Anger Is Just a Habit

It’s not uncommon to be angry all the time. Many people experience that – always on simmer, just waiting to boil, and looking for a reason. Not a good way to live. And we can always find a good reason to be angry, especially in today’s world. But if we watch closely, we can see that anger exists for its own sake and doesn’t really need a reason. All it needs is an excuse.

Like a drug, the feeling of being angry can become an addiction. And like any other addiction, we tend to take it personally. It tells us who we are. “I’m normally an okay person, but I have this problem…” The problem distinguishes us and makes us special. And we would much rather be special than be happy.

Being special means that we deserve to be loved, or at least worthy of attention. It’s an instinct – basic, primitive, deep. We need it to stay alive. But we don’t need it continually. We only need it at certain times, especially when change is needed. Anger can provide the energy to bump us out of a rut. But if we believe that anger makes us a strong personality, then anger becomes its own rut. It becomes a habit.

There are classes for business people who travel to areas where there is a high risk of being kidnapped. One way to avoid being kidnapped, they tell you, is to monitor your fear. Not control it, but to monitor it. Nature has equipped us with a highly sophisticated early warning system called fear. Danger that is detected subliminally registers first as an unnamed fear, which when noticed makes us hyper-alert to our surroundings. But if we convince ourselves that we should always be afraid, the warning signal is always on, and the highly sophisticated early warning system called fear is rendered useless.

Anger can be a catalyst for change. But if we are always angry, change becomes nearly impossible. For instance, anger can motivate a young person to leave home, to get away from overly controlling or abusive parents. But once the anger has done its job, it can be released. Its purpose has been accomplished. But if we hang onto that anger and identify it as who we are (this strong person who stood up to her parents) then we find ourselves stuck in the conflict, perpetually reliving the drama. We may have escaped physically, but emotionally we are still living at home!

It is not necessary to identify the cause of our anger. I know this runs counter to the contemporary wisdom in psychology, but it’s actually true. What we need to do is simply observe that we are getting angry. Just a little bit of self-observation is all it takes to distance ourselves from the feeling. Once we see that we are getting angry, we then have the power to choose to see it differently. The feeling will still arise and wash over us, but it will be something that is happening, not something that we are. Observing it happening causes us to become aware of our true identity, namely the one who is doing the observing. And just as we can observe our anger arise, we can watch it pass by. Where it once passed, we remain.

Thoughts are like buses – they come and they go. We get to choose which bus we get on. Feelings are different in that we usually get taken for a ride. But if we were able to observe that ride from a traffic helicopter, then the ride would not seem so personal. It would be just another ride. This would make it a lot easier to get off the bus at the next stop.

It helps to know that anger is something we have gotten used to and not some mysterious thing that wells up from the shadowlands of our soul. The soul is fine. It is always fine. Being face to face with God at all times, it knows that it is safe. Anger and fear are of the body. They have specific roles to play in our physical survival. But being on the spiritual path means that we seek to realize the entirety of our existence, not just the earthly part. Once you start recognizing the observer part, you take the first steps toward recognizing the Self –the real you.

I have seen it all, and yet I am still okay.

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10 Responses to Anger Is Just a Habit

  1. Excellent article and insights…
    Especially liked the points on being aware or, monitoring your anger instincts, and for the students who want to further master intentional emotional input/output of their spirit being, meditations on extending kindness and other spiritual virtues, into past angry encounters can strengthen our emotional intelligence muscles.
    Meditating on reducing incidents of anger go a long way towards removing unknown karmic behaviors that have been passed to us from long-passed generations. Shalom In Lak’ech… Well Journeys, Namaste

  2. MaryAnn Fry says:

    Absolutely what I needed to hear, from you. Thank you. It is so liberating to be an observer.

  3. I liked this post and I want to ask your permission to copy it and, might be, sometime, publish it with your reference. Actually, I use to save the articles I think could be good for other too.

    I’ll be waiting for your response. I hope that you’ll not mind in my copying and publishing it.

    • You are welcome to publish any of my articles as long as you credit the source. Where are you located?

      • Sure, the source would be with your article.
        Well, I am from Pakistan. I have written a booklet recently that could be found in pdf at http://tinyurl.com/nawab-sahib/
        I have written almost 1/3rd of a travelogue of Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) of 2010 and it has reached more almost 225 pages. I hope that it’ll be completed before the end of May. I hope that it will also be translated in English.
        Apart from these, I use to write my notes (on random topics) and there is a section called “My favourite Articles by Different Authors”.

  4. Annie says:

    Michael, as always, this is a beautifully written, easily understandable and timely article. I do so admire your work and am very grateful that you share it so freely. Thank you. Blessings

  5. Rosamonde Miller says:

    Excellent article with keen insight.

  6. Lenore Flanders says:

    Wonderful Michael. You give a perspective & insight that is most helpful. I will share with others.

  7. Eric Siracusa says:

    Good Stuf!

  8. Tim says:

    “Thoughts are like buses”- thanks for that. The ideas that “thoughts are passing clouds” or “release your thoughts to the stream flowing by” never felt solid to me. Getting on a bus a or not feels more actionable to me. And it raises good questions, like “do I want to go where that bus will take me?”

    I have been applying the “thoughts are like buses” during my recent meditations and it has helped me to be more in the position of an observer, and that has brought increased peace and energy.

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