In Psychology, Stoicism, Love, and Taoism
‘How was your day at work, Love?’
Boom. Crack. Pow.
Half the apartment is in shreds. Your jaw is broken. And the door is hanging off the hinges from where your partner just slammed it in anger yet again.
Now, this article is about understanding anger as whole, if you’d like to learn more about fighting with your partner, click here.
When you have a friend or lover or family member that seems a bit off, we try to type in their behavior on the world wide web and play psychologist.
Let’s see, they (are):
Physically and/or mentally abusive
Completely cold and distant
Eat too much or too little
Run from happy relationships
End friendships for small reasons
Hang on to pain or negativity
Post attention-seeking sexualized photos on social media
Abuse drugs and alcohol
Spend more money than they have
Quit jobs too early
Sleep too much or too little
But mostly, they just seem really angry all the time.
We plug and play many of their worrying behaviors and come up with all kinds of results (even if only a few of the symptoms match the ones that are relevant):
Emotional Masochist (maybe mixed with a bit of sexual masochism if you’re lucky and into that)
Or maybe they are just simply a ‘Drama Queen/King’
Now, it may make us feel more at ease to ‘figure out’ what’s wrong with our loved one and tell them to go get help. And though it may not be healthy to encourage a chronic behavior of abusive anger and it may even help to understand the different types of anger, there is still a more universal and ancient approach to dealing with anger as a whole.
Besides, if we all looked ourselves up in the DSM-V, we would find out we all have 5 or 6 serious mental disorders.
So rather than write another article to tell you how to identify and treat your mentally ill loved one, let us all just admit we get angry from time to time, some more than others, and deal with that one emotion.
Our Little Red Devil
[Disgust and Anger make a great team. Let love be your aeroplane.]
Of course, seeing someone lose their shit does look like a form of insanity.
Throwing their cell phone at you like a ninja star across the room.
Getting hostile with the overstressed customer service representative.
Putting everybody’s life in danger to pass a slow driver.
Breaking the computer because the internet isn’t working.
Cutting someone out of your life because they didn’t respond to a text.
Though it may seem irrational - and unfortunately, it can lead to bad decision-making that lasts longer than the emotion did, possibly forever - it is still a basic human emotion that can be learned, understood, and handled. Therefore, we shouldn’t simply try to ignore anger as something impossible to master.
When we get angry, it is a negative experience. It is taking a negative outlook on the situation. By definition, anger is ‘a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.’ (Videbeck, Sheila L. (2006). Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (3rd ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.)
Yet what we may not realize as we watch someone go a bit crazy from rage is that there is something else going on with that person beyond being sad. The fact that they throw things, yell at someone, or slam doors is because they are extremely disappointed at the results of what they had hoped for. Very angry people are quite possibly the most optimistic people of us all.
The Stoic Response
A simple lesson we could learn from Stoicism is that we get angry because we do not get what we want. Yes, we may be disappointed, but when it is the rainy season and we walk outside to rain, we may feel a little frustrated or perturbed, but we don’t blow up in rage.
It is when we feel, when we believe, on a fundamental level that we are entitled to something - a lover’s attention, a promotion at work, a free college education - that we blow up in rage. It is almost our understanding of how the world turns, the very laws of reality, have been violated against our favor.
Sometimes we truly believe that the roads should be traffic-free, that we shouldn’t lose anything, or that our partner should literally only exist for us - emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Therefore we feel betrayed.
People will always do stupid things. The weather will always ruin vacations. Technology will always fail us at some point. Sometimes, all these things will happen at once.
The Stoic answer, and perhaps something we should practice more today in a world of new and old disappointments is to teach ourselves to be let down in our own time and space. To learn calmness through being a bit pessimistic.
The world is going to hurt us anyway. Life is going to kick is while we are down. And shit rolls downhill like the rest of us. We know this and still get upset by it. Which is normal and it is even healthy to get angry about this as long as we don’t let it destroy us or hurt others.
The dark realities of life will always play their part. And the angry of the world are just as vulnerable as the rest of us with this truth. They are very scared. They may seem courageous when facing the world. They may even seem to push life around like a school bully. But the (unfortunately cliché) truth behind this bravado is that they are hostile to the world around them due to panic.
They simply can’t believe in their selves to handle grievances, catastrophes, or failures. They don’t have the know-how of patience that with time and care all can be repaired or restarted or simply overcome.
The way we treat our partners is by far the most furious of all fires when we are angry. Our husband or wife may have tolerated incompetent (or simply absent) employees, insatiable clients, and an overbearing work schedule all day. Then there are the 500 calls from their lonely and overbearing mother, a bad night’s sleep, and the looming frustration of knowing there is nothing in the fridge at home.
So when we smile and ask them, ‘How was your day, Love?’ we are ensued with a maelstrom of built rage. They have swallowed their fury all day. They have forced politeness. Now you ask them how their day was… How dare you?
You are their partner. You live with them. You know them better than anyone. You love them, which in today’s Romanticism means that they should never have to explain anything to you.
So like a cold front mixing with the still warm summer air in Arkansas towards the end of every year, a tornado is formed. The warm angry feelings that have rested through the day are now met with a perceived cold greeting at home at the end of the day.
Hope and rage spin into a whirlwind of annihilation and it is too late to stop it.
‘This is the person I chose to settle down with? This is the man (or woman) that gets me? Oh my god! My life is ruined!’
Destruction begins. Things start flying through the air. Emotional glass is broken. A wasteland of damage is left behind that is too overwhelming to even want to consider repairing.
It’s a difficult time of the day (and year).
We, the Angry
Another way to look at us, ourselves, the angry of the world, is that we are teachers. Very bad teachers. We want to tell people how to run their businesses more efficiently. We want to show people how to drive better by flying past them with the middle finger. We want to teach people how to respectfully show up on time.
We simply put too much interest in the success of our lessons. We just don’t know how to be indifferent to whether or not people around us are able to learn or not.
At times, we try to laugh at how ridiculous people are when they get angry. Assuming we aren’t terrified they are going to physically hurt us.
Yet, as in most all my articles when dealing with people, I embrace the ‘treasures’ of Taoism. In particular in this post: patience and compassion.
The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 67
So, in the spirit of patience and compassion, we should perhaps give some sympathy to our fellow beings, particularly our partners who tolerate us more than anybody.
The big stupid eyes, the aggressive ugly words, and the antagonistically raised voices are results of a very intense feeling of injustice that they won’t be heard and understood otherwise. They are sad, disappointed, scared, or any other fragile and vulnerable thing you can imagine. And they need the very urgent and practical superpowers of anger to see them through.
So, next time the battle lines are drawn, if you have the time and peace of mind to try to resolve the situation before he or she brings out the fiery hell in you:
Make it known that you are both very hurt or disappointed (or whatever is the appropriate feeling to attribute).
Empathize that you also wish things could be different.
Then lastly, tell them that you both will make it through whatever the problem is… together.
If that doesn’t work, send them to the psych ward with the list mentioned in section 2 and let them figure it out.