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Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. - the Buddha

First, you must want to overcome your anger, and believe that you can. And although the actions or non-actions of others may trigger your anger, others are not responsible for your reactions - you are. We may say : "So-and-so makes me so angry", but we need not allow ourselves this anger. We can choose to overcome it.

The Anger Management Industry

'Anger management' is a growth industry. More and more people, often at the insistence of their spouses, employers or of law enforcers, are attending anger management classes or counselling, where one standard approach is: "What in your past triggers your anger now?".

During a consultation, an anger management counsellor probing a client's past thought he hit a jackpot when the client revealed that his father habitually beat his mother. "Aha!", he thought, "that's what's triggering his anger!". So out came the standard question: "And how does that make you feel?". The client said nothing, his face swelled with anger and he punched the counsellor on the nose!

Unfortunately, regurgitating past anger can perpetuate it with renewed power. And walking into the future backwards with a rear-vision view can create more problems than it solves. Whilst Santayana's famous saying: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is often true (especially politically), it is also true that those who dwell on the past are repeating it! We also make the rather obvious point that those who cannot remember the past are able to forget it.

'In denial' - or moving forward?
There are reasons why we forget our traumas, and more often than not these are about getting on with life. Yet too often, especially in fairly recent times, people unwilling to dwell on their past traumas have been derided as 'repressing' them and being 'in denial' by those seeking to profit from it by scaring the emotionally troubled and vulnerable into their waiting arms ("Give 'em the disease and then sell 'em the cure").

But there is a vast difference between (a) acknowledging one's past traumas and moving forward positively, and (b) dwelling on them as evil demons to be exorcised at all costs before life can be enjoyable and productive, which amounts to putting a curse on oneself. Understandably, people's greatest traumas are usually those they are least inclined to revisit, and for others to forcibly reopen one's past wounds with arrogant presumption to simplistically analyse them can be highly toxic and dangerous. "We murder to dissect" (Wordsworth).

It should also be noted that 'recollections' of the past are notoriously inaccurate (who can recollect much about even last week?) and traumatic experiences in particular can hardly be expected to yield clear memories. Moreover, much tragedy has been caused by implanting suggestions in the psychologically vulnerable that they have had past traumas - in particular that they were sexually abused as children. Any predeliction for seeking evidence of sexual abuse in another's past and feeling disappointed or cheated at not finding it could well qualify as sexual perversion in itself.

In any case, inclinations towards anger should not be assumed to originate from past psychological trauma - they may be due to physical ailments, for example, or disgust at the ways of the world, or combinations of these and/or countless other things.

And, even if delving into the past or keeping 'anger diaries' succeed in identifiying anger-patterns in a person, that anger still needs to be overcome!

How to overcome your anger

We should not expect psychological problems to have simple origins. But sometimes there are simple solutions.

We offer here our very simple 'trick' to dissolve away your anger unaided with no need to delve into your past or analyse anger-patterns.

The key is HUMOR !

Our discovery is that anger can be transformed, transmuted, dissolved, melted - call it what you will - very easily and naturally into humor.

This method is not a joke! It is not glib or trite, but seriously effective, and derives directly from human physiology - the mind/body alliance. It is about reaching for and finding one's natural 'humor center'.

"Humour can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle." (G. K. Chesterton)

Comedy Remedy

Here is what to do:  just smile ! It is that simple, and it works. Whenever angry, 'force' a smile. And there is even no need to smile physically - we can just imagine we are smiling. Smile when you are angry, and you feel a certain alchemy happening - your brain automatically directs 'feel-good' chemicals into your system, erasing your anger. Humor actually displaces and replaces anger. That is our discovery.

It is not our discovery that 'feel-good' brain chemicals are released into your system when you smile - that is now well known - but that anger can so easily and instantly be erased by doing so, and even by just imagining.

Depending upon the level of anger, success may be very quick or it may require sustained practice and application. But any amount of using 'the trick' is always beneficial and helpful.

[We are tempted to call this 'Humor Replacement Therapy' or 'Humor Injection Therapy'('HIT') !]

To someone who sceptically or disappointedly thinks "So all I'm being told is to just smile and everything will be fine", we reply that it is a simple fact that smiling makes you feel better, instantly.

The complete contrast in facial expression between anger and smiling is obvious to see, and you can also instantly feel the difference in yourself by 'faking' an angry expression and then smiling - smiling clearly feels vastly better, instantly.

