58/300: Some Thoughts About Anger

My hands were shaking. I could feel my pulse in my neck and temples. I’ve written before about fans like these at youth sports events. The complainers. The people who scream and shout about something your team did wrong instead of cheering on their own. My son was fouled, they shouted that the ref had blown the call. My daughter looked at me as if to say ‘why are those people yelling at Jack?’ My friend, sitting between me and the shouters rolled her eyes and mumbled ‘I can’t stand people who do that.’

Another play, another shout. I lost control. “Shut up!” I said to no one in particular. And that’s when the woman turned to me and told me not to tell them to do anything. “Don’t tell us to shut up,” she said. I looked. She was old enough to be my mom. “You just cheer on your team and ignore us.”

“Thanks for the lesson in how to be supportive,” I said sarcastically.

“You don’t tell me what to do,” she snipped back.

“Don’t come in here and create a negative environment for a fifth grade basketball game,” I fired back, my heart pounding. “This is fifth grade. I mean, are you serious here? Fifth grade! Cheer on your team. Celebrate, but you’ve got to be kidding me with this.”

She turned away, said something to her husband. They stopped berating players and complaining about every call. I spent the rest of the game, the rest of the night, fuming and feeling guilty.

I realize now that those people had pushed my button – the one that wants my kids to be kids, the one that wants them to be in a supportive environment. I want it so badly, I overreacted and behaved like an idiot. It was my anger that drove me to do it. My rage.

I thought a lot about anger and rage last week. It began with an old priest, who gave a talk about anger at our church. There are four kinds of anger, he said:

Rage, which he described as being masculine. This is a disease. You have buttons that get pushed and you can’t help it. The person with rage loses control and is stricken with remorse afterward.

Passive-Aggressive Anger, which he described as feminine, though I’m not so sure. This is the person who denies their anger and instead it is manifested in other ways – gossip for one.

Disappointed Anger, where everything lets you down. Everyone lets you down. You cut people out of your life and justify pushing people away from the disappointment.

Shame, a form of self-hatred that’s destructive not just to others but to the sufferer of it. “This is all about sex and food,” said the old priest. “Your anger becomes shame and you try to sooth yourself with sex or by overeating… What’s better than ice cream when you’re feeling angry? Nothing, but you eat the ice cream, you gain the weight, you eat more ice cream because you gained weight.” Shame is anger manifested toward one’s self.

Later in the week, I read intently the news stories coming out of the Donald Trump rallies – the violence, the anger. It seeped in. I found myself angry at the candidate, angry at other people’s anger. It pushed my button – the one that needs fairness in the world – and got me stewing.

So, maybe it was inevitable that I had an outburst at the game. Maybe there was nothing I could do to stop it. I’m glad the people stopped taunting our team, but I’m not proud of the way I acted. I, like many people, have issues with rage and shame (the ice cream, not the sex) and sometimes I can’t stop myself. But the old priest offered some interesting advice for dealing with it, a four-part plan of mechanisms for dealing with anger that I found very interesting.

  1. Acknowledge your anger. Everybody has it. Everybody has anger of one kind or another and too many of us try to ignore it, to move past it, which only builds its strength. Admit your rage. Acknowledge your passive-aggressiveness. Recognize your disappointment and label your shame. You have to recognize it for what it is before you can deal with it.
  2. Never attack someone’s behavior. If you’re angry, don’t make it about the person you are angry with. Instead, make it about your reaction. When you argue with a spouse, don’t criticize their actions, share what those actions make you feel. People dig in when criticized which only leads to more anger on both sides. Don’t strike while the iron is hot. The worst time to deal with anger is when you’re angry, he said. Walk away. Take a breath. Write a letter to the person until the tone turns positive. Don’t give your anger momentum by acting in the moment. Much harder to do than it is to say, but good advice nonetheless.
  3. Search for the cause. So much anger is rooted in something else. My need for fairness and inability to stop myself from going after those people had as much to do with my childhood as my child. I can’t stand bullies. I can’t stand people who victimize other people. There’s reasons for that, but its only three days later that I understand why my hands were shaking and my heart was pounding when I probably just should have moved my seat and cheered on my team. Forgive past injuries. Find a way to let them go. Recognize what they are – experiences, not indelible definitions of your character – and move on. It’s the only way.
  4. Find an Anger Coach – a spouse, a friend, someone you trust, who can see your anger for what it is – a thing, not you. Keep them on speed dial. Admit your failings. Let them help you work through the steps. Ultimately, anger is a solitary experience, but you need partner to pull through.

I’m not trying to preach here. I’m not saying this is the be-all, end-all guide to anger. But anger, rage and shame were on my mind a lot last week and I figured maybe it’s on someone else’s mind too. Maybe yours. Maybe a friend’s. It so easy to be angry these days. It seems like anger is the current state of the culture. But anger never leads to a call being changed, it never leads to a positive experience for your kids. Anger has never cured a disease, won a battle or saved a life. Anger is acid that eats away at your foundation if you let it, like I did last week.

Now, I just want to go full-scale Elsa and Anna on it – I just want to let it go.

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