The Anger Management Industry
'Anger management' is a growth industry. More and more people, often at the insistence of their spouses, employers or of law enforcers, are attending anger management classes or counselling, where one standard approach is: "What in your past triggers your anger now?".
During a consultation, an anger management counsellor probing a client's past thought he hit a jackpot when the client revealed that his father habitually beat his mother. "Aha!", he thought, "that's what's triggering his anger!". So out came the standard question: "And how does that make you feel?". The client said nothing, his face swelled with anger and he punched the counsellor on the nose!
Unfortunately, regurgitating past anger can perpetuate it with renewed power. And walking into the future backwards with a rear-vision view can create more problems than it solves. Whilst Santayana's famous saying: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is often true (especially politically), it is also true that those who dwell on the past are repeating it! We also make the rather obvious point that those who cannot remember the past are able to forget it.
'In denial' - or moving forward?
But there is a vast difference between (a) acknowledging one's past traumas and moving forward positively, and (b) dwelling on them as evil demons to be exorcised at all costs before life can be enjoyable and productive, which amounts to putting a curse on oneself. Understandably, people's greatest traumas are usually those they are least inclined to revisit, and for others to forcibly reopen one's past wounds with arrogant presumption to simplistically analyse them can be highly toxic and dangerous. "We murder to dissect" (Wordsworth).
It should also be noted that 'recollections' of the past are notoriously inaccurate (who can recollect much about even last week?) and traumatic experiences in particular can hardly be expected to yield clear memories. Moreover, much tragedy has been caused by implanting suggestions in the psychologically vulnerable that they have had past traumas - in particular that they were sexually abused as children. Any predeliction for seeking evidence of sexual abuse in another's past and feeling disappointed or cheated at not finding it could well qualify as sexual perversion in itself.
In any case, inclinations towards anger should not be assumed to originate from past psychological trauma - they may be due to physical ailments, for example, or disgust at the ways of the world, or combinations of these and/or countless other things.
And, even if delving into the past or keeping 'anger diaries' succeed in identifiying anger-patterns in a person, that anger still needs to be overcome!
How to overcome your anger
We should not expect psychological problems to have simple origins. But sometimes there are simple solutions.
We offer here our very simple 'trick' to dissolve away your anger unaided with no need to delve into your past or analyse anger-patterns.
Our discovery is that anger can be transformed, transmuted, dissolved, melted - call it what you will - very easily and naturally into humor.
This method is not a joke! It is not glib or trite, but seriously effective, and derives directly from human physiology - the mind/body alliance. It is about reaching for and finding one's natural 'humor center'.
It is not our discovery that 'feel-good' brain chemicals are released into your system when you smile - that is now well known - but that anger can so easily and instantly be erased by doing so, and even by just imagining.
Depending upon the level of anger, success may be very quick or it may require sustained practice and application. But any amount of using 'the trick' is always beneficial and helpful.
[We are tempted to call this 'Humor Replacement Therapy' or 'Humor Injection Therapy'('HIT') !]
To someone who sceptically or disappointedly thinks "So all I'm being told is to just smile and everything will be fine", we reply that it is a simple fact that smiling makes you feel better, instantly.
The complete contrast in facial expression between anger and smiling is obvious to see, and you can also instantly feel the difference in yourself by 'faking' an angry expression and then smiling - smiling clearly feels vastly better, instantly.
The only difficulty is just remembering to do it when you are angry. It is good to often remind yourself that it works, and you may well find yourself spontaneously breaking out in a smile when you do. The more you do it, the more automatic it will become. It is an excellent and valuable habit, beneficial for all.
And of course you need not wait until you are angry to smile! You do not need any reason at all. If you smile frequently, whatever you are doing and however you are feeling, the alchemy works and your general demeanour improves.