The only difficulty is just remembering to do it when you are angry. It is good to often remind yourself that it works, and you may well find yourself spontaneously breaking out in a smile when you do. The more you do it, the more automatic it will become. It is an excellent and valuable habit, beneficial for all.

And of course you need not wait until you are angry to smile! You do not need any reason at all. If you smile frequently, whatever you are doing and however you are feeling, the alchemy works and your general demeanour improves.

Are you angry at yourself? Are you angry that you are angry? This is common and, like a dog chasing its own tail, is a vicious circle. First, break the cycle and free yourself by forgiving yourself for being so human. "To err is human - to forgive, divine". Then, realise that your mind is in pain and, as with physical pain, is trying to correct you. It is trying to get you to avoid in future whatever caused your anger. So you need to identify what you 'did wrong' - what you are angry at yourself for - and what you need to learn so it won't happen again. These will help clear the angry fog. And then, get yourself smiling! Of course, as with most things, knowing what to do is one thing, but doing it is another. It is easier to read a recipe than to make the dish. But making and eating the dish is easier than going hungry. Merely knowing recipes will not feed you.

We would like to make it clear that for help with serious psychological problems we highly recommend seeing trained counsellors who listen. It is extremely helpful to express things to them which one never would to family or friends for fear of 'burdening' them or risking misunderstanding or negative judgement. With a counsellor, you can and should 'be yourself', uninhibited. Counselling is usually more effective and safe than resorting to medication, which needs to be reserved for only severe problems. Although current medications are now better than ever, and can control symptoms, the danger is always dependence on them with nothing being ultimately solved. 'Self-medication' with alcohol is definitely to be avoided, as its typical consequences are increased depression and physical deterioration. To overcome 'big anger', using our 'trick' together with seeing a good trained counsellor achieves success faster than either alone.

Smile, and the world smiles with you

All over the world, absolutely everyone instinctively knows what a smile means. It is not learnt - it is inherent. In New Guinea, when Europeans and native cannibals encountered each other for the first time in history, the Europeans had the sense to greet the natives with smiles - and hence survived. A smile is understood universally as a signal of non-threat and friendliness. We recommend that people smile in a friendly way whenever they enter another's territory for the first time - wherever it is - if they wish to be seen as friendly.

There is an old Chinese saying: "A person who does not have a smiling face should not open a shop". On the other side of the counter, as a customer you will generally get friendlier service if you seem friendly rather than grumpy, and shopping experiences will be much more pleasant and even fun for all. Even when seeking refunds, it is more effective and pleasant to explain rather than simply aggressively complain and demand, which automatically encounters some resistance.

Not only does smiling make you feel better and dissolve your anger, it also reduces situations which could make you angry, since others are simply likely to be nicer to you. Smiling gives anger both barrels!

Smiling to yourself is an excellent thing to do whenever you feel threatened by someone, or uncharitable or nasty towards them. It may, for example, be someone at work, or a neighbour you dislike. Smiling makes you feel stronger, happier, less threatened, and that you are a better person for it.

Feeling down, unloved, lonely, anxious, tense, dread?
Treat yourself with a smile - force it, hold it, repeat it - you will instantly feel better! Do it now!

Smiling can be heard in an unseen person's voice, such as over a telephone. You may even manage to convey it in writing if you smile as you write. We can recommend smiling before making or taking a dreaded telephone call, or doing anything else you dread, to ease the way. Even writing a message of complaint is best done smiling - forcing a smile if necessary - to produce a civil document more likely than a crudely aggressive one to elicit the desired result, rather than a reaction of repulsion.

We urge those recovering from loss or trauma, who are trying to get their lives together again and reconnect with the world, to try frequent smiling, although it is probably the furthest thing from their minds. This is absolutely not to trivialise their situation - quite the opposite - but to harness the available resources of the human body to self-heal. Never feel guilty or traitorous or unseemly by doing so; Nature wants you to be well again! We all do! Smiling really helps, with adequate time allowed for healing.

Big anger, like most big problems, is unlikely to be solved in one fell swoop, but by constant nibbling away. It is amazing what can be achieved that way. Since ancient times, it has been reasoned in China that water is the strongest 'element' - stronger than rock and metal because it can eventually wear them down, while they cannot wear down water. Likewise, even the biggest anger can eventually be worn down and dissolved by humor. Groups and peoples who are long-oppressed - racially, religiously, sexually, culturally, politically, socially, economically - tend to develop their own special brands of humor, replete with 'in-jokes' and 'black humor', to help them cope, survive and make life more bearable. Poisonous, pointless and dangerous anger at injustice becomes transmuted by them into humor quite naturally - even automatically - over time.

