Anger of the Mind is Poison to the Soul
Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it
About two weeks ago, I was out with a friend for dinner. We had a nice meal, discussed our days, and then I headed home to pack for my trip to Trinidad. On my way home driving through downtown Minneapolis, I spotted a bicyclist a little ways ahead me. He was swerving between lanes, biking in the car lane rather than the designated bike lane clearly marked to the right of me, and seemed to be oblivious to other cars on the road. As the distance between us grew smaller, and I was coming up behind him, I began wondering what direction he was planning on going when we reached the red light up ahead. Was he going to make a right hand turn at the light like I was planning to do? Was he planning on just stopping and then continue strait when the light turned green? He couldn’t be making a left hand turn because there were two lanes to our left. Since he hadn’t signaled, wasn’t in the bike lane, and was hovering randomly in my lane and did not seem aware of the fact that I was approaching on his right hand side, I gently honked my horn as a courtesy to let him know so he wouldn’t be startled. Given his lackadaisical biking style, I assumed he was wearing headphones and couldn’t hear me either.
After I honked, I waved and signaled with my hand that I was just letting him know I was coming up on his side and about turn right. To my dismay however, he abruptly stopped, turned around and flicked me off. I was completely shocked!! But wait, it gets worse! He then gets off his bike, walks up to the hood of my car, and parks his bike in front of my car so I can’t drive and begins screaming at me:
You fucking bitch!
You’re not going anywhere tonight!
Fuck you Bitch!
You think you own the road!?
You people and your fucking cars!
Fuck off you fucking bitch!!
That’s him. SCARY right?!
Umm…WTF?!! I did not know what to say or do. I was stunned and honestly a bit scared. At just 5’1” and 100 pounds, I wasn’t at all prepared to defend myself if this guy was some sort of psychopath.
That’s me. I’m very ferocious huh? Are you scared yet?
…yeah, I didn’t think so either.
But my flight or fight response got the best of me and I started yelling back.
Don’t worry. I didn’t bring myself quite to his level. I wasn’t yelling profane insults at him (although honestly, I’m a little shocked with the mouth on me, that I didn’t. But, then again, I don’t typically use my love of profanity at people. It’s not easy being that mean). Rather, I yelled:
I was just trying to be polite!
I didn’t want you to think I was being aggressive and cutting you off!
I wasn’t going to hit you!!
I was just being polite!!
I don’t know how much he even heard because he was letting me have it. Somewhere during his berate at me he said, “You fucking bitch, I just got hit by a fucking car today!!” and he repeated this many time. I will never know whether he was just saying that because he was being dramatic. I’m nervous to even state that I was dubious about the comment, but frankly, I was; and offended.
Here’s why: last summer, my brother Justin, actually was in a hit-and-run accident while riding his bike not too far from this intersection and literally broke his arm in half. Now I’m squeamish, but Justin seems fairly entertained by his wounds, so I’ve included some photos.
This guy saying that he was just hit by a car in that same day really pissed me. It pissed me off that I was trying to be polite, despite this guys blatant disregard for traffic laws because my brother was hit by a car. Here I am, trying to explain myself, and apologizing for trying to be polite, and this guy just wouldn’t quit. After about two minutes of screaming, he just got on his bike and biked off. No, “I’m sorry I overreacted”. No, “Sorry, I thought blah blah blah….”. He just biked off. It was perhaps naïve of me to think he would come around given how quickly he went into psycho mode, but I guess I just thought maybe he would if I apologized loud enough.
I made my right hand turn to head home as well, but I only made it a block before I began balling.
Here’s the thing about me: I am not one to get angry just to get angry. I don’t like being upset with people. I don’t like feeling angry. Aside from my parents (sorry Mom and Dad), I’m not usually a big yeller. If you get me angry enough to yell at you, you’re clearly an important person in my life, or you’ve pushed a button related to someone important in my life.
That’s because, when I get angry, it’s because I’m hurt. Anger is simply a defensive emotion. For me, it’s a direct reflection of a deeper pain, which I’m not ready to feel. But anger is not an emotion I can sit in for long. Eventually, my heart splits open, and out come the tears. It’s as if my heart is a teapot; the more the water boils (i.e. my anger), the higher the water rises, and eventually it overflows. One time I left a teapot on the stove so long it caught on fire and Justin had to put it out with the fire extinguisher, -I wouldn’t want to see that emotion! Okay, back to the point…
I cried the whole way home and then some. I kept thinking, “I was trying to be nice! Why was that guy so mean!? What just happened?” Shortly after I got home, I spoke to Justin and told him how upset I was, and how mean the guy was. Justin’s response was simple, “Gosh, some are people so angry. You didn’t yell back did you”? Well, yeah! Justin reminded me that my anger wasn’t going to help someone who was already that angry. At that moment, I knew he was right.