Are you angry at yourself? Are you angry that you are angry? This is common and, like a dog chasing its own tail, is a vicious circle. First, break the cycle and free yourself by forgiving yourself for being so human. "To err is human - to forgive, divine". Then, realise that your mind is in pain and, as with physical pain, is trying to correct you. It is trying to get you to avoid in future whatever caused your anger. So you need to identify what you 'did wrong' - what you are angry at yourself for - and what you need to learn so it won't happen again. These will help clear the angry fog. And then, get yourself smiling! Of course, as with most things, knowing what to do is one thing, but doing it is another. It is easier to read a recipe than to make the dish. But making and eating the dish is easier than going hungry. Merely knowing recipes will not feed you.
Smile, and the world smiles with you
All over the world, absolutely everyone instinctively knows what a smile means. It is not learnt - it is inherent. In New Guinea, when Europeans and native cannibals encountered each other for the first time in history, the Europeans had the sense to greet the natives with smiles - and hence survived. A smile is understood universally as a signal of non-threat and friendliness. We recommend that people smile in a friendly way whenever they enter another's territory for the first time - wherever it is - if they wish to be seen as friendly.
There is an old Chinese saying: "A person who does not have a smiling face should not open a shop". On the other side of the counter, as a customer you will generally get friendlier service if you seem friendly rather than grumpy, and shopping experiences will be much more pleasant and even fun for all. Even when seeking refunds, it is more effective and pleasant to explain rather than simply aggressively complain and demand, which automatically encounters some resistance.
Not only does smiling make you feel better and dissolve your anger, it also reduces situations which could make you angry, since others are simply likely to be nicer to you. Smiling gives anger both barrels!
Smiling to yourself is an excellent thing to do whenever you feel threatened by someone, or uncharitable or nasty towards them. It may, for example, be someone at work, or a neighbour you dislike. Smiling makes you feel stronger, happier, less threatened, and that you are a better person for it.
Smiling can be heard in an unseen person's voice, such as over a telephone. You may even manage to convey it in writing if you smile as you write. We can recommend smiling before making or taking a dreaded telephone call, or doing anything else you dread, to ease the way. Even writing a message of complaint is best done smiling - forcing a smile if necessary - to produce a civil document more likely than a crudely aggressive one to elicit the desired result, rather than a reaction of repulsion.
We urge those recovering from loss or trauma, who are trying to get their lives together again and reconnect with the world, to try frequent smiling, although it is probably the furthest thing from their minds. This is absolutely not to trivialise their situation - quite the opposite - but to harness the available resources of the human body to self-heal. Never feel guilty or traitorous or unseemly by doing so; Nature wants you to be well again! We all do! Smiling really helps, with adequate time allowed for healing.
Big anger, like most big problems, is unlikely to be solved in one fell swoop, but by constant nibbling away. It is amazing what can be achieved that way. Since ancient times, it has been reasoned in China that water is the strongest 'element' - stronger than rock and metal because it can eventually wear them down, while they cannot wear down water. Likewise, even the biggest anger can eventually be worn down and dissolved by humor. Groups and peoples who are long-oppressed - racially, religiously, sexually, culturally, politically, socially, economically - tend to develop their own special brands of humor, replete with 'in-jokes' and 'black humor', to help them cope, survive and make life more bearable. Poisonous, pointless and dangerous anger at injustice becomes transmuted by them into humor quite naturally - even automatically - over time.
This does not mean that one should become apathetic towards injustice or cease trying to eliminate it if possible. But it does mean not being a slave to anger, and instead taking control and thus being able to be stronger and more effective.
We hope you try our method, and don't dismiss it just because it is simple - so is the wheel!
Remember: Don't get angry - get AMUSED ! Life is too short !
We remember from years ago a TV news story - the occupants of a boarding house were being evicted because it was being redeveloped. One of the evictees, an elderly man who had lived there for many years, stood on the kerbside outside with his suitcase of belongings. The young TV reporter asked him "And how do you feel about being evicted?" and extended her microphone towards him. He smiled and looked straight ahead. "Well," he replied, "they can take everything else away from me, but they can never away take my sense of humor!" Perhaps the reporter was disappointed at his non-dramatic response, or perhaps she thought, as we did, "now there's a man I admire!".
Traditional, additional self-help methods
The following time-honored methods are helpful in themselves, and especially when used with ours.
