Anger Hurts, You and Others

On-time, on-time, on-time, . . .

San Francisco, scheduled for 9:00AM, now 10:05AM. I’m mad! An uncomplicated trip to the airport, pleasant drivers, helpful people checking me in and an easy rite of passage through security; all gone because I get to my concourse only to discover my flight is delayed. If they’d announced the delay before I left my house I would of stayed home longer, I pout to myself. My anger wipes out all of the good feelings generated by the relative pleasantness of the day until now. I know that:

anger and frustration are common responses to this type of situation but I have to ask myself, why?

It’s not going to change anything and too much anger makes us sick.

There is a story I often tell clients about anger. The freeway onramp near my home is set up so that you can’t see the freeway until you’ve pulled part way down the ramp. Of course, by then you can’t back up or change direction. You have to keep going. I had an appointment to keep and had left the house in plenty of time to get there. As I pull onto the onramp I am greeted by a barely moving sea of automobiles. Anger arises in my awareness. I work my way into the sea of automobiles and now have plenty of time to ponder why I go to anger in this type of situation. I know it’s not helpful, that it won’t change the situation in any way, and that it is actually bad for my health. Yet, I am still mad. As I creep along the freeway thinking about this I ask myself “who am I angry at?” By now I’ve crested the hill and can see below me a bad car accident with fire trucks, ambulances and police cars everywhere. It gives me pause.

Am I mad at the people who wrecked their cars and may have died? No. Am I mad at the paramedics who are trying to save lives and block the road in their efforts? No. Am I mad at the police officers or the fireman who are on the scene? Again, no. The answer comes to me as if a voice spoke it out loud in the car. I am angry because I did not get my way! I am feeling victimized by the causes and conditions that led up to my being stuck in traffic and late for my pending appointment. I had a plan and my plan was thwarted. I felt helpless. I could do nothing about it except wait.

Each of us is the sum of all of our life experiences. This means that each of us has a 2 year old part of us that wants what it wants and wants it now! Emotions have a lot of energy attached to them and anger is one of the most energetic of the emotions. When anger arises with all of it’s power it often activates these otherwise quiet parts of our mind.

My terrible-two persona wakes up when I am angry and wants to have a temper tantrum. I want what I want and I want it now! I also want everybody else to know that I am mad and it is my secret hope that someone will do something to fix the situation so that I can have my way. When you think about a two year old and how they behave when frustrated, isn’t this what the two year old wants? As children grow up, hopefully the lesson they learn during that two to four year stage is frustration tolerance, the ability to deal with disappointment in a constructive way. Sometimes we are still learning that lesson as adults.

Of course I am no longer two so this kind of behavior isn’t an effective strategy for getting along in the world. Luckily for all of us, as adults we can learn to channel the energy associated with anger into more skillful means in the world. Anger destroys our state of mind. When we are angry we can’t think straight. When we act out of anger someone gets hurt.

Anger is one of the five afflictive emotions in Buddhist psychology and it’s antidote is compassion and love. Back at the airport I stew for a few minutes and finally decide I need to take care of myself and get some breakfast. By being compassionate to myself, feeding my body and letting the anger subside I can think clearly again. I can see how to love myself in this situation. I decide to write this article while I enjoy a relaxing breakfast. It occurs to me while I’m sitting there how difficult it is to carve out uninterrupted time for myself and this extra hour at the airport is actually a gift to me. An hour to relax and use my time in a meaningful way. It took a delayed flight for me to receive that gift. The pleasant feelings I experienced earlier in the day return.

Soon enough I’m flight-bound.

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Airport Lessons on Anger by