Here’s a reprint of my famous writing on anger, written in June, 2006. Note that this is Part One, and that I never did supply a Part Two as I had promised. A Part Two follows.
ON ANGER, PART ONE
There are three kinds of anger: annoyance, anger, and rage. What most people don’t realize is that about 90 percent of all anger is mere annoyance and the remaining 10 percent anger, plus a minute sliver of rage. Many people never experience rage in their lifetimes. I can only remember two times that I’ve felt true rage, and these incidences were within a month of each other around August 1997, which I will discuss in a future post. Since then, the anger I’ve felt hasn’t even come close. There is no particular reason for this, except that no one has pissed me off enough to merit my getting into a rage state.
I am terrified at the thought of another person getting angry with me, a trait I’ve had since I was very young. This explains why so many of my “friends” dominated me when I was a child and teen; all they had to do was to threaten to show anger and I’d do whatever they asked. I suppose I learned this fear from my parents, who used scare tactics when I did something wrong. They talked to me in booming, ominous voices. They were big and I was small, helpless, and scared. I remember the word “Bad” repeated until it sunk in, a word similar to Evil, which has special meaning for me even today.
I am less afraid of my own anger than I am of that of others. I generally dismiss most things that anger me as annoyances. This is what you do about an annoyance: you let it go. The neighbor’s dog goes poop on your lawn: clean it up and let it go. You get a parking ticket: pay the fine and let it go. You hold the door for someone and he or she doesn’t say, “Thank you”: then assume the person was lost in thought, let it go, and for god’s sake don’t be obnoxious and say, “You’re welcome,” just to teach the errant person a lesson.
Many people won’t let go of annoyances. This causes all sorts of problems, and these people I would think of as “angry people.” Still others are proud of their anger and claim that it is fuel for action. My feeling is that it takes something other than anger to initiate activity; it takes passion. After reading about conditions that face inner city kids, you volunteer to work with them. When you notice a neighbor hasn’t shoveled his walk, you write a letter to the town paper regarding homeowner responsibility in winter. And here’s my favorite, a habit I have that no one seems to understand: When someone doing a service annoys me, I over-tip. If the cab driver is rude, or goes a roundabout route to get me home just to increase the fare, I tip 30 percent. When a waitress served me instant coffee instead of regular–horrors!–I tipped nearly 150 percent, adding a dollar bill and some spare change to the 69 cent coffee price (for that amount, what did I expect, really???)
Anger that is more than annoyance must be dealt with carefully. When you are angry you do get a chance to think about your reaction. You don’t have to go with your gut every time. A man stopped his car to yell at me regarding my dog messing on the yard. It happened to be my own yard, but he didn’t realize this. I should have ignored him but instead we got into a screaming and swearing match–this was quite a while back–and it ended badly, with the man threatening to call the cops and I feeling damn stupid to have argued with him. Looking back, I should have thought first. A more effective reaction would have been to thank the man profusely for his kind advice, and to walk away.
You can’t argue with an angry person. They are thinking irrationally, and they are probably much more worked up than need be. It’s like trying to argue with a drunk, because the person is in an altered state. At times like these you can only feel sorry for him; he is to be pitied while still respected. If you pray, try praying for the person who is angry with you or with whom you are angry. Wish him the best. Have a happy day. God bless you. You don’t need to believe in a god for this to work.
I must admit I’m no expert on rage, having only experienced it twice. Unlike anger, rage has to come out, and there’s no way it’s going to come out constructively. I have seen people in rage states for days on end. Most of the people confined to the “quiet room” on psychiatric wards are experiencing rage. I have seen it happen and wouldn’t want to be witness again if I had the choice. I remember screaming into a pillow more than once. Some people harm themselves. Some commit suicide. I have never known rage to last forever, and it never starts suddenly; there is a buildup, of which many are unaware. I saw a woman in the hospital progress from worrying about hygiene products to full rage in about two days. There’s no way to predict what one may do when in this state, but I can state from experience that it is never comfortable, never constructive or useful in any way. Perhaps the key is to diffuse annoyance and anger before they become rage, in the manner I’ve described above, if at all possible.
Today I have not been angry, just annoyed when the bus driver wouldn’t give me a transfer, and annoyed at myself for being such a lazy housekeeper. The dog hair billows out from under my door into the hall, and someone will surely complain. I’m annoyed that it’s been raining so much lately. I’m annoyed, but very shortly will forget all that and concentrate on writing: There are three kinds of anger: annoyance, anger, and rage.
Rage is akin to fear.
There were two times in my life that I was in a rage. Both times I feared that circumstances would take Joe away from me. I was uncertain as to what these circumstances would be. Fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear.
Joe had the same fears. He told me he was afraid, at that very same time, when he said goodbye to me, that something would happen and he’d never see me again.
It was at a time when The Thing, an Evil Being that lived in my head, was very powerful. It was at a time that God was just as present in my life, but I could not feel God. When I prayed, The Thing answered and told me I was a phony.
One evening Joe turned down the radio in the van and we held each other as if we’d never see each other again. Joe didn’t have his beard then. His neck felt damp, and I could feel his heart tapping in the soft spot between his clavicles.
“We might not be able to get together like this–like we do now,” he said.
“We will.” I knew I didn’t sound convincing. “Baby, please?”
He lit a cigarette and said nothing for a long time, then put the van in gear. “I’ll take you back to the hospital.”
“We’ll see each other tomorrow, won’t we?”
But we didn’t see each other the next day, or the next day or the next. Circumstances got in the way. God was engineering the world in a way that wasn’t convenient for the two of us. Here was the first point of rage. As I type these words, my hands tighten, my forehead bristles, my ears become more sensitive; I am on high alert. It’s scary just to think about it.
The second point of rage came when I was put in the position of taking care of Joe. The past two years he had taken on the role of caregiver, and suddenly the roles had been reversed. I was angry with the doctor who had given Joe the medication that made him so doped up he couldn’t help himself, but I was enraged at Joe for being the needy, dependent one. I couldn’t even take care of myself; how was I to take care of another person?
I came home, feeling sick. The Thing kept repeating the number 4 to me. Four this. Four that. I took four Tums to settle my stomach, then four Klonopin to calm down, four Benadryl to get to sleep, four Risperdal in attempt to squelch The Thing, then four more Benadryl, then four Tylenol, four, it had to be four, four, four….
Death is secure. Death is knowing. When Joe died, I did not feel the rage I always anticipated I’d feel upon losing him, because I was certain of what had happened, and there was nothing left to fear. To say I felt flagrantly cheated would be a more accurate way of putting it.
Anger is drive. Anger can be creative. Anger is occasionally useful. Anger is even occasionally funny. Rage is filth. Don’t go there.