Initially, I think I thought Justin would have had more to say, but it didn’t really matter. I realized, yes, some people are very angry, and it’s sad that they go through life livid, and irascible. But, I knew I still felt very upset about the situation, and I even continued think about it next day. I wanted that guy to know that I was a nice girl, just trying to be nice, -not some fucking bitch. But I made a conscious effort to remind myself that ruminating over negative experiences was wasted energy that will never make me feel better. That guy will never know that I’m a nice girl, and in the end, it really doesn’t matter, because those that matter to me already know this. What I needed to do, was work on my own reaction to the situation, because I wasn’t proud of my anger. I felt sorry for this person who was so angry, and I didn’t want to be similar to him. I meditated on thoughts of compassion instead, and tried to change my perspective from, “what an ass” to “we are all human and none of us are without faults”, -some thoughts Justin and I have discussed over the past year while working on our own self-awareness and self-monitoring.
And so, I bring you back to Justin, -the older, wiser (eerrrrr, did I just say that?), brother. Last summer, when a car hit Justin, his emotions never seemed to escalate past frustration. When I got to the hospital a couple hours after his accident, I was far more upset than he was. I was trying to hold back tears because I was upset no one had called to tell me for a few hours, and I was very anxious about the situation. Even though this wasn’t about me, Justin validated me feelings and apologized to me for not making sure Mom and Dad had told me. When I was still a bit hyper/anxious I even asked, “Aren’t you scared for surgery?! Doesn’t it hurt!? Aren’t you so mad?!”. He kind of laughed, and said, “No, this is just the way it is. This is the situation now, and I can’t change that, so why should I worry about all these other things, and be angry that I’m here. It’s not going to change anything”.
See? Calm as can be. He wasn’t even on any pain kills yet! I faint AND cry when I get shots or get blood drawn! The brains ability (i.e. human ability) to control physiological responses in the body will always amaze me.
Truly, what Justin seemed most disappointed about was not being able to ride his new bike with a cast, not being able to write (just his luck, it was his left hand and he’s left handed), and not being able to kayak, or do yoga or go in the pool until his stitches healed. Sure, once he realized how difficult it would be the first couple weeks to get dressed, and shower, and be independent, his frustration increased, but that only lasted a couple of days and never manifested into anger. Eventually he just started wrapping a plastic bag around his arm when in the pool and kayaking, and simply figured out how to do pretty much everything he wanted to just differently than before.
So how is it that one person gets honked at and goes from 0-100 in a second, and the other gets hit by a car, has surgery, endures pain, endless medical bills, will forever have metal plates his arm, life changes etc., yet only experienced moments of frustration?
There are many answers I could discuss to help explain these differences (e.g. temperament, social influences, genetics, etc.), but I think the most important difference is that Justin consciously made the decision to NOT get angry. Being conscious of your thoughts and emotions is often the primary reason some people can control themselves in frustrating, difficult moments, and others cannot. Its not paradoxical that anger management classes help teach self-awareness and self-monitoring as a means to control anger and outrage. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
Our behaviors are a choice.
Those of us that are conscious of our thoughts and emotions have the ability to choose thebehaviors we express to the world,
and ultimately the way we live our lives.
How are you choosing to behave? Do your actions run true to the life you want to live and the person you want to project to the world? Think about it…
How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it?
“Our behaviors are a choice. Those of us that are conscious of our thoughts and emotions have the ability to choose the behaviors we express to the world, and ultimately the way we live our lives. ” – that is exactly what I believe! It’s not always easy to live by, but it sure is the way to go!
I love this post – it really makes you think, in a good way. And it’s very well written!
Thank you for your kind words: )
Your title of this blog immediately captured me as I feel this is a very strong issue for me personally. I’ve always had a bit of trouble with my temper, even though I’ve really tried to improve on it over time (mind you, I am getting better with it) and it made me realise that at times, I do still get angry to get angry or get a point across, I get upset at people for little issues just because it gives me an excuse to be angry. So I definitely agree with you that being angry can depend on choice of behaviour. In instances where you don’t need to be angry but choose to anyway for example. It makes total sense. Thank you so much for writing this and I’m so sorry you copped a very harsh verbal and mental bashing from that guy you were trying to be nice too… I would have lashed out at him if I was in the situation. I actually got pretty narky with someone who appeared to be racist towards me at mt job. Hopefully I can improve on my anger issues!
I really struggle with anger and how it can/should be expressed or processed. It is hard for me to feel my anger, and I know that keeps me stuck in certain areas of my life, because we all get angry at times and if it goes unacknowledged (by me) that’s not a good thing. At the same time, getting stuck in anger is not a good thing either. There’s a middle ground somewhere where I can feel my anger and let it pass without getting stuck in it. That’s what I’m still working on finding.
I think this is something most people struggle with. Society tells us that anger is bad and that we shouldn’t express it. We should just “bite our tongues”, but this doesn’t lead to healthy communication or expression of our emotions. The fact that you recognize areas that you would like to work on, surpasses the emotional intelligence of most people I know.