Anger is like coffee, but more effective. I was sleep-deprived today, but after a shot of anger, I’m wide awake. I feel it in the back of my throat. So much energy.
The bright side of anger is that it can give me energy to stand up for myself when a boundary gets crossed. I feel the need to roll up my sleeves and defend myself. Draw blood, even.
But there’s another kind of anger, a dishonest kind, that functions to feed my ego and keep me from feeling things I need to feel. Like feeling guilt and taking responsibility, for instance.
This kind of anger came to me the other day when I forgot a meeting with a friend. What was my response?
I got angry at her for not calling me!
What was this anger covering up? A bunch of things I didn’t want to feel:
- Guilt about forgetting the meeting
- Fear that my friend will be mad and break up with me
- Shame about being a bad friend
The guilt was an appropriate feeling: I forgot the meeting. I should feel guilty. But in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a huge deal. Everyone forgets things. It happened to be a not cool thing to forget, but it was still part of the reasonable fallibility of humans, not evidence of my evil nature, worthy of perpetual shame. It would have been good to feel my guilt, learn my lesson, and move on.
But instead, this is what happened:
My anger got bigger and louder, to the point where it was the only feeling I was aware of.
Mark Manson talks about becoming an emotional ninja. This means being someone who is capable of identifying, feeling and learning from all the emotions, pleasant and unpleasant.
This experience taught me that I’m not good at feeling guilt. My ego doesn’t like it.
Also, I’m not good at talking myself down from fear or shame. That’s why I got so angry (more specifically righteously indignant) at my friend. So I didn’t have to feel those feelings.
Here’s to getting better! Self-awareness is the first step, which is why I wrote this post. Here’s a checklist for myself:
The next time I get angry, I should ask myself:
- Is this anger covering up something I don’t want to feel, like fear, guilt, or shame?
- Do I share some responsibility here?
- If neither are true, then the anger is honest. I should go for a long walk, vent to someone separate from the situation, sit with the feeling, or set a boundary, but certainly not suppress the anger. It will change into something else eventually, as all emotions do.
It seems to me that every emotion can have these two varieties: one that’s legitimate, and another that’s covering up something we don’t want to feel.