“In the beginning you may not understand the nature of your anger, or why it has come to be. But if you know how to embrace it with the energy of mindfulness, it will begin to become clear to you.” –Thích Nhất Hạnh
People often joke if I’m capable of having emotions, which is a fair assessment. I have an apathetic demeanor that could help me pass as a robotic host on HBO’s Westworld. I’m not easily excited and it takes something on the level of extraordinary to really impress me. All in all, my nonchalant disposition has become part of my personal brand, as even a slight crack of a smile in a photo would get people giddy. However behind the RBF, there are legit emotions and feelings. I’m just horrible at conveying them.
I’ve never been an expressive person. I digest and stew in my feelings internally, keeping them to myself most of the time. Only in moments where emotional stimulation, be it excitement, joy, fear, or sadness, is at its peak, do the external indicators come out. Call it a strength, a weakness, or even both. It’s helpful in intense and stressful situations, where I’ll maintain my composure. But on the other hand, it isn’t always beneficial to bottle up the more intense emotions, especially anger.
I never thought I had a major issue with my anger. Some people are even surprised I get even angry. With my even keeled demeanor, I rarely stay disgruntled or annoyed for long periods of time, usually getting over what initially irked me and rarely holding onto grudges going forward. But in those moments of significant agitation, I can become off-putting and unwelcoming. Imagine a tea kettle heating up, but the stout is covered. Rather than letting off steam, the kettle continues to an extreme boil. At some point, something has to give. Anger is a very powerful emotion that deeply affects not only our individual self, but also those around us. I realized that the negative impact on others is where my problem lay, and it took a hard slap of reality to realize that.
“Whenever the energy of anger comes up, we often want to express it to punish the person whom we believe to be the source of our suffering. This is the habit energy in us. When we suffer, we always blame the other person for having made us suffer.”–Thích Nhất Hạnh
I got mad at someone who I greatly value and care about, and due to my lack thereof ability to communicate my emotions in a productive way, I ended making the situation worse. When I was angry, my personality became cold, dark, and selfish which led me to inexcusably shut her out. I didn’t respond in the best way, but my nature just took over. It wasn’t until several hours later did I realize the faults of my doing and guilt filled my stomach. But the damage was already done.
“We do not realize that anger is, first of all, our business. We are primarily responsible for our anger, but we believe very naively that if we can say something or do something to punish the other person, we will suffer less. This kind of belief should be uprooted. Because whatever you do or say in a state of anger will only cause more damage in the relationship.”-Thích Nhất Hạnh
On a brisk Halloween night, we sat near Echo Park Lake. It was quiet, and I read her a heartfelt letter I wrote explaining how I immaturely expressed my emotions and hoping for forgiveness. At the core, I wasn’t mad at her. If you think about it, you’re usually angry at the situation of something occurring rather than person. And more common than not, you’re actually angry at yourself. The aggregation of previous disappointing experiences triggers anger and that’s all inflicted by one source: yourself. I’m responsible for evaluating situations that frustrate me and how to rightfully respond, knowing that it has ramifications on others. By the lake, we uncovered that I might have an underlying issue with my anger.
When I got home that night, I searched Amazon for book that could help me evaluate my anger management issues and overall, how to get better at communicating how I felt. I’m not a robot. I’m fortunate to produce complex and complicated feelings and emotions, so how do I constructively share them? I settled on Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thích Nhất Hạnh. I honestly wasn’t convinced on his approach at first, being more spiritual and focusing on inner mindfulness rather than pragmatic tactics, but he made ultimately made good points. The biggest takeaway is that whenever you find yourself in some state of rage, don’t look at others to blame or to take punishment on,, look at yourself first. Then use others as a supportive means to heal it.