This does not mean that one should become apathetic towards injustice or cease trying to eliminate it if possible. But it does mean not being a slave to anger, and instead taking control and thus being able to be stronger and more effective.

We hope you try our method, and don't dismiss it just because it is simple - so is the wheel!
The more you practise it, the more you will find anger disappearing from your life.

Remember: Don't get angry - get AMUSED ! Life is too short !

We remember from years ago a TV news story - the occupants of a boarding house were being evicted because it was being redeveloped. One of the evictees, an elderly man who had lived there for many years, stood on the kerbside outside with his suitcase of belongings. The young TV reporter asked him "And how do you feel about being evicted?" and extended her microphone towards him. He smiled and looked straight ahead. "Well," he replied, "they can take everything else away from me, but they can never away take my sense of humor!" Perhaps the reporter was disappointed at his non-dramatic response, or perhaps she thought, as we did, "now there's a man I admire!".

Traditional, additional self-help methods

The following time-honored methods are helpful in themselves, and especially when used with ours.

1. Break your angry mood. Ways of doing this include:

  • counting to 10 (or 50 or however many numbers it takes!),
  • splashing cold water on your face,
  • putting a rubber band around your wrist and snapping it to cause pain when you're angry (a 'Pavlovian' conditioning approach).
2. When angry, ask yourself and answer the following:
  • "Could the situation I am angry about be worse?"
    The answer is almost certainly "yes" - this will give you perspective.

  • If the subject of your anger is another person: "Are they annoying me deliberately?"
    The answer is usually "no" but, if it is "yes", you can apply our humor remedy, and/or attempt to forgive, which is best seen as a gift to yourself rather than to those you are angered by. Forgiving frees you. And you don't need to forget after forgiving, although you will probably want to. There is some merit in the saying: "hurt me once - shame on you; hurt me twice - shame on me", but this refers to learning from mistakes, and it need not prevent you from forgiving time after time if necessary - as long as it feels like a gift to yourself.

In a nutshell, then, five keywords summarise the methods in this article:

Humor, Perspective, Mood-breaking, Understanding, Forgiving.

The following table and comments may also be found useful.

with your
you will be
angry and disliked
easygoing and liked
respected and liked

(The Buddhist preference is for the middle option - low expectations and high tolerance.
Realise that love does not hurt - unfulfilled desires, expectations and demands hurt; this is Buddhism's core teaching.)

Furthermore, if you agree a lot, you will be considered agreeable; if you disagree a lot, you will be considered disagreeable!

[ See also:
The Easiest Way Ever To Really Improve Your Life ]

More about anger...

Having given simple methods for overcoming anger, we now explore how and why people maintain anger.

We do not mean rage, which is simply out-of-control anger, but anger which is deliberately maintained. There are reasons why people maintain their anger.

Anger usually comes from frustration, and often is maintained to 'fuel' action to solve frustrating problems. By repeatedly reminding themselves that they are angry about something, people reinforce and maintain their anger until they act on it.

Although much may have been achieved by an "I'll show them!" attitude, just as much and more may well have been achieved without it - who knows? But, more usually, that same attitude also causes a great deal of damage and tragedy.

At its crudest, it can simply be about revenge and 'getting even', where the person is determined to hurt others to "teach them a lesson". It can be about vendettas - personal, family, cultural, etc. - with the justification that "honor is at stake". "Revenge", the famous line goes, "is a dish best served cold", and its 'cooking' is fuelled by maintained anger.

Superficially, revenge can feel satisfying, by 'squaring the books' or 'balancing the ledger', and even following the law of nature that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". But revenge is often illogical and even hypocritical - if your revenge consists of imitating the very behaviour you are criticising in others. To simply say "what is good for the goose is good for the gander" conveniently ignores that "what is bad for one is also bad for the other". You create a 'civil war' within your own mind and compromise your ability to think clearly if you criticise others and then ape them. You have painted yourself into a corner with no option but to likewise criticise yourself. Again, we see the age-old wisdom of "don't do to others what you don't like others to do to you".

