[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party.]
Dear Andrew W.K.,
No matter the issue or how calm I try to stay, I can’t help but lash out at others around me. I try to be nice to people and lead a positive life, but my anger always gets in the way. I go and apologize to the people after I blow up at them, but then I remember something else that happened and it gets me angry all over again.
I just want to be happy as much as I can but my obnoxious angry side keeps getting in the way. I’m not angry all the time and have lots of days when I’m very cheerful, but when I have my angry days, it goes beyond just slamming doors. Any advice?
Dear Angry Optimist,
Anger is extremely underrated. In terms of raw energy and a source of powerful physical force, anger is one of the most primal forms of vitality we have access to. Different people have different amounts of this energetic drive, and it takes shape in different ways depending on the person, but nearly everyone thinks of anger as an enemy, when it really can be a wonderfully powerful friend.
It sounds like you’re someone who’s been endowed with a large amount of this power, and it is up to you as to whether it becomes a blessing or a curse. As always, it’s how we use it that counts. You don’t have an anger management problem; you have an energy management challenge.
For starters, it might be helpful to start thinking of this “anger” as a type of precious internal being — almost like a rare and wild animal. You don’t need to judge