Tip/Thought of the Day

Why Is Everybody So Angry?

Why is everyone so angry?

Everywhere I go, everywhere I look, I see angry people ready to explode.

Don’t get me wrong, anger is a normal, healthy emotion. It allows us to vent our frustration and blow off steam. But then we’re meant to move on. Not allow it to fester, unresolved until it becomes uncontrollable.

I see it on the road when someone isn’t happy at the speed of traffic and races around cars only to find themselves at the same red light with those they passed. In the lack of customer service from companies that want our business but show no interest in actually providing any service. The human factor seems to be nonexistent in this digital age, just the bottom line. On the surface we appear to be ok with that. We’re in such a hurry to get what we want, anytime we want, that speaking to a real person seems irrelevant. Yet when we do need attention, it either takes forever to get through the obstacle course of numbers to push, we get disconnected just as we hear a voice, or finally get connected to somebody who isn’t much help. It’s infuriating and just adds to the anger and helplessness we feel. Perhaps part of the issue is that commerce continues, even when human beings should be shutting down.

I remember trying to order from a catalog at midnight to be amazed at the unique message I heard-

“To honor our employees we are currently closed and will reopen at 7 A.M.”

My first thought was how rude! After the shock wore off, I quickly realized how accustomed I’d become to satiating my desires at all hours. Justifying it with the cliches- I’m a busy person and can’t call during normal business hours. The truth- it’s just easier late at night.

Expecting immediate gratification comes with a price. When we expect resources to be at our beck and call at all hours, a slew of other problems are created. If I want to get a great deal on new furniture I can purchase at 2 A.M., I have to accept the terms with which it’s sent. A 200 pound box of parts! After hours of trying to figure out what bolt goes where and hoping none are left over, I’m left holding an item I pray I’ll love, because it may have been free shipping to get to me but it’s not to return!

Next thing you know I’m angry and frustrated at being lured into a situation I could never win. And then what do I do with my anger? The store doesn’t care. The furniture doesn’t care. Too often it’s vented at the wrong person. You can’t tell your wife you hate when she cooks only healthy foods to keep you well. Or your boss or teacher asking for work that can’t be accomplished in the time frame required. Kids who won’t clean up after themselves, follow the rules or do their homework. So others feel the brunt instead- co-workers, drivers on the road, people who wait on us, and clients. What happened to tolerance and patience, and communicating?

It makes for a stressful, anxiety-ridden environment waiting to implode.

When I was going through a divorce my daughter was only 4. She didn’t understand why her world was thrown upside down by her parents. That everything she had come to trust was gone and her safe environment felt shattered. She just didn’t like feeling lost and out of control. That’s why we get angry, because we feel a loss of control, something we dearly want to believe we have, even when we know we don’t.

Control is an illusion. If adults can’t understand that how could a child? Especially when Mom was desperately trying to cling to that fantasy as well. That’s when I remembered the training I received in residency. In that day and age we worked 100 hour work weeks with domineering and frequently patronizing doctors above us in the hierarchy. We took a lot of abuse with no option but to accept it or leave the program.

One special physician chose the opposite avenue- respect and courtesy. Never asking his underlings to do something he wasn’t present for, even at 3 AM. A rarity to the point of extinction. He taught all his underlings how to cope with what had to be a rising volcano of anger before it erupted. Back then they used to encourage hitting the focus of your anger i.e. spouse, family member with a foam covered baton. Unfortunately our bosses were unlikely to participate so he came up with another option-

“For those who jog, each time your foot hits the ground think of it as stomping on the person who’s driving you crazy. With each impact visualize their face and let the anger dissolve in to the ground and melt away.

Not a jogger? Every time you chop vegetables do the same thing.”

At first it sounded awful, a doctor advocating stomping on a person? But the answer was yes- figuratively- to prevent anything from happening in real life. So how do I explain that to my 4 year old who’s biting and kicking and yelling because she’s scared and filled with anger and doesn’t see a way to let it out?

Her anger was real, necessary and appropriate, negating it would only enrage her more. So I encouraged it. I explained that hitting mommy wasn’t acceptable but anger was. She just needed to resolve it in a more appropriate setting. That evening I hung up a punching bag and as I hit it I made clear I was angry when she bites me. It hurts and makes me upset. I loved her dearly but taking out my anger on her was wrong so I was taking it out on the punching bag instead. After a week of trying and failing to engage her I decided to change my tactics. I made a copy of her photo and taped it to the bag. Then I started to hit the picture while saying how much her behaviors made me angry- note, not her! She was aghast. She cried that I was hitting her. I clarified that was not true, It was only a picture. As expected, once the crocodile tears miraculously stopped she wanted to hit Mommy too. I quickly obliged with my photo. From that night on, we punched the bag before bed while voicing who our anger was directed at with each hit.

She never hurt me again.

Eventually even my 4 year old learned to share and the bag was left for those we couldn’t approach i.e. teachers, kids at school and yes, dare I say, Daddy!

There is nothing wrong with anger. It’s a normal human emotion too often stuffed inside. That’s when it becomes dangerous. But so is attacking those around us, whether it’s through intimidation, violence, or cowardly online avenues. If you can’t speak your mind to the cause of your anger find another safe outlet. Try exercise, or use it to push you to greater, more positive heights. When someone says you can’t accomplish your goals, prove them wrong. When someone upsets you and they can be approached, talk it out. When it’s not an option, vent to someone who will listen without escalating your feelings. Or do what I did in residency and with my daughter. If it interferes with your life and social interactions, talk to a therapist. Just expel it through appropriate means.

But please, next time, before you speak, have road rage, post or lash out – think, is this really how I want to react and am I ready to accept the consequences of my actions if I do?

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” -Buddha

dsc_0323    -Dr. Courtney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.