Looking at the emotion proper, anger tends to start out with annoyance and gradually turns more powerful, becoming proper anger, perhaps even turning into rage. That development can take a lot of time. Usually, we can take being annoyed for a while, but then it becomes something more primal: it feels as if that annoyance is out of our control and keeps going on too long, too often, too loud, too much. The feeling of not having any influence over what makes us annoyed or angry is the final straw that may lead to outbursts of anger, or even rage. It’s all gradual, where annoyance is usually brushed away and builds up, anger is much more outspoken and direct, and rage may involve physical confrontation in drastic cases.
How can we BE with anger in all its shapes without simply disregarding it not letting it bubble up and explode?
I believe that much anger comes from that feeling of not being able to control what leads to the anger in the first place. Let me give you an example: I have had a daily train commute for the better part of 25 years, 45 minutes each way on a crowded train. What drove me crazy was the constant cacophony of basslines and screeching high notes from 10 different headsets all across the train carriage. I could feel a nearly physical sense of anger that was only controlled by the knowledge that ‘it’ll be over in 15 minutes’. Of course, that mantra had to be repeated twice a day, five days a week, 52 weeks per year… no resolution was possible.
The trouble was that I felt helpless and I had to let go of that wish to control borderline antisocial behaviour in others. So I made sure I did what I could to mitigate things and got myself some decent earplugs for the trip, and then I focused on letting those feelings go whenever they came up. On occasion I went to a quieter place within the train. I know, that feels like giving in to pressure, but sometimes that is exactly what needs doing. If you want to stay sane, that is.
I also learned that what annoyed me on the train had more to do with general unhappiness and lack of vision in my life in general than it did with the people on the train. The anger was fuelled from within and once I figured that out and dealt with the actual reasons, I could move forward and ignore the noise.
Ultimately, it pays off to dig a little deeper, disregard the apparent situation and find out what really ticks us off. Maybe this is something to apply to your own experience with emotional outburst of all kinds, not just anger...
Of course, I work from home and only ever see clients rarely anyway, and in terms of professional interactions nothing much has changed. When it comes to socialising, my life has changed in a huge way, though: even in normal times I was not particularly excited at the thought of meeting lots of people in noisy places, and the lockdown has shifted the general situation in my favour, really. Where in the past I had to constantly explain myself for not wanting to go out (and nobody understood my plight to stay away from groups of people), I suddenly find myself part of a silent majority of people who follow the rules of social distancing and/or stay at home altogether.
It turns out that I rather like staying on my own, and the thought of meeting ONE friend for a distanced walk or sitting somewhere with a cup of coffee and having a quiet chat excites me much more than anything else. In a way, I’m now in a position to meet people on general terms that work for ME rather than having to fall in with a ‘normal time’ majority that does not really understand where I’m coming from.
I always thought of myself as ‘shy’ when it comes to interacting with groups of people, not wanting to be the focus of attention, yet at the same time being annoyed for not being part of it. I had also wondered if I’m an ‘introvert’ at heart, but could not really align either of those two ideas with my feelings because I do like being around other people, listen to them and enjoy their company, being part of the group in some way that I could deal with.
These days, I find myself being apprehensive of crowds (and that includes people invading my 2m safe zone on a constant basis) to a point where I had a physical reaction only two weeks ago where my heart started to race, I got dizzy and weak in the knees. I guess I had my very first recognisable anxiety attack – and I hope this was also the last one because it was terrifying. Maybe this sense of terror was always there, and I was just able to maintain my safety barriers because I had to. Three months into my isolation, those barriers may have withered away and I have to learn again to keep them up.
Either way, the battle between shyness and seeing myself as an introvert continues. It’s even possible that they are both just symptoms of an underlying uncomfortable feeling of being around too many people. Only time will tell. For now, I’ll have to gradually get accustomed to being around people again.
These are my own thoughts on aspects of my work I feel strongly about.