Anger is an emotion. Like smoking, it may be dangerous to your health. Unexpressed anger festers and can eventually kill you. Some think it is a normal human response that simply needs to be managed. The Roman lyric poet Horace called it “a brief lunacy, a momentary madness.”
What is anger? Let me paraphrase some definitions I have found.
It is a normal emotion with varying intensities, from mild irritation, to frustration, to rage. It is a reaction to a threat, real or perceived, made to our person, our family or friends, our property or reputation. One description calls it “a warning bell that tells us something is wrong.”
I believe that anger can be healthy and serve a good purpose. No one is exempt from feeling that rush of adrenaline, the sudden rapid beat of the heart, blood throbbing at the temples, clenching of fists, and the burning rage that blurs your vision and often impairs your judgment.
It is what you do about anger that makes the difference.
Over time, anger turns into hate. If allowed to sink to the bottom of our hearts, it forms a stagnant pool of bitterness. It takes you to the dark side of yourself, turning you inside out as it were, revealing first to the world and too late to yourself, that there is ugliness in your soul.
What makes you angry? I have asked around and the replies are varied. Some zero in on what is uppermost in their hearts. It could be an unfaithful spouse, a belligerent son, a ruined business, a broken relationship, or a petty dispute with a friend.
Others don’t know if what they feel is indeed anger.
It is amazing how many say, “I am not really angry. But it bothers me.” All the while, these same “bothered” people are thinking of sweet revenge or some way to even up the score.
Expressed or not, anger always hurts us. Mark Twain described it as “an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
Years ago, a psychiatrist was recommended by the jewelry store where I worked.
A “customer” had pushed me down and snatched the Rolex President ($11,000 at the time) I was showing him. Obviously heavily insured, management was kind enough to blame my lack of concentration on the rough time I was going through, and sent me to the shrink.
I was hurting, and had diagnosed my own malady as terminal heartbreak. He talked to me (at $100 per hour) about anger, but disagreed with the word “terminal.”
He dug deeper and discovered I was full of unvented rage; that it was directed not at the cause of my pain, but at myself.
His prescription? “Buy cheap plates, glasses, statues, vases, ashtrays. Break them. Throw them against a wall. Smash them on the floor. Listen to the sound. You will feel relief.”
I followed his advice. I must admit that I felt ever so slightly better. It was good to see things other than my heart shattered into smithereens.
My daughter, who has spent more than a decade in the hospitality and service industry, answers my query on anger. “Some customers can get truly ugly. But you learn to hold your tongue. You need to swallow hard and put a smile on your face. I get angry when someone goes out of his way to be unkind or rude, to me or anyone else. But I can’t see myself getting even or having a confrontation. I have learned through the years to hold back.”
On the other hand, given the same situation, her twin today would most likely send you a kilometric text or maybe write a song. When he was a young lad, however, we had to patch holes in his bedroom wall a couple of times.
Regret comes later
There are many ways we express our anger. My friend, when annoyed, first scratches the side of his head. Then he just clams up.
Other people become loquacious and don’t pause to think before they rant and rave. Regret comes later. But there is no way to repair the damage inflicted on the object of their wrath.
In an angry outburst, because we focus on the feelings that boil in our bosom, we forget that by venting our anger, we bring sorrow upon our own lives.
Mitch Albom says it so well in his novel “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.”
“Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”
But there is an anger that we wish for. With all our hearts, we must pray for hearts full of righteous indignation that cry out to stop the abuses of the powerful, to expose the greed and ambition of politicians and to eradicate the blatant immorality of the times.
English Dominican Bede Jarrett writes, “The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.”
What do you do when anger rises? I slam doors. Do you run at the mouth and say things you will regret in the morning? Do you hammer out a text or e-mail and hit send without a second thought? The philosopher Seneca advises that the greatest remedy for anger is delay. Think about it.
Here’s a little verse that may help you in the future.
“It does not pay to say too much when you are mad enough to choke.
“For the word that stings the deepest is the word that is never spoke.
“Let the other fellow wrangle till the storm has blown away.
“Then he’ll do a heap of thinking about the things you didn’t say.”