When Anger is Your Go-To Emotion
Dear Anxy People,
We’re counting down the days till the release of our first Anxy issue — all about anger. Look for it in stands (and your mailbox!) this May.
For some, anger is an anomaly, an outlier emotion triggered only by the most exceptional circumstances (or our mothers). For others, anger is the default setting. Today, writer Bobby Wilson shows us what it’s like to live in the powerful but corrosive state of near-constant anger.
When Anger is Your Go-To Emotion
by Bobby Wilson
Anger is my emotional factory setting. I inherited the trait from my father. He used to punch empty cardboard boxes in the grocery store, where he worked after school. His father had been angry too; Wilsons have been short-tempered for generations. It didn’t help that when I was a kid playing sports, over-aggression was prized. It was called being competitive.
As I grew older, I realized that my temper made me an outsider. Being irritable all the time didn’t help me make friends. I tried my best to curtail my outbursts. But by the time I graduated university, my apoplectic responses had become one of my defining characteristics. I thought that limiting myself from fully expressing my rage would leave me stifled, creatively and socially.
I became consciously angry. I wrote angry poetry, listened to angry music, and got mad at people when they deserved it. I channeled ire from social or professional interactions and used it as motivation — a trick I learned as an athlete. Michael Jordan didn’t make varsity his sophomore year of high school; his failure and subsequent indignation fueled him to become the greatest basketball player ever. Anger can be a powerful tool when harnessed correctly.
I recognized when I was slipping into the red.
The trouble is when I harness anger incorrectly. The night I got drunk at a bar and threw a chair into a bush. The time I screamed at my friends about why movies are more important than television, and then stormed out of their house. This is the danger of having an anger dial that’s stuck on seven; you are always Super Fly T.N.T. You are always The Guns of Navarone. You are Scott Summers without the protective visor.
Eventually, I recognized when I was slipping into the red. I even understood that I’d have to apologize later — although, in the heat of the moment, I’d often gone too far to turn back. Better to get it out, I thought, and apologize after. Like when I told my friend, Cody, that he was a spoiled-rotten rich kid who hadn’t worked a day in his life. This was wearisome for my friends, but they could always take their leave of me. It’s not like we lived together. When I met my wife, however, I realized how corrosive my anger could be.
Living with me is no cakewalk. My wife has to deal with a seemingly endless stream of anger polluting our apartment. For me, there’s always something to be angry about — writing setbacks, off-handed remarks, economic conversations, my cat’s morning yowling, Trump’s America, tepid coffee, tardiness, NBA trade rumors, and the list goes on. And on. And on.
One night, before we were married, my girlfriend came home from work. I was in a foul mood for some reason, plus she was late and she hadn’t texted. She came in the house and noisily dumped her purse, keys, and phone on the table. Then she interrupted me while I was reading. My vexation was obvious. We argued for ten minutes as I put away her things, explaining in great detail just how I had been wronged. Eventually, she suggested we make a list of grievances so that we could avoid arguments in the future. In under a minute I wrote down 15 neurotic gripes that I felt needed to be rectified. My girlfriend wrote one. She wanted me to control my temper. It was then that I realized I had to change.
I’ve accepted that I’m going to get angry sometimes, but I get to choose how to communicate that anger.
I couldn’t express myself without losing my temper. I couldn’t say something as simple as “When you don’t send a message that you’re late, I worry and get upset.” I’ve had to train myself to put my feelings into words sans vitriol. I’ve accepted that I’m going to get angry sometimes, but I get to choose how to communicate that anger. It isn’t a novel concept, but it took years for me to understand it.
As I enter the next phase of my life, controlling my temper and calmly expressing my anger is of paramount importance. Before I respond to something upsetting, I count to five and collect my thoughts. It’s challenging to do this several times in a row; with each successive attempt, my patience grows thinner and thinner. The difficulty of the task, however, is worth the effort. When I have a child, I want to be careful not to pass onto them the anger issues that have plagued my family for generations. If, as I suspect, it turns out that this emotion is in our blood, and my kid is born with a bad temper, I will not admonish them for being angry. My wife and I will teach them how to control their words and express themselves. Our child will understand their anger and learn how to use it constructively.
Bobby Wilson lives in China, where he writes, teaches English, obsesses over basketball, and cooks. His writings have appeared in the Longridge Review, PopMatters, Unlikely Stories, and more.
ARE YOU ANGRY?
Do you have trouble expressing your anger? What has anger done for you? Post a response to this story below. We look forward to hearing from you.
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