Salty af? Those are your genes speaking.

Understanding — and managing — the resentment instinct.

Mom: “af” stands for “as fudge.” I swear.
“Give ’em an inch, you give ’em a mile,” monkey-brain whispers. “You gonna let them walk all over you, or you gonna take a stand?”

You can feel it coming on, but you’re powerless to resist.

It starts with a trigger. Maybe it’s the kids a few rows in front of you at the theater, giggling through the previews. Your stomach clenches. Oh god, are they going to do this all night? When do I say something?

Maybe it’s the dim thuds of bass coming from a neighbor’s apartment at 11pm. Oh god, are they going to do this all night? Should I say something?

Or maybe it’s just going to get a coffee, and you stand there and the barista ignores you. No eye contact, no “I’ll just be a minute,” just the silent treatment. I’m the customer! Pay attention to meeee!

Your stomach clenches. Your heart beats faster. This is not a good feeling. It’s like acid reflux, but in your brain.

You, my friend, are feeling salty.

The origins of the salt trade.

“Salty,” in pop-culture argot, refers to the feelings of bitterness and resentment that follow a perceived slight.

It’s a pejorative term, used to imply the target is having an outsized reaction. It’s the domain of bad losers and crybabies: think of Hope Solo’s briny commentary on the Swedish team of “cowards” that beat the US in a fair match.

But saltiness appears to be inexorable to the human condition. There’s no one on Earth who doesn’t experience it on some level. And based on my observations alone, most of us are far saltier than we need to be. Whether or not we express it openly, we all feel it — almost as if by instinct.

Of course, that’s exactly what’s going on.

Saltiness: A feature, not a bug.

Gotta have food before you can have salt.

Our brains, out of sheer necessity, adapted to survive against tremendous odds through coordinated efforts with the people around us. When primal humans banded together, their deadly world became a little less dangerous.

The original team sports — hunting game, pooling resources, and defending against threats — required group cohesion. Tribes that worked together well beat out tribes that didn’t. Consequently, we developed a finely tuned sense for group dynamics, and an overwhelming need to feel included and respected by the rest of the group.

These days, our hunts are limited to finding the best sushi in town. Instead of tribespeople and kin, we’re surrounded by coworkers, neighbors and strangers. But instinct hasn’t caught on. To much of our brain, the old rules still apply: It’s a jungle out there, and having the respect of the people around me is the difference between life or death.

When people disrespect us by acting rudely or ignoring our presence, it’s like poking an ancient wound that never healed. We get angry, not over what actually happens, but what it implies. Soft giggling at the movie theater is enraging, while loud coughing barely provokes us. I sleep easily through loud rainstorms, but get salty as hell when I can hear even a slight throb of the neighbor’s bass speakers.

To your primal brain, tolerating disrespect is a slippery slope towards being ejected from the tribe. Your brain is like the stern 1950’s dad who, when Junior comes home with a black eye, tells him to punch back next time. “Give ’em an inch, you give ’em a mile,” monkey-brain whispers. “You gonna let them walk all over you, or you gonna take a stand?”

Tips for a low-sodium diet

We, of course, have the distinct privilege of living in an environment far removed from the unimaginable adversities our ancestors endured.

While you’ll never be able to “turn off” the salt mines in your brain — no more than you could simply stop being a living human — you can take steps to mediate it.

Preventative care: Before saltiness strikes

  • Block it out (within reason). Some stuff just gets under your skin, so take steps to block it out. Use a white noise machine in your bedroom. Pop in headphones on the street. Move to a different subway car. I’m all for being present with every moment, but if there’s something about the moment that is pissing you off, make an effort to change it.
  • Strip salt from your (information) diet. In my experience, there’s enough saltiness in the world already. The last thing I need is to expose my mind to even more snark, bitterness and bile. You are what you eat, information as well as food. Limit or eliminate the gossip blogs, spiteful memes, trashy TV etc.
  • Keep an eye on social media usage. Does it leave you feeling happier, or does it leave you feeling brinier than the margarita rims at Mexican Radio? If the FOMO, selfies and political debates cause you psychic pain, reduce until they don’t anymore.

Acute care: Must… resist… the salt!

  • Recognize and accept your saltiness. Pay attention to how it manifests in your body. Don’t judge it, or yourself. Just realize that it’s a perfectly normal, natural instinct.
  • Step back and ask if the problem is really that serious. Many times, the answer will be no. Reminding yourself that, over and over, can help… even a little bit.
  • Try and resist the temptation to complain or vent. Besides making you look angry and/or defensive, complaining is just a way to deepen and celebrate negativity. Occasional venting to a trusted partner is healthy. Getting overly worked up isn’t. Once you realize you’re in rant mode, cut it off and move to a less-distressing topic.
  • Cultivate gratitude. As I detailed in an earlier post, simply countering saltiness with a feeling of gratitude can work wonders.