“Every person who becomes angry, even if a sage, his wisdom departs from him. If he’s a prophet, his prophecy leaves him” [P’sachim 66b].
“One … in his anger, should be like an idol worshiper in your eyes” [Talmud Shabbat 105b].
“A funeral where people cry is so much more becoming than a funeral where people are angry” [me].
“Nothing can make you angry but you” [me].
On a superficial but also a deeper level, anger can be seen as a denial of that there is One all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benign G^d in change of the world. “This should not have happened!” We are better to judge what should have been or should be? It is true that G^d expects us to protest evil (and help eradicate it) but we do that by addressing, not be denying Him. Therefore, anger in general is called idol worship. And just as we should not look at idols, we should not stare at the face of someone who is consumed with anger. When we degrade ourselves, no one should see us.
Whatever aware or subconscious excuse we use, it’s is our brilliant brain that decides to get us angry. We may be so little in control or aware that we’d think it’s a reflex or that someone ‘pressed our buttons’ but there is no such mechanism or outside control.
Therefore, our policy in case of an angry outburst or anger coming up should not be, just relax, meditate, and ‘be reasonable and calm down.’ That would be a missed chance to deal with what is going on inside Then the next time, that we reactivate this, we have to start from scratch again.
Let us respect our brain that if it generated anger, there is something there that needs attention — not soothing.
That doesn’t permit us to destruct or hurt things, others, or ourselves. When we need to hit something, let us take a pillow or mattress that can’t get us hurt. We may whisper angrily instead or shouting if we want to express our feelings. Let’s make sure to be out of earshot of small children and the unborn, and of microphones or media ears or cameras to not create a bad record.
And I’m not suggesting just to keep the anger inside. It then would build up until we give in anyway. And while we’re angry inside, our health and awareness suffer. Let’s look at real alternatives to anger, not cover-ups.
Good Things About Anger
When we don’t feel safe enough to cry (broken heart) or shiver (fear), we often try to express anger to feel safer. We can encourage anger from people who have experienced heavy oppression, while making sure that they don’t hurt themselves or anything or anyone else (us). Thus, tears or shaking can start and the fake emotion, anger, will subside. Oppressors, in an attempt to stay comfortable, might try to shame angry people and demand that they ‘talk reasonably’ before they’d listen. This controlling and oppressive demand blunts, intimidates, and stifles the oppressed.
In grownups, most anger feels good when we unleash it but often has a bad aftertaste and after-effects. Are there harmless better options? The answer is yes. There are four things we can do that work better. They are harder to do than getting angry but they give better results and they feel better afterward. But, as I mentioned above, the choice to try one’s hand at staying calm should be with the speaker, not with the listener. When it’s hard to listen to an angry person, remember that we are not the issue. Rather, this is about liberating the speaker, not about hurting the listener.
Anger has three short-term effects that feel so good that it can give us a kick and even make us addicted to it. Those are:
1. It gives us energy when we lack strength and/or hope.
2. It makes us feel good when bad feelings threaten to take over.
3. It makes us feel safer when we feel at risk (as I mentioned above).
If it wasn’t so destructive, everyone should use anger all the time!
On another positive note, anger is the flip-side of something very good. What do I mean? Those who don’t have anger so much may also lack the opposite. And that is: caring. People who are not so connected about absolute values and principles, will also not be prone to blowing up. And, reversely, if we might have a tendency to get upset, we’re in good shape since we know that there are things to strive and live for. We’re idealistic.
Yet, our idealism probably will be even more productive without anger. When we lectured people furiously, they afterward, usually, only feel hurt, only recall that we were angry and not what we said. So, the message we felt so passionate about we did not transmit. Teaching and even calls to action in rage may motivate and inspire some people but the same ideas communicated with calmness would reach and activate far more people.
Anything good that we could accomplish in/with anger, we can do better without it. Why? It’s not the anger that gave us (temporary) energy, good feelings. These things we all caused ourselves. We can muster the same (and probably more) strength and power without riling up any anger.
The best thing about anger is, any time we decide not to use it.
Those who used to build up anger (stress) or to have a short fuse are lucky. Recovered serenity is more meritorious than someone’s natural calmness.
Every time we prevent ourselves from going the anger route, we guard our physical health, protect our relationships, stay in focus, and don’t do or say anything in a split-second that we would regret later for years to come.
Bad Things About Anger
Interpersonally and on a global scale, anger is a huge problem. It soon may be the leading cause of death. It’s already the leading cause of loneliness. (Anger destroys relationships, friendships, empathy, leaving us desolate.)
