Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sacred Life Sunday: Anger is a part of life, too

I've mentioned here before that I have a horrible temper. It's not cute. It's not funny. It is a character flaw.

I know that. It's a rather revolting character flaw and I don't like it at all. When I get really angry, it's hard to identify colors. It's a seething, rocket-propelled instant trip to somewhere I'd rather never go again. Typically, it's called a "hair trigger temper". I get over it as quickly as it comes on but I'm like a raging bull for 15-30 seconds. Then I'm spent. The only good thing is that others rarely see it so I don't have to spend the rest of my life on my knees, apologizing. I have enough consciousness to leave a situation before it gets to that point.

It's a dangerous place to go. In my case, given other health problems, it could send me straight into a stroke.

For the past three weeks or so, I've been angry at someone and didn't tell her about it. I kept thinking it would resolve itself.

She contacted me this morning and I went ballistic.

Here's the issue: She was unreliable. She told me she was going to do something, didn't do it and didn't even acknowledge that she'd left me in a lurch. The circumstances are irrelevant. Let's just say that I showed up and she didn't. Then she came along a few days later, made a commitment to do something and never followed through.

Then she merrily traipsed into my world this morning, ringing my cell phone at an ungodly hour and started sweet-talking about something totally unrelated, as though none of it ever happened. She wanted me to do something.

Ugh. Argh! I was so pissed off, I saw spots. Unfortunately, I said some things that shouldn't have been said and were decidedly un-Buddhist. I snapped the phone shut.

That seems to be one of my greatest triggers. I do take responsibility seriously and I value my word. I might be late. I might screw it up - but if I say I'm going to do something, it happens. If some cataclysmic event occurs and I can't follow through, I apologize. And I mean it!

I also am very forgiving, as long as someone acknowledges that they did make a commitment and didn't keep it.

That's not really the issue though. In the larger sense, I've come to the conclusion that anger is a part of living. We all get pissed off. I don't believe anyone who says they never experience anger. Such a person is either dead or numbed out on some chemical. We all get mad.

The point is being able to use the anger to build bridges, not burn them.

I burned one this morning. And there's no repairing it. The damage is too extensive.

So.. this could be an interesting discussion. How do you use anger to create a bridge, rather than burning it?

I have a lot to learn there. Obviously.



meno said...

Hell if i know.

I feel the same way about committment that you do. And i just cannot get past a certain point in any relationship with someone upon whom i cannot rely.

MsLittlePea said...

I can relate to your feelings in this matter. I don't like being blown off when I am depending on someone because I follow through with my promises. Using anger to build a bridge, hmmm, that's a tough one. I wouldn't know how, in your case I probably wouldn't have invited someone unreliable into my life anymore. I read somewhere that the root of anger is hurt, fear, or frustration.

FranIAm said...

Thani this is great- and so courageous for you to write about. The bridge is already being built.

It is hard for me to say, since I too have a bad temper and it is easily set off in a similar way.

That said, I have done some work, very little really - in which I try to honor my anger and not just have it rise up. It is hard and I usually don't want to do it because it means thinking about it when I am not feeling it.

I feel like I can't really express myself well on this topic- I hope I make some sense. I do totally understand what you say though- oh do I ever.

ewe are here said...

If you hadn't heard from her in three years after she blew you off and failed to deliver as a friend, then she is the one who burned the bridge (imho).

Getting angry when she contacted you out of the blue, acting like she hadn't and the bridge was still intact, seems a not unexpected reaction.

To me, the question is do you want to rebuild...something SHE not you broke initially. And if you do, are you sure a telephone call or a letter with an apology for reacting the way you did, but also with the reason why, might not fix it?

I've found sincere apologies can go a long way to fixing things, even things that appear unfixable. Not everything, obvivously, but enough to make it worth a shot sometimes.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Everyone feels anger sometimes, everyone, but I think that when one is in the fresh throes of anger, it is impossible to build bridges.

I have learned that when I am angry, it's because I feel hurt. When someone blows you off without even an apology, she is treating you as if you are inconsequential, of no importance. Of course that hurts.

Probably the best way to rebuild a burned bridge is to state when you are feeling calmer that your feelings were hurt, and why. Then it is up to the other person to explain that she didn't realize how her actions would affect you and to apologize. If she can do that AND promises not to be so inconsiderate again, maybe the friendship can be salvaged. If not, then you are better off without such a rude and thoughtless person in your life, and it is clearly her loss.

Cecilieaux said...

I'm intrigued by the question.

Becoming angry and losing one's temper aren't the same thing, necessarily. I am angered by the abuse of the Constitution, but I do not lose my temper (you will no doubt be shocked, shocked to learn I have one) when I am engaged in political critique.

