Imagine a drug that makes you angry. You could be having a nice day, but once you take “Rage”, any small annoyance would make you flip out. When the drug takes effect, your thoughts will soon align with your anger, in an attempt to justify it.
Before you take the drug you know that you will feel angry, but beforehand, you realize that the anger isn’t logical or justified, but simply the result of the chemical in your body. Once you take it however, that knowledge is a distant memory, and your mind soon finds reasons that the anger is justified and you are in the right. This just feeds the anger. It is encouragement.
To someone watching you, it’s obvious what is happening, and it will be to you also, when the drug wears off.
Instead of a “Rage” drug, it could be “Fear” or any other emotion, with very similar results. Whichever drug you take determines which emotion you feel. If someone says “Hi” to you after you take “Rage” you will get mad at the way they say it. If you had taken “Fear”, you would instead be afraid of the very same person saying “Hi”.
I am sure everything I am saying sounds obvious, which it should, but I have a point. This is actually how our emotions always work, except we don’t have much control of when they come.
The hypothalamus gland, located in the human brain, produces chemicals which make you feel various emotions when released into the bloodstream. Unlike my drug example, these chemicals are not released at random. Instead, they are triggered by your thoughts and the environment.
Whether God shaped us, or evolution did, I come to a similar conclusion. If you look at when an animal gets angry, it usually makes sense and is helpful to the animal. Whether protecting its offspring, food or territory, their emotions fit their environment.
If humans were in the wild, I think their emotions would be triggered at mostly useful times. The problem is that humans have developed an environment that is too complex for the emotional triggers we have. We are scared by a movie, when we know we are perfectly safe, we get mad at a loved one, when we know everyone would be better off if we stayed calm. Most times when we feel an emotion, it would be better if we stayed calm, and took whatever action was necessary. People may spend months worrying about bills they need to pay, but instead of worrying, they could relax, enjoy life, and take whatever steps possible to pay the bills. Sadly our hypothalamus gland doesn’t allow that too often. We spend countless hours unnecessarily stressed out, fearful, angry, etc.
Our minds are far better at making informed decisions; the problem is that it is often strongly influenced by our emotions.
Perhaps it would be ideal if you could shut off your emotions when you wanted, without repercussions. I believe that if you do attempt to ignore your emotions, they will build up, almost like a river with a dam. If it isn’t released, it’ll eventually break through on its own.
For several years after a traumatic experience in my life, I did not feel much emotion. I looked down on people who got angry, or scared, or cried at a sad movie. I thought I was more mature than them, while in reality my emotions had just been suppressed. After a while I began to laugh for no reason to the point that I would fall to the ground from laughing. Other times I would get angry, or overly excited like a kid at Christmas, over small things. I believe now that was my “emotional dam” breaking. After a while, I normalized, and now I feel all the regular emotions a regular amount.
Many people believe you should express your anger, perhaps by writing an angry letter then throwing it away, or by taking out your anger on a punching bag. While this is a lot better than attacking someone or breaking something, I still see problems with it. While more controlled, you are still acting out your anger, which forms a habit in you to express your anger. You could say it forms a reflex or it sets a precedent.
So, I don’t suggest expressing your anger with actions or words or even thoughts, because it gives the anger validation, and I don’t think anger should be ignored because that’s unhealthy. So what’s left?
A lot of people will count to 10 or however long it takes to unwind. I like that, but my favorite solution is different.
What I do is a simple form of meditation and it’s definitely not something I came up with on my own. Before I explain what I do, I want to say that many people will find this strange at first, and may even think what I do would be counterproductive, but if you read carefully, and maybe try it out, you’ll see why it actually does work.
What I do is to allow myself to feel the emotion in my body, without allowing my thoughts to jump in with justifications and ideas. If I revel in my anger, then it is counterproductive; I am just making myself angrier.
This is hard to do because when you are angry, you start thinking about revenge, or how unfair your life is, or something.
My exact process is something I heard a long time ago. I focus on my breath. When I breathe in, I imagine I am breathing in my anger, and when I breathe out, I am just breathing out. Each in-breath, I imagine there is more anger building up in my heart. I don’t allow my thoughts to wander. I don’t judge my anger as good or bad. I just “observe” it. After a time it’ll dissipate, as long as I am able to simply focus on breathing and observing.
If this seems strange, think back to my theoretical “Rage” drug. If you took that, I would suggest you accept the fact that it’s in your system and you’ll just have to ride it out. You’ll be angry until it leaves your system. In the meantime, don’t feed it with negative or hateful thoughts. Don’t hide from the anger, it’s there, you have to deal with it. Allow the drug to run its course until it subsides.
So that’s my advice. It doesn’t matter if your anger is caused by a man-made drug, or your hypothalamus gland. Either way, you have a chemical rushing through your body making you pissed.
The best thing you can probably do is simply let it wear off, without getting caught up in it.