A major problem of many people shows in anger management courses. We may never have noticed we’re angering ourselves or even were mad. If they’re not too intimidated, our loved ones will tell us when we’re furious. Our children can show us what we look like when we’re livid (not pretty).
Try to recognize physical signs and sensations that may reveal that we are in a little or a lot of anger. Like pain (stomach ache, headache), other emotional states (sadness, hopelessness, fear, irritation, feeling attacked, resentful, anxious), sensations (rapid heart rate, a tight chest, clenching our jaw, grinding our teeth, sweating, especially in our palms, feeling hot in our neck/face, dizziness, shaking or trembling), thoughts (aggressive or racing thoughts, not considering advice, not even a little, having lost our sense of humor, wanting to win or run), and actions (verbal or physical attacks, changing our voice (screaming/whispering), throwing things, (almost) hurting ourselves, rubbing our head, clenching our fists, pacing, losing our sense of humor, craving alcohol or nicotine, crying, trembling).
When we act angrily, we don’t look more respectable. At best, we dictate obedience based on their terror or timidity. As soon as we’re out of sight or control, they’ll do as they please again. And doing things from dictates and not from one’s own free choice builds resentment. And in any case, fear wears off. Any progress based on dread is a house built on ice and not in the Arctics. It’s bound to sink and dissolve when the thaw starts.
And when we’re angry, we would not want to meet and face off with another angry person. Things may very quickly escalate and irreparable damage could result that both parties would regret when calm (again).
Unfortunately, the most popular trigger for anger is seeing others angry.
Luckily, there are alternatives that are constructive instead of destructive, a bit harder to employ but give much satisfaction, and that better represent who we are, what we stand for, and how we want to be seen.
Alternatives to anger we can learn for ourselves and we may teach others.
Proper alternatives to anger are not hard to understand or execute. The art is to train ourselves to remember that we have better alternatives. This training is best done when we’re not (yet) fuming.
The above first two reasons why anger feels good (short-term) have each two alternatives. I will list the four things we can do that are far superior.
1. When we lack energy, we can fake feeling energetic till we make it.
Instead of becoming a pathetic victim of circumstance, we can empower and encourage ourselves. Anger is not really an extra tool or friend. It just makes use of our energy. It doesn’t supply us with external energy sources. If we’re able to do something through anger, we can do it easier without making ourselves upset. (Because we didn’t waste energy on the anger.)
There are two ways to coach ourselves out of anger into real power:
A. Instead of hollow powerless anger, real (self-confident) power.
Let’s not just forbid anger to come in. Let’s say the opposite to ourselves of how we’d make ourselves angry. Silence in our head is a vacuum that can be filled up quickly with negativity. Instead, let us say positive things. We can’t make ourselves angry at the same time that we say that we have all the power in the world to accomplish what I want. I have what it takes. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Yes, I can.
B. Instead of desperate anger, brave hope.
I may not see light at the end of the tunnel yet, but I will be brave enough to start marching in the right direction anyway. “When we will, we will free the slaves, and when we die, we die.” Relaxed pride instead of noise.
2. When bad feelings show up, we better deal with them up-front.
A. Fear. Some thought or realization made us terrified. Tremble. We can help the trembling by making fun of these fears. “Hah, I’m going to be humiliated and disgraced forever and I’m ready for that right now!”
Trembling is not the sign that we’re scared but that we’re brave and repairing old fears. Bystanders will be so impressed with our heroism. “How did you not get angry? I would have exploded.” “Thank you.”
B. Sadness. Some thought or realization made us heart-broken. Cry. Disappointment is not that the world failed us. It’s just a sign that we need to recalibrate our expectations. Tears do that. (All kids know this.)
Now I gave you four alternatives to using anger. When we remember at least two, our brain is in gear and things are looking up. The four:
1A. To tap into our real power and use self-confidence. Yes, I can.
1B. To tap into our real power and use hope. It will get better.
2A. To be vulnerable and admit we’re scared and tremble.
2B. To be vulnerable and admit we’re heart-broken and cry.
When others need to see us angry or sad to wake up to the seriousness of a case, we may pretend to be angry or sad, without letting this get to us.
Let’s not overplay our hand. Let’s only set out not to get angry today. Only to tell the angry plots inside our head: tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes, of course. We are allowed to break an evil promise.
I thank my teacher Rachel Trugman for teaching me the inside of the inside of the principles of Rabbi Pliskin’s brave book Anger, the inner teacher. And I thank my clients who came to work with me on anger problems, for trusting me with things they’re absolutely not proud of. But, no one besides me is responsible for the way I (mis)understand these things.