It’s not pretty. And it might be killing us.
Rage (also known as frenzy or fury) is intense, uncontrolled anger that is an increased stage of hostile response to a perceived egregious injury or injustice (author bolded)
Most of us understand that rage is dangerous. If any of us has been subjected to a serious beating by an enraged parent, or lives with someone who harbors uncontrolled fury, we know the feeling. It’s not just that the person afflicted (or infected, my word)is in danger, those who try to function around that person suffer horribly.
That’s America right now. From all the outrage expressed about Washington State’s limitations on movement and gatherings due to the pandemic:
to the outrage expressed by Trump voters about “”fake” election results, we live in a sea of splenetic folks with few resources to handle even the smallest of perceived insults.
Everyone is aggrieved. Some with legitimate complaints, in this case, the entire Black community and communities of color. Some who simply cannot handle being told we might want to share, or take care of folks who deserve a decent life. Others cannot handle that their guy lost, and others can’t handle that people don’t agree with them across the board, others have been pissed off for years and are simply seeking a legitimate outlet to break heads just because. Plenty of BLM marches this year gave rise to just that kind of opportunistic behavior for violence.
On top of this we have grief on top of being aggrieved, for the hundreds of thousands of those of us who have lost loved ones, we have the additional insult of those who grievously deny the existence of a virus that is killing us the world over:
Then we have folks pissed off at folks for being pissed off, which adds additional layers of gall and irascibility to people already stressed out for their own reasons including, but not limited to: job loss, loss of income, loss of home, impending foreclosure, lack of decent food, shelter, healthcare. To say nothing of dying of Covid which, even those who are hours away from dying of Covid, deny its existence.
Shall I go on?
Any one of these is enough to cause a normal person to be apoplectic. When we place each additional weighted blanket of boiling anger onto ourselves, often without realizing it, we are sucking the life out of ourselves and those around us.
- digestion problems, such as abdominal pain
- increased anxiety
- high blood pressure
- skin problems, such as eczema
- heart attack
On top of this, anger is addictive, for reasons we’re only just beginning to understand. Mostly, that anger actually feels good:
From the article:
Your Brain’s Mighty Fine Drug — Dopamine
Anger addiction starts in the brain’s limbic system, which is the seat of all emotions. This system also causes the secretion of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Dopamine (where we get the word “dope”) is the anatomical and chemical stepping-stone to addiction.
Rage is a drug, in other words, and in America, we are addicts. Rage is just the latest, to my mind.
Here, again from the article, are the keys to understand why we see so much rage:
1. It is all about the “rush” — that surge of adrenaline in conjunction with increased heart rate and blood pressure can actually feel quite good, even euphoric. A physical manifestation of anger, like slamming your fist on the table or smashing a porcelain plate against the wall will cause your body to release dopamine, creating an even greater sense of excitement. The trap here is that using rage produced adrenaline to feel ‘high’ is like drinking tequila to have less inhibitions on the dance floor — its short lived and is followed by a nasty hangover.
2. Releasing stored up feelings can feel great. When addicts need their daily “fix” but can’t get it they become antsy and irritable. They feel mental tension and discomfort in various parts of their body. When they finally satisfy their craving they experience a wonderful feeling of relief. Anger addiction is no different. Pent up negative emotions manifest in a very uncomfortable way and their release by screaming or punching something brings about a feeling of relief and satisfaction. The problem is that it’s a vicious circle — the more the brain is wired to experience pleasure from disturbing emotions, the more the anger and addiction grow together as friends.
3. Being in control feels good. When something or someone robs you of control it feels bad. Somebody offends you, a driver cuts you off, you are denied access to your routine cigarette brake, you name it… You lose power, get angry and decide to use force to regain power so you do something to insult or hurt another being to “re-gain” power. This in turn gives one an illusory boost in power and status. Kicking someone’s ass (verbally or physically) in vengeance can feel awesome. Of course, this is exactly the type of behavior that sparks conflicts and pours more fuel into the fire as a result. This is why the most famous sage — Gautama Buddha — skillfully describes anger’s attributes as a “honeyed tip with a poison root.”
