Examine Your Relationship to Anger.


As a lawyer, everything made me angry. I blamed New York City: the sky-high rent, loud neighbors, tourists. Small problems, like a late food delivery, made me see red.

Worse, I knew these things shouldn’t bother me, but they still did. The subway ride under the river set me on edge. I moved closer to the office, but I felt the same walking to work. The crowds pressed against me, stripping me of any peace, leaving me raw and bleeding on the street.

But I was too scared to admit how angry I was, so it manifested physically. I became intimate with tension headaches. I constantly had one particular, sharp circle of hot pain under my right shoulder blade. I got acupuncture. I rolled around on foam rollers and lacrosse balls and a strange device called the Theracane.

I woke up with a clenched mouth, and painful, tender jaw muscles; during the day, I had to consciously relax my jaw. If I didn’t think about it, my jaw would tighten itself, clenching my temple muscles. I went to TMJ specialists who couldn’t diagnose the cause of the pain. Nothing worked.

So first I had to admit that I was angry. Then I had to stay with my anger, to listen to it. By paying attention, I could transform destructive anger into creative anger. Creative anger is energy redirected from destruction. I could use that energy to confront what needed to change in my life.

That’s not to say that anger isn’t destructive. Harnessed incorrectly, anger can destroy relationships, jobs, and people. It requires a commitment to practice investigating anger, calmly, from a distance, in order to harness its transformative power.

When anger arose, I couldn’t stifle it any longer. I had to investigate it. How did it feel? Hot and dangerous, or cold and lifeless? Where did it live in my body? My shoulders, chest, or stomach? Was it heavy like a stone or slippery like an eel?

It was scary to examine anger. But examining anger doesn’t mean enabling it. It’s not acting on the anger, not yelling or shouting or hitting. Instead, just observe. What’s happening here? Ask, Why? Why? Why?

Once I distanced myself from anger’s destructive potential, I could begin to make use of it to act wisely. Destructive anger wanted me to awaken to a problem — I was in the completely wrong career for me — but do nothing about it. It wanted me to wallow in my anger. Or was it to revel in my anger? After all, it feels so good to be righteously angry.

Creative anger allowed me to set aside the storyline and just listen to the message.

The anger itself doesn’t change. I still get angry. Things still piss me off, and people are still annoying. However, the relationship to anger has changed. Now, instead of going under the spell of anger, I sit back, examine it, and act wisely.

After I quit that job, my body let itself relax. The headaches went away. Now, I notice that this pain returns when I get angry. While I was at the firm, I didn’t even understand that I was constantly angry. It was only when I created space, when I could remove myself from the hot fire of anger and observe its heat at a distance, that I realized its effect on me. I still encounter anger, but I no longer live in thrall to it.


Joseph Castelli practiced mergers and acquisitions in New York City and studied at NYU School of Law. Before that, he taught English in South Korea for three years, hiked and meditated in the Himalayas, and competed in powerlifting competitions. He now writes at Esquire No More.


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