From time to time we see very ugly scenes of angry self-proclaimed 'vigilantes', shouting death-threats at those accused or convicted of crimes, especially concerning children. Their anger is understandable, but what they scream and yell about what they would do to the accused usually sounds as horrific as the crime itself. It is one thing to criticise a crime, but another to threaten to commit an equal crime in retaliation while taking 'the moral high ground'. Personally, we think that threats made of serious injury or death should be severely punishable offences, regardless of circumstances. Often such 'vigilantes' seem to have no personal connection with the crime but simply use it to loudly threaten and vent their pre-existing anger, and even just to get attention.

Now imagine the frustration of being oppressed for something you were born with - your skin colour or sexuality, for example. Not only are those with the 'wrong' skin colour oppressed for their whole lifetimes, but so are their parents, brothers and sisters, children, relations and like-complexioned friends. Such frustration typically has one of three outcomes - depression, apathy and resignation, or bitterness and anger.

[Incidentally, homosexuals are usually more inclined towards depression or resignation than to anger and, very interestingly, extensive studies of children brought up by lesbian couples have shown that these children consistently develop and perform better than average in every respect, as measured by standard performance indicators. This is attributed to the typical absence of angry physical violence in their households. We should point out parenthetically that male homosexuality tends to be fixed from birth, whereas lesbianism can commonly fluctuate, and alternate with heterosexuality.]

Despite anger being listed as one of the 'seven deadly sins' and condemned by innumerable spiritual teachers, some so-called 'religious' people seek to justify revenge on religious grounds by selectively quoting the Bible or Koran, for instance. Favourite examples are: "you shall have an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", and "'vengeance is mine' saith the Lord".

The second of these is (ab)used as follows: "I am doing the Lord's work, and on His behalf I will take vengeance". But both the quoted passages refer to karma, not revenge, as pointed out by revered spiritual writer Florence Scovel Shinn. She explains that the word 'Lord' should be understood as meaning 'law', so both passages refer to letting karma take its course, and to having faith in the law of karma rather than taking the law into one's own hands.

Short-term anger does have practical biological roots; it communicates dissatisfaction and signals possible combat to a perceived threat. A flash of anger is a warning. If the perceived threat then reforms or flees, there is no need for the parties to waste valuable energy or body parts trying to tear each other apart. But it appears that humans alone in Nature plot and carry out revenge, which is thus an aberration in Nature.

There is a world of difference between frustrated or defensive short-term anger, and sustained angry grudge-bearing and 'world-hating'. Sometimes it can actually feel good and real to be angry when frustrated, particularly when we 'let it out', or harness it to overcome the frustrating problem.

But directing it at others tends to create more problems than it solves, and occasions most 'anger management' counselling. And there are assertive anger and aggressive anger; the former is inclined constructively and the latter destructively. It is sad for all that we are not as repulsed by our own nastiness as we are by that of others.

It is common to resort to offensive anger when one feels backed into a corner, like a cornered wild animal. It often takes the form of personal attack on someone who is winning an argument against one, or exposing one's faults. In fact, a personal attack is a 'dead giveaway' that the attacker feels defeated, trying to distract attention from that defeat with an unrelated personal attack on their defeater. This is often done with a sneer masquerading as a smile, so if the defeater takes offence at the personal attack on them, they are met with: "can't you take a joke?" as an additional distracting 'put-down'. It is a case of the primitive 'offence is the best form of defence' idea. Very young children do it, and tragically too many do not outgrow it, and it is all too frequent amongst politicians. It is so disappointingly common that we need waste no time giving examples.

Displacement activity

Displacement activity is 'taking out' your anger, resentment or frustration on something unrelated. For example, you may spontaneously kick or pound a desk or smash something else in frustration. A frustrating day at work may be 'taken out' at home on the children, spouse or family dog. The 'vigilantes' we mentioned earlier may be displaying displacement activity.

Two recent examples of mass displacement activity occurred in the USA - both are examples of scapegoating. (We are certainly not singling out the American people here - displacement activity is universal - even animals do it!)

The first was in "retaliation" for the "9/11" felling of the World Trade Center twin towers and the attack on the Pentagon. Despite the terrorists originating from Saudi Arabia (an oil-rich pal of the USA and run as a family business dictatorship by the Saudi "royal family") the attacks were used to justify a war on Iraq which had no involvement. And despite most Americans not knowing anything about Iraq or even being able to locate it on a map, most seemed happy to take out their anger on that country's people, resulting in the murder of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Some authoritative sources estimate the deaths as 1.7 million. 90% of these deaths were of civilians, compared with 10% in WW1, 50% in WW2 and 70% in the Vietnam war.