1. Break your angry mood. Ways of doing this include:
In a nutshell, then, five keywords summarise the methods in this article:
The following table and comments may also be found useful.
(The Buddhist preference is for the middle option - low expectations and high tolerance.
Furthermore, if you agree a lot, you will be considered agreeable; if you disagree a lot, you will be considered disagreeable![ See also: The Easiest Way Ever To Really Improve Your Life ]
More about anger...
Having given simple methods for overcoming anger, we now explore how and why people maintain anger.
We do not mean rage, which is simply out-of-control anger, but anger which is deliberately maintained. There are reasons why people maintain their anger.
Anger usually comes from frustration, and often is maintained to 'fuel' action to solve frustrating problems. By repeatedly reminding themselves that they are angry about something, people reinforce and maintain their anger until they act on it.
Although much may have been achieved by an "I'll show them!" attitude, just as much and more may well have been achieved without it - who knows? But, more usually, that same attitude also causes a great deal of damage and tragedy.
At its crudest, it can simply be about revenge and 'getting even', where the person is determined to hurt others to "teach them a lesson". It can be about vendettas - personal, family, cultural, etc. - with the justification that "honor is at stake". "Revenge", the famous line goes, "is a dish best served cold", and its 'cooking' is fuelled by maintained anger.
Superficially, revenge can feel satisfying, by 'squaring the books' or 'balancing the ledger', and even following the law of nature that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". But revenge is often illogical and even hypocritical - if your revenge consists of imitating the very behaviour you are criticising in others. To simply say "what is good for the goose is good for the gander" conveniently ignores that "what is bad for one is also bad for the other". You create a 'civil war' within your own mind and compromise your ability to think clearly if you criticise others and then ape them. You have painted yourself into a corner with no option but to likewise criticise yourself. Again, we see the age-old wisdom of "don't do to others what you don't like others to do to you".
From time to time we see very ugly scenes of angry self-proclaimed 'vigilantes', shouting death-threats at those accused or convicted of crimes, especially concerning children. Their anger is understandable, but what they scream and yell about what they would do to the accused usually sounds as horrific as the crime itself. It is one thing to criticise a crime, but another to threaten to commit an equal crime in retaliation while taking 'the moral high ground'. Personally, we think that threats made of serious injury or death should be severely punishable offences, regardless of circumstances. Often such 'vigilantes' seem to have no personal connection with the crime but simply use it to loudly threaten and vent their pre-existing anger, and even just to get attention.
Now imagine the frustration of being oppressed for something you were born with - your skin colour or sexuality, for example. Not only are those with the 'wrong' skin colour oppressed for their whole lifetimes, but so are their parents, brothers and sisters, children, relations and like-complexioned friends. Such frustration typically has one of three outcomes - depression, apathy and resignation, or bitterness and anger.
[Incidentally, homosexuals are usually more inclined towards depression or resignation than to anger and, very interestingly, extensive studies of children brought up by lesbian couples have shown that these children consistently develop and perform better than average in every respect, as measured by standard performance indicators. This is attributed to the typical absence of angry physical violence in their households. We should point out parenthetically that male homosexuality tends to be fixed from birth, whereas lesbianism can commonly fluctuate, and alternate with heterosexuality.]
Despite anger being listed as one of the 'seven deadly sins' and condemned by innumerable spiritual teachers, some so-called 'religious' people seek to justify revenge on religious grounds by selectively quoting the Bible or Koran, for instance. Favourite examples are: "you shall have an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", and "'vengeance is mine' saith the Lord".
The second of these is (ab)used as follows: "I am doing the Lord's work, and on His behalf I will take vengeance". But both the quoted passages refer to karma, not revenge, as pointed out by revered spiritual writer Florence Scovel Shinn. She explains that the word 'Lord' should be understood as meaning 'law', so both passages refer to letting karma take its course, and to having faith in the law of karma rather than taking the law into one's own hands.
Short-term anger does have practical biological roots; it communicates dissatisfaction and signals possible combat to a perceived threat. A flash of anger is a warning. If the perceived threat then reforms or flees, there is no need for the parties to waste valuable energy or body parts trying to tear each other apart. But it appears that humans alone in Nature plot and carry out revenge, which is thus an aberration in Nature.
