An Anger Journey

As my fist was going through the wall I could feel my anger surging. Even with temporary adrenalin-induced tunnel vision, I could see the 2×4 wall stud right next to the hole my fist created. I had almost crushed every bone in my hand. For just an instant, I was totally out of control, letting anger take charge. Thankfully I missed the stud. Thankfully I did not direct my fist to my roommate’s face. I had a boundary that I would not cross. What triggered this anger? My roommate and I were arguing about who should buy the next case of beer.

As a twenty-year-old at the University of Arizona, I was just beginning to see myself from a different point of view, a more critical and introspective perspective. I had taken six of eventually eight classes in Psychology and was learning that our brains can be reprogrammed. I had taken both Normal and Abnormal Psychology and wondered where I fit on that spectrum. How would the occasional outburst of anger be diagnosed? Was this normal or abnormal?

A few years later, when I was 24 years old, I lost complete control again. This time I screamed and yelled at my girlfriend who had just said she was seeing someone else. The words and the hatred that spewed out of me were as violent as any verbal attack could be. This eruption was so embarrassing that I vowed never to lose control like this again. I was not sure how to change, but I was determined.

Though anger was still a regular visitor, my behavior was changing. I was not as obviously violent when my anger trigger came from those around me. If I was angry at someone, they could see that anger, but it was more from my facial expressions, my tone and my words. Yes, on occasion, I raised my voice, but not to full throttle yelling. I did have a relapse a year or so later, yelling a string of expletives at full throttle, but this time the anger was directed at a sheet metal screw that I could not get screwed into the wall vent in my home. My new girlfriend, soon to be wife, was in the room when I went ballistic. She thought it was sort of funny as she had never seen me lose control and did not feel threatened by my attack on the screw. We both laughed it off. I was cautiously optimistic that even though I lost control, the verbal violence was not directed at a person.

As my understanding of anger grew, so did my understanding of violence. Violence is not limited to physical abuse. Nor is violence limited to hatred filled diatribes. Ten years after the sheet screw incident, I was leading a larger than normal work meeting, with about twenty staff members present. After hearing a dozen or so updates, one of my best salesmen reported, “I can’t get the proposal out this week.” Something triggered in me, my anger surged, I slammed my fist on the table and walked out of the room while saying, “I don’t want to ever hear ‘I can’t’ in this company again.” Within seconds I realized that I had blown it. Yet again, violence, both physical and verbal was my instinctive reaction to anger. Slamming my fist on the table, though not with great force, and walking out of the room were manifestations of physical violence. My words, though not yelled, were violent none the less. I was progressing in my journey with anger, but there was still so much to learn and so much to improve upon.

Since that last slam of my fist, I have stopped using physical violence in reaction to anger and my verbal violence continues to morph into a more hidden and subtle form. I learned how to verbally express my anger in such a way that many observers would not even recognize it as anger. I would ask a question or make an observation with the intent of hurting the person. I would not consciously want to hurt the person, nor would I formulate the most cutting words, but the hurtful words still came out. My voice would be calm and my body language at ease, but the anger was present, not surging as it used to, but flowing none the less.

Ten after that last fist slam, a moment of clarity came to me while I was sitting at a conference table with a dozen professional colleagues. For years I had referred clients to them, but rarely if ever had they returned the favor. I felt cheated and for years the anger slowly grew inside me. During a discussion on referrals, my adrenalin started to flow and unfortunately, I spoke. I attacked my colleagues’ character in a very subtle matter. My tone was gentle and my words were eloquent, but my unconscious intent was to make them feel bad. In just seconds I realized that my anger had taken control again. As always, I was very embarrassed for I had been violent.

I needed something to anchor me when anger surged. I needed something to hold my instincts back. At that moment, I decided that all my future communication would come from a loving intent. If my communications come from loving intent, I know that anger is not controlling my words. When anger is present, I need to keep quiet until I can express myself with loving intent. If asked a question while anger is present and I am not grounded in loving intent, my response will be, “I need more time to think.”

I am now in my mid fifties now and I rarely allow pent up anger to come out in any physical or verbal form. Thirty plus years of behavior modification have come with two steps forward and one step back. Progress continues, but mistakes still happen. I know that anger is a completely normal reaction to life events. I also know that showing anger gives important feedback to those around you. My challenge before me now is to recognize that first ping of anger and quickly grab control away from my destructive instincts. Focusing on loving intent is my permanent companion on the anger journey. I suspect will be friends for life.

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10 Responses to An Anger Journey

  1. Katherine says:

    Thank you for sharing Mark. I only hope we all learn as well as you have over the last 50 years.

  2. Rod Betts says:

    Mark, thanks for sharing. I too have had to work hard on anger management. I have improved a lot over the years but it is still a work in progress. Hope to see you soon. Rod

  3. Julie Meier Wright says:

    Mark, your testimony is candid and refreshing and could well be an important roadmap for people who deal with the same issue, maybe not even realizing it until they read your eloquent words. One of my issues is that I am an impatient driver and I am wondering if I can apply your insight and practice to changing that. Thank you for writing…

    • Mark says:

      At times, “stupid” drivers anger me. I have come to realize that, at times, I am that “stupid” driver. That has helped me forgive in real time the “stupid” driver who has just cut me off.

  4. Judy Muller-Cohn says:

    I have watched many people in my life who did not tackle this issue. I commend you for being so honest.

  5. Patrick Dempsey says:

    Mark your comunication skills are wonderful and it is obvious you lead with your heart, reminds me of Lao Tzu’s journey of a thousand miles begns with a single step, thanks for sharing!

  6. Patrick says:

    Well said Mark – – you’re not alone with the anger issues you’ve experienced. I too ‘flew off the hook’ several times many years ago and have really tried to mellow-out as I got older. Right now I’d say you’ve definitely atoned for any mistakes in the past, as you’re one of the most loving people I know.

  7. Thanks for sharing your journey with anger. I like how you pointed how the many ways anger and violence intertwine, sometimes with force, and at other times subtle. Yet still pervasive. I too have a journey with anger and much of it (in the past) I turned against myself. Having grown up in a home with anger and violence, it was what I knew. Fortunately as an adult I have done much work in this area AND I still find it is a day-to-day process. I strive to be kind to myself and others while also being true to myself and others – otherwise, anger can manifest. I’ve learned that living lies on any level creates a smouldering form of anger — which can lead to a volcanic explosion – an inner-rage which erodes self-esteem, creativity, and life force. So it is a journey- one which requires one foot in front of the other, open, observing eyes, and a loving heart (for ones self and others). Thanks again for your willingness to dig deep to offer your post!

  8. Rick Laird says:

    Your journey and the sharing of it is very welcomed and utterly brave. Thank you for being vulnerable in this world.

  9. Cindy Yang says:

    I agree with Rick’s comments. Thank you for sharing your journey managing anger. I believe every single person has experienced anger more than once in his life. But a conscious effort trying to catch that behavior will help set us on the path to eventually being able to manage it and become a better person.

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