ANGER schematic

Anger works in a specific way — it’s a powerful emotion that convinces you, beyond any doubt, that you are completely right to feel mad and that the person (or thing) you’re angry at is a complete fucking asshole.  When you’re righteously angry there are no gradations of right and wrong, only black and white, only you being just and the other party being fucking infuriating.

In order to sustain anger, you need to feel that you are right, righteous, justified, that you were deliberately wronged, unfairly abused.   Sometimes this feeling is the clear result of actual things that have happened to you.   These things happen in life, we make each other angry from time to time.  It is best to make peace and try to avoid the same ugliness next time, though that’s not always in the cards.

Sometimes anger results from a creeping feeling, often of being disrespected —  a feeling that finally gives rise to your angry mind putting together an airtight prosecutor’s case against the person you feel has disrespected you.  Once you have made the irrefutable case, you feel justified in sentencing the other party to whatever they deserve.   And carrying out the sentence.

A feeling may have been gnawing at you for a long time, though you couldn’t exactly put your finger on it, but there’s no mistaking the moment you’ve finally  had enough.   Your anger is burning, you’re dangerous, the only thing left to do is to flesh out the reasons you’re angry, make your case for why you’re right and the other person is totally wrong.   Anger has a notoriously low threshold of proof, you’re already mad, any rationale will do, simply grab one.   Then accuse.   Your accusations will lead to infuriating responses.  An argument then begins, in which everything the other party says only convinces you more and more what an unredeemed piece of shit you are dealing with.

Feelings are real, not to be sneezed at, or trifled with.   What we feel is more real to us than anything else, actually.   You can’t argue with a feeling, it is how you truly feel.   You can’t even have a productive talk with someone who has a strong feeling until you acknowledge the feeling.   Most of the time we keep our feelings to ourselves and these repressed feelings are prone to fester and grow more powerful, even monstrous.   Classically, in our macho society, this applies more to men than to women, who are often more adept at talking about their feelings than men are.

It’s the classic bottle up and explode scenario sung about by the late, great Elliott Smith.    Somebody does something that makes you feel like shit, you say nothing, the next insult is added on, you feel a bit shittier, the next thing is added on, you say nothing.   Eventually somebody will do something somewhat like the thing, or begin to, or seem to be about to, and then the anger at the whole long torment explodes.  Way out of proportion to whatever provoked it, usually.

I had a friend from childhood who was visibly nervous in his own skin.   He always thought I was much cooler [1] than him and though he loved me for it, it also bothered him.   Increasingly over the years.  He was trapped in a nightmare marriage, to a woman he physically feared, he felt helpless and fought her constantly, viciously, helplessly.   He was angry and afraid all the time (these often go together).   I was somebody he could provoke, get a rise out of, someone he felt perfectly safe in making angry.   Indeed, angry as he sometimes made me, I never took a swing at him.

I’d grown up in a house where everybody raged at each other all the time.  My parents never learned to control their tempers, their frustrations, their deep sense of being powerless, abused children.   In fact, both were abused by their violent mothers, unprotected by their gentle, timid fathers.   So it was rage all the time.  It sucked, growing up in a fucking madhouse, and it did great damage to my sister and me.   It took me decades to make any progress toward learning to recognize the signs that I was getting close to the edge, how to calm myself, however slightly.  Awareness that you’re getting angry, and experiencing that you can reel yourself back in, is the first step to exiting the cycle of rage.  

One thing I learned, after many years, is to tell people close to me when they were hurting me and exactly how, and what I need them to do differently.  Each time my childhood friend provoked me I would tell him I was getting aggravated, ask him to back off, to realize that he was poking a raw nerve and making me angry.   His response each time was to deny that he was doing anything, then double down and tell me pointedly that I was the one with the fucking anger problem, not him.  

When you find yourself stuck in one of these kind of insane revolving doors, all the good will in the world will be of little use.   It is too late, once you make your feelings clear and are met with more denial and blame.   Making me angry was the only thing that made the poor bastard feel good, feel like he had any power in the world.  He felt safe, you see and, clearly, he felt he needed to do it.  Otherwise, his head would explode.  What is an old friend for if not to feel safe with?

In the end, after our friendship was dead and cold, after many months trying to preserve our friendship, I pressed him for the reasons he was angry at me.   The reasons I couldn’t be friends with him (unless he changed his behavior) had been on the table for months, though he energetically denied the validity of my feelings.   It emerged that all of the reasons he could never be friends with me were related to things his wife told him, things that happened after our friendship was already beyond reviving.

The schematic of anger is always the same.   A feeling that chafes, gets worse, builds to an intolerable pitch.   A case is made, because though angry and mad are synonyms, nobody likes to feel “mad”.   We need a good reason, or a rationale, anyway.  Nobody does anything unless he is convinced he has a good reason.   Sometimes there is one, sometimes there isn’t.  Our feelings will not allow us to behave without a good reason, so sometimes we create one.  

OK?  I fucking created this inescapable straitjacket case specially for you, just to say “fuck you.”   I love you, man, but you’re dead to me, because, I never told you this, you are a complete fucking asshole.



[1]  whatever the hell that means.   I suppose in his case it was watching someone comfortable in social situations, by the looks of it, not a victimized, anxious, self-conscious person like he felt himself to be.

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