Several years ago, I remember talking about the nature of thought with a guest at the homeless shelter.
I was pointing to the concept of being aware that thought/feeling can be like the "check engine" warning light in our car. If
any thinking/feeling comes with a bad feeling, it's a potential warning light to us that our state of mind and our thoughts are (in that moment) not that clear or helpful to us... and if we somehow become aware of that, we may get some common sense and clearer
thinking in how to best navigate our response to that momentary experience.
If the situation is not time sensitive, we may get the idea to walk away so we can calm down and get a clearer head, or we may get the sudden idea to not take
the situation personally, or we may see something new we haven't thought of before, or we may get any one of a million other new thoughts that help us navigate the situation with a bit more grace, and with a bit less full-out emotion.
I continued to chat with this guest at the homeless shelter, I was sharing with him how the inevitable appearance of any insecure thought (including anger) NEVER feels good.
He disagreed with me and pointed out that he often feels great
when he lashes out in anger, such as, in his words, when he "beats the crap out of someone".
From my own perspective, anger could never be a good/happy type of feeling, so I was a bit confused by what he was saying. But after a moment
of reflection, I suddenly realized what he was pointing to.
Without any understanding of how his feelings were being created (what they are, what they mean, or what to do with them) he would innocently and unknowingly manage the discomfort
of some of his bad feelings by avoiding them, or numbing them, or pushing them down, or directing them outward in some way.
And so, from his perspective, whenever someone would appear to be irritating him, he would blame his feelings
of irritation on them. His pent up anger would then erupt physically toward whomever he blamed, and the release (the endorphin rush and the temporary removal of the believed source of his irritation) would make him feel great... well, at least for the moment
And so it wasn't really all of the "leading-up-bad-feelings" of anger that felt good to him... as much as it was the release of it all.
For him, it was a frequent habit of...
simultaneously think that the bad feeling is due to "that person or that circumstance"
...Then if the feeling is strong enough in the moment, lash out at the identified target in some way
...And feel a sense of temporary relief (some control
in a situation that appears out of control)
Like many people whom I meet at the shelter, he likely innocently and unknowingly picked up this coping habit from a family member who coped with their own uncomfortable feelings in the same
way... possibly even lashing out habitually toward him.
Unfortunately, his erupting behaviour became a sort of unconscious habit (addiction) for him. The disadvantage of his own lash-out-to-feel-better coping behaviour was that he would
often pay the consequences of damaged relationships, injuries from people fighting back, others being afraid of him, getting fired from jobs, and at times getting arrested.
And imagine how confusing all of this must have been to him, especially
when he would inevitably get back to a moment of calm and clarity, and potentially begin to feel some shame or regret for what he'd done. "What the F is the matter with me? Why can't I control my anger?" And perhaps he even came to the conclusion, "Well, this
is just the way I am. I'm all F'd up."
For some, they will innocently and unknowingly add this additional layer of belief (habit) as a way to understand or cope with their shame and regret... they'll come up with the made up assumption
that their angry behaviour is a part of who they permanently are.
And in the face of being unable to find a way to control their anger (and shame and regret), they also cope by wearing their angry behaviour as a badge of honour.
They become the tough guy. "Don't F with me!" "I'm always right, no matter what. You're always wrong!" "The world is a shit place, and I'm a F-ing warrior!"
I don't remember if I saw this man again, but we had a lovely and interesting
conversation, and like with many others, I learned so much from what he shared. How beautiful that someone with moments of such anger, could also be willing to have moments like this type of calm and loving conversation. I wonder if he ever noticed the significance
Several years later, what's been interesting for me to explore and discover, is in how the "feeling of anger itself", and not just the release of it, can ALSO be a way of coping... anger itself can sort of "feel good" in some
It's much like some people who cut themselves... the bad feeling of the pain of physical harm can temporarily distract themselves from the pain of their emotional suffering. It's an immediate distraction from the emotional pain for
which they have no sense of what it is, nor how to handle it, nor how to experience it any differently. The cutting can actually temporarily feel "good" because it's a distraction from something that feels worse. In times of desperation (when unable to come
up with any other solution), it's "the lesser of two evils".
And so it occurs to me that any of the habitual anger that any of us feel, can sometimes be a bit like that too... we can innocently and unknowingly and habitually use our "anger
at" others or situations, as a distraction to avoid feelings within ourselves that we don't currently understand and don't know how to cope with. Our "anger at" can be a distraction... the lesser of two evils... something specific that we can point at and
identify, instead of something that feels bad within us, but offers nothing we can logically figure out, or identify or deal with.
I can't really know if any of what I have shared here is completely true. After all, in this world of form,
the possibilities and explanations are infinite.
But, as someone who occasionally gets "angry at"... whether it's the self-serving insecurity of some politicians, or the unnecessary greed of some people with more money than they
could ever spend, or the righteous judgment of those with more who condemn and fear those with less, or the (fill in blank here with my latest target)... I wonder if my angry moments could just be a coping habit. And I wonder what it would be like to navigate
life without this habit at all?
Hmmmmmmm... I think I'll reflect on that.