There is a world of difference between frustrated or defensive short-term anger, and sustained angry grudge-bearing and 'world-hating'. Sometimes it can actually feel good and real to be angry when frustrated, particularly when we 'let it out', or harness it to overcome the frustrating problem.
But directing it at others tends to create more problems than it solves, and occasions most 'anger management' counselling. And there are assertive anger and aggressive anger; the former is inclined constructively and the latter destructively. It is sad for all that we are not as repulsed by our own nastiness as we are by that of others.
It is common to resort to offensive anger when one feels backed into a corner, like a cornered wild animal. It often takes the form of personal attack on someone who is winning an argument against one, or exposing one's faults. In fact, a personal attack is a 'dead giveaway' that the attacker feels defeated, trying to distract attention from that defeat with an unrelated personal attack on their defeater. This is often done with a sneer masquerading as a smile, so if the defeater takes offence at the personal attack on them, they are met with: "can't you take a joke?" as an additional distracting 'put-down'. It is a case of the primitive 'offence is the best form of defence' idea. Very young children do it, and tragically too many do not outgrow it, and it is all too frequent amongst politicians. It is so disappointingly common that we need waste no time giving examples.
Displacement activity is 'taking out' your anger, resentment or frustration on something unrelated. For example, you may spontaneously kick or pound a desk or smash something else in frustration. A frustrating day at work may be 'taken out' at home on the children, spouse or family dog. The 'vigilantes' we mentioned earlier may be displaying displacement activity.
Much domestic violence can be explained by displacement activity, or by the irony that the attacked is often the most important person to the attacker, and hence the most frustrating. The same can apply to close friends. Not surprisingly, it is common for the attacker to feel profoundly remorseful - even self-destructive and suicidal - immediately and long after attacking their loved ones. Or they may simply 'turn off' and retreat into numb non-activity and/or self-hating depression. When people take out their anger, it is very often on something or someone of value to them. They are demonstrating by doing so the intensity of their feeling. They may smash a precious vase, for example, deliberately although spontaneously in preference to something of little value. Women, who are the usual victims of physical domestic violence, should understand that an attack may occur not because they are not loved, but precisely the opposite, for the reasons given. However, this is certainly no reason to continue in a violent relationship, and does not excuse the violence, but merely sometimes explains it.
Referring to the famous injunction of Jesus to "forgive your enemies", Voltaire observed: "To forgive one's friends - that is the greater miracle". Ironically, too, it can be easier to love 'all of mankind' than individuals we may detest. Sending a blessing to all mankind is a very nice, 'feel-good' thing to do, and doing it as one goes to sleep is most relaxing and, as a bonus, reduces feelings of powerlessness. Repeating "I wish absolutely everyone peace, love and happiness" does the trick nicely, as does a rhyme we devised: "I wish everyone Happiness, Health, Wisdom and Wealth" (and for oneself: "I am Happy, I am Healthy, I am Wise and I am Wealthy"). Direct these blessings also at individual loved ones. Then, when you are ready, dare to do the following - direct them to individuals you detest! It may be anathema and even feel hypocritical at first, but you will find yourself becoming stronger for it, and eventually liberated from much poisonous, limiting hatred.
The damage to health by sustained and maintained anger is now well acknowledged. The ancient association of the heart with kindness and love ('kind-hearted', 'broken-hearted', 'big-hearted', etc. etc.), once seen as poetic and metaphorical, is now accepted medically. Sustained anger, bitterness, nastiness, meanness, vengefulness and other 'bad-heartedness' are now recognised as fast-track pathways to heart attacks and other heart disease. Spiritual healers throughout history have held that anger is at the root of most illness.
And few would doubt that good-natured, generous humor is excellent for the health, provided one is not punished for it. Good-hearted laughter is indeed the best medicine.
Finally, we have it on impeccable authority from our whispering spies that, just as moths are attracted to beacons in the darkness, angels are attracted to good-hearted smiles.