage in our apartment, the box he was getting fell, and a few of my dishes shattered. He apologized profusely and I kind of shrugged, it really wasn’t a big deal. In fact, all I could think was, “wow, we haven’t broken anything in a while!”
If you live long enough, a few dishes are going to get broken- when it happens try to remember that there are a heck of a lot of people in the world who don’t have dishes at all.
Wanting to live life exactly according to your standards, with anger or disappointment or sadness as your primary recourse when you don’t like something, is setting yourself up for unhappiness and stress. Something WILL happen that you don’t like in the future. As long as you feel sorry for yourself, and think it’s unfair, you will cope very poorly with any ups and downs .
Life is not out to get you, and if you feel victimized by it that is your own choice. Life is like a weird board game that is partially luck and partially skill. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, sometimes luck is not on your side. That’s just the way it goes! No one is top dog every single time, and getting angry when you don’t win is silly.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to rid themselves of unnecessary anger is mistaking lack of action for success. It’s easy for people think that if they don’t exhibit their anger or frustration, the situation is resolved. I don’t believe that’s the case. While it is kinder in some ways, because you aren’t forcing people to live through your ridiculous tantrums, that anger is still inside you and it will come out eventually.
The process of permanently reducing your anger is about truly, honestly, internally accepting the nature of life. Breaking a glass and acting like you aren’t mad, and then stewing about it for days, is not helpful. Instead, I like to think the phrase, “well, that’s life!” And then comes the magical part- just. move. on.
Seriously, it’s that simple.
Don’t bring it up again, don’t give it another thought, don’t stew, don’t hold onto your anger like it’s a badge of how unfair life has been. Toss it up in the air and move forward.
If it’s hard for you, try to ask yourself these 10 questions to help you understand why you’re really angry. I purposefully phrase these in a childlike way, I think it helps illuminate just how immature we’re being when we get upset over things that are really “just life”.
When you answer yes to any of these, it’s a good indicator that you’re irrationally angry! I think you can easily change the word “mad” for “upset”, “hurt”, “sad”, and “disappointed”, because different personality types exhibit emotions in different ways, and I believe all of these feelings are up to us to change, not other people:
- Am I mad because I wanted someone to act a certain way, and they didn’t?
- Am I mad because I wanted something to happen, and it didn’t?
- Am I mad because someone didn’t put me first?
- Am I mad because this wasn’t part of my plan?
- Am I mad because I was inconvenienced?
- Am I mad because I think I deserve/am owed something that I didn’t get?
- Am I mad because I feel a lack/loss of control in my life?
- Am I mad about something that happens to almost everyone at least once in their life?
- Am I mad because I fear I am not loved or appreciated enough?
- Am I mad about something that I won’t even remember in 5 years?