Anger is a strong sentiment of displeasure or disapproval. I can see how one can be angry, civilly express the feeling to the person you consider the source and an ensuing dialogue becoming a bridge. This happened this afternoon with my girlfriend. I suspect we're closer because we expressed our disappointments.

Losing one's temper, on the other hand, is an emotional state that overcomes us and I can't imagine anything good coming of it, precisely because it is anger out of control.

jstele said...

Well, anger is meant to be a positive force because it really motivates us to stand up for ourselves. Of course, some people lose their temper for trivial things and that is not healthy. How you interpret something determines how you will react to it. How one deals with anger can also be empowering or destructive.

I can see why you'd be upset over what happened. I think the key is to be in the moment and be conscious of how you are looking at things. How are you reacting to the anger? I think if you work on that, then you will be fine. You want to remain conscious throughout your anger so that it doesn't get out of hand.

Defiantmuse said...

Don't know that I can offer up much wisdom here seeing as how I have a super bad temper and have yet to learn how to control it. Funny thing is though, the only people who see this temper are those closest to me. If friends do something that pisses me off I just stuff, stuff, stuff until I explode over the smallest thing my partner does and take it out on him. Healthy, eh?

Leann said...

For me the key is to unlock the anger itself. Why does that particular issue make you so angry? Past history with someone? Parents? etc....then you come to grips with the very thing that causes the trigger and can keep the pin in that firing mechanism the next time.

Molly said...

So you burned a bridge. Sounds like it crossed over to a place you don't need to go to anymore. Sometimes the best way to deal with people who make you that angry, because they're unreliable, and don't keep their word, is not to deal with them at all.
Having a bit of a blow-up is healthier than bottling all that anger up inside you anyway...And no harm to let her know you're angry and why. Some people never figure it out for themselves. They need it spelled out for them!

Mark said...

You ask, how can you turn the anger into something that creates a bridge rather than burns it. First I would suggest that you voice your frustration with someone or something when it happens, not wait in hopes that it will resolve itself. In the situation that you described you held onto the anger and it built up to a boiling point and it errupted. Deal with it in present time. Next I would say, when you do feel angry, ask yourself why. Is it because someone or something is not living up to your expectations. Next, ask, is it fair to ask someone else to live by my expectations? In other words, is it fair to ask someone else to be you. We are all different, and we all live by different thoughts of what is important, what is normal, etc. Often times we simply are mad because the other person did not do exactly as we would do. Most of the time we don't voice our expectations, we simply expect everyone else to think "rightly" as we do. At the end of the day, this creates frustration and anger.
When we become angry we must understand the anger and then turn the anger into positive passion. A passion which we can then use to build positive bridges. Most of this is done through honest communication.
You have choices to make, the biggest one is to choose not to expect the rest of the world to fall within your set of expected norms.

hele said...

Sometimes I manage to breathe and sometimes I don't.

Hug to you.

Anvilcloud said...

I had a vice principal who when verbally attacked just went silent. It was very effective at diffusing a potential encounter. He was quite a bit younger than me; I wish I could learn this lesson better. But we all have different temperaments, and what is easy for some is hard for others.

Border Explorer said...

Thanks for sharing this incident. It is courageous writing. I appreciate seeing you in this light and not in my stereotypical (and incorrect) conception of a Buddhist. You feel more approachable to me now.

In the heat of the anger moment I find it is hard to build a bridge.

flutter said...

some bridges lead nowhere, you know?

Richard said...

Anger and temper are normal human traits. Some people can control them, others can't.
I only burn bridges after some serious thought.

niobe said...

It's fairly rare that I actually get angry. But I have no trouble burning bridges and, far too often often, little interest in creating them.

Anonymous said...

Boy I wish I had an answer. When someone really gets me riled, I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time devising the perfect comeback and act of revenge, none of which I ever go through with. Perhaps that helps defuse it for me. But I do carry grudges for a long time, something that I work hard at, but still I seem never to forget major wrongs done me.

painted maypole said...

we can't make ourselves not feel emotions, but we can learn to control how we REACT to them. I think that used well anger can spur us to take action, but I think it's best to wait until the anger subsides to plot the course. Not that I'm always able to DO that...

womaninawindow said...

"Typically, it's called a "hair trigger temper". I get over it as quickly as it comes on but I'm like a raging bull for 15-30 seconds. Then I'm spent." That, my dear, is my husband in a nut shell and I thought he was alone in this world.

I am stupid. I am a sucker. I get anger, pissing pants angry and with what might seem like an apology I get sucked right back into it all again. Did I mention that I'm stupid?