The American people had been egged on by the media who could profit from a good war story and were dictated to by huge corporations such as Halliburton, whose former CEO, Dick Cheney, was now US Vice-President, and which made vast profits at taxpayer expense from wars and other disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

The American people believed what they were told and wanted to believe, so they would have a scapegoat. Moslems generally were, and continue to be, also scapegoated, although ironically Saudi Arabia, the home of the aforementioned terrorists and the site of Mecca (the Moslems' holiest shrine and place of pilgrimmage, in whose direction hundreds of millions of Moslems world-wide face five times every day in prayer) has never ceased being treated as the USA's pal!

So mass angry revenge and displacement activity at the loss of 3,000 lives led the American people to kill hundreds of thousands of innocents, lose or disable thousands of their own expensively-trained and equipped young combatants, waste billions of dollars of their own taxes which literally exploded and went up in smoke, destroy a foreign country's buildings and infrastructure and then pay to replace them, be seen internationally as oil-thieves, and leave a trail of much-resented tragedy and grieving - destroying countless lives in a country which gave birth to writing and provided the foundations of science. The only beneficiaries have been a small percentage of businessmen who have profited hugely from the blood on their hands. Revenge is indeed expensive and destructive!

(Incidentally, 'Christian' preachers in the US tend to avoid preaching the core teaching of Jesus to "love one another" and "forgive your enemies" for fear of losing customers and revenue to rival churches who do not preach it. Congregations pay to be told they will go to Heaven if they hate and kill with Bible in hand.)

The second came later, when the Republicans found that their cherished unregulated "free" market had bankrupted millions, put their country trillions of dollars in debt, and led to taxpayers having to bail out big banks. The Republicans took it out on the Democrats. (We point out in passing that, although "free market" economics and the anarchy of deregulation masquerade as "philosophies", they are championed most enthusiastically, not surprisingly, by those who personally profit most from them at the expense of the rest. A "free-market" government does not believe in government!)

Much domestic violence can be explained by displacement activity, or by the irony that the attacked is often the most important person to the attacker, and hence the most frustrating. The same can apply to close friends. Not surprisingly, it is common for the attacker to feel profoundly remorseful - even self-destructive and suicidal - immediately and long after attacking their loved ones. Or they may simply 'turn off' and retreat into numb non-activity and/or self-hating depression. When people take out their anger, it is very often on something or someone of value to them. They are demonstrating by doing so the intensity of their feeling. They may smash a precious vase, for example, deliberately although spontaneously in preference to something of little value. Women, who are the usual victims of physical domestic violence, should understand that an attack may occur not because they are not loved, but precisely the opposite, for the reasons given. However, this is certainly no reason to continue in a violent relationship, and does not excuse the violence, but merely sometimes explains it.

Referring to the famous injunction of Jesus to "forgive your enemies", Voltaire observed: "To forgive one's friends - that is the greater miracle". Ironically, too, it can be easier to love 'all of mankind' than individuals we may detest. Sending a blessing to all mankind is a very nice, 'feel-good' thing to do, and doing it as one goes to sleep is most relaxing and, as a bonus, reduces feelings of powerlessness. Repeating "I wish absolutely everyone peace, love and happiness" does the trick nicely, as does a rhyme we devised: "I wish everyone Happiness, Health, Wisdom and Wealth" (and for oneself: "I am Happy, I am Healthy, I am Wise and I am Wealthy"). Direct these blessings also at individual loved ones. Then, when you are ready, dare to do the following - direct them to individuals you detest! It may be anathema and even feel hypocritical at first, but you will find yourself becoming stronger for it, and eventually liberated from much poisonous, limiting hatred.

The damage to health by sustained and maintained anger is now well acknowledged. The ancient association of the heart with kindness and love ('kind-hearted', 'broken-hearted', 'big-hearted', etc. etc.), once seen as poetic and metaphorical, is now accepted medically. Sustained anger, bitterness, nastiness, meanness, vengefulness and other 'bad-heartedness' are now recognised as fast-track pathways to heart attacks and other heart disease. Spiritual healers throughout history have held that anger is at the root of most illness.

And few would doubt that good-natured, generous humor is excellent for the health, provided one is not punished for it. Good-hearted laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Finally, we have it on impeccable authority from our whispering spies that, just as moths are attracted to beacons in the darkness, angels are attracted to good-hearted smiles.