If I may. For this has on occasion affected me too, and I have battled this royally. For while rage might temporarily make me feel both large and in control, the damage it wreaks both inside me and around me cause me far more grief, like any other addition than the temporary high I might have felt barking at some hapless customer service employee.
I have found a few things that work, and will share some here.
First, a way to frame this:
You and I are given a certain amount of energy each day to expend. That might vary considerably depending on our age, our nature, our normal way of being, our exercise and food habits. No matter how energetic or phlegmatic you may be, you have a store. That store has limitations.
Rage not only sucks up every bit of that natural resource, but additional rage, like overspending during Christmas, leaves you with an empty energy bank and a shitload of bills to pay later. You are always and forever trying to catch up.
Every single time I lose my temper over something stupid, and it’s always something stupid (or someone’s being stupid, to be fair, including myself) I obliterate my energy stores. Energy that is necessary for me to navigate daily life. Life that is hard enough, with bills, with physical and emotional demands, house work, you name it, without having my precious ability to do that work with joy sucked out of me by irascibility.
Not only that, again, I always feel guilty later. I feel like a shit for being a shit, which is its own energy drainer. My unfair expectations that I “should” be able to handle things with aplomb no matter what sets me up to fail.
If we are ill or injured, or we are in grief over loss, our rage over the unfairness of it all paints another layer of frustration onto our hurt locker. No amount of sleep or rest, what of it we get that isn’t damaged by restless dreams or nightmares, is no longer enough.
And in all of this, there is that demand that we do Deep Work. Deep Work, the work of the Soul, demands a huge amount of energy of us. The energy to rise above our circumstances, develop perspective, humor and grace. That’s power. But power, like any rocket intended for Mars, has to have fuel. We can’t lift ourselves to a higher, better way of being if everything we do sucks our precious fuel away in acrimony.
If rage burns us up, not only are we damaging our physical organs, we are damaging the fundamental ability inherent in each of us to deal with the very perceived insults that are hurled our way.
Every single time I express negativity, every hateful thought or word I say or write, leaks energy. My impatience, frustration, irritation act like holes punched in the reservoir of my personal power. Whether I express it or not makes no difference. As long as I harbor hate, it opens up the belly of my reserves.
Those feelings are normal. In times like this they are to be expected. What isn’t normal, what we see, is the kind of daily, ongoing fury that rips holes in the fabric of our country, our consciousness and our capability as a nation, a people and as individuals. To me, it’s indicative of how badly we’ve tended our individual need for self-care, for self-love, for renewal.
As long as I believe I am owed, I will suffer horribly. However, the moment I see this in myself, the moment I recognize this, I have the door to peace. For when the feelings rise, I can challenge them. The moment I feel my body tense up, my jaws clench, I can question the source.
This requires a willingness to be more self-aware, as well as a willingness to be less angry. Both require maturity. Both demand sacrifice, in that sense that we sacrifice our self-righteousness for calm, considered introspection. We sacrifice our self-importance, our ego, our overwhelming need to be acknowledged as right or superior. We allow ourselves to be as we are. Take comfort in who we are, as perfect and enough right here, right now.
That is part of what faith means to me. That we are, as we are, enough. That the stores are within each of us to deal with anything in life.
Challenge your source. Do you really feel threatened? Or is your daily meal of online ugliness the source of your pain?
Is a change of government the end of the world as you know it? Or have you allowed people who make bank on your belligerance to take over your life, your limbic system and your health to boot? You really want that?
This is how we learn to question. This is how we learn to better take control. The ability to question, to think more critically, to realize that nothing threatens us so much as our overheated imagination is the way to freedom. Real freedom which only exists inside us. What religions call the Kingdom of Heaven. Those still waters, which exist in you and me.
I’ll address other ways to regain your sense of safety and control in another article. Today I head to the hospital for surgery, if it isn’t cancelled due to Covid. That is completely out of my hands.
I choose to sit beside still waters. I hope you do too. It’s nice out here.