Another driver makes an inappropriate hand gesture on the road. A parent screams at a child. A customer verbally abuses the cashier at the supermarket. A teacher yells at his or her student. These are all expressions of anger when we lose control. Once I saw a fellow explode at another Jew for asking him not to talk during Davening. The end result was that the fellow who received the rebuke spoke louder and the one who said not to speak ended up doing most of the talking. Fury is a hostile missal looking for a target. The intent of rage is to inflict pain and humiliation on a specific or undefined mark amid a flurry of self-righteous indignation. Unfortunately there exists within all but the righteous, a loose cannon with a fuse of varying lengths ready to fire a barrage. The angry person has lost all reason and is on a rampage of destruction with no impulse control.
Identifying the Anger Triggers
We all have within us a set of circumstances or words that we find annoying and even infuriating. Husbands and wives can go through a long list of things like “I hate it when he does this!” or “She makes me crazy when she does that!” If you list and examine all of these different triggers you will find that they are variations of the same theme; the selfishness of the other person’s inner animal. The naked truth is that whenever we see this in others we are looking at that part of ourselves that we’ve grown accustomed to but find despicable. This is a manifestation of the dichotomy of the human soul; the yetzah harah (evil inclination) versus the yetzah tov (good inclination). Therefore, as stated in the Tanya, whenever we have to confront a particular behavior that we find objectionable, we are facing our own animal soul.
The Alter Rebbe said in Chapter one of the Tanya (a work of Kabbalah), “Anger and pride arise from the element of fire which rises upward”. Anger is a byproduct of arrogance. It comes up out of thwarted intentions and/or unfulfilled needs. The self-centered animal must have what it desires and the more dominant this characteristic becomes the more combustible is the fuel that ignites the soul and drives the individual into a rage. The key to taking apart this process is to understand that arrogance like fire, when out of control, is a destructive force and consumes everything in its path. With humility, on the other hand, the element of fire is not invoked. Therefore, anger management requires humility. This, however, immediately begs the question, “How does the arrogant person who frequently explodes into a rage become humble?” The process of change is one of replacement or substituting one thing for another. Humility and pride are opposite components existing within the divided soul – the first emanating from Godliness and the later from evil. The arrogant person has a potential for humility because every aspect of being has its opposite. Thus, it is possible for an arrogant person to engage at any time of his or her choosing in a single act of humility.
Giving up Being Right – One Act of Humility
Every argument or confrontational conversation has one underlying theme, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” When two people approach a dialogue with each determined to emerge victorious at any cost they will only succeed in igniting the fire of the soul and anger will ensue. The moment one of the verbal combatants gives up being right, the fire is quelled and the anger dissipates. Being right is nothing more than a piece of excess baggage. It feels good for the moment because it feeds the bloated ego but it is costly; the price is love and success. Remember that you don’t have to become completely humble. You only need to engage in a single act of humility to avoid or diffuse a heated tense altercation. Simply say, “I don’t have to be right.”
Dismantling the Upset
There is one distinction that is the underlying cause of most people becoming upset; the thwarted intention. This describes anything that we wanted to do but another person stopped us from doing it. Being interrupted in a conversation, cut off on the road, someone cutting into a line, heavy traffic, one’s child being disobedient, another person refuses a request or is slow to act etc. are all variations of the same thwarted intention. Even when we hear unpleasant words directed toward us or learn that we’ve been the victim of someone’s lashan harah (gossip) our intention to think positively about ourselves has been thwarted. The process of dismantling the upset is redirecting the conversation. There is a heated discussion going on in our heads 24 hours per day. This is the perpetual argument between the two souls. Whenever we want to change the dialogue we need only to ask, “What else is possible?”
For example, a man came home after work feeling tired and drained. His wife had spent hours getting her hair done at the salon and shopping for a new dress. That evening, she walked in front of him waiting for a compliment or two and he was totally oblivious. He failed to notice the new hair style and clothes.
“Don’t you notice anything?” she asked in a frustrated tone.
“Oh, you did something with your hair and you bought a new dress. You look ravishing.”
The wife became angry and accused her husband of being inattentive. All of his apologies fell on deaf ears and then he became upset that his wife wouldn’t acknowledge his exhaustion from work. Each one was being self absorbed in the moment and was unable to express concern for the other. They were each confronted with their own evil inclination. Fortunately, armed with the distinction of exploring other possibilities, they were able to look beyond themselves at the other and immediately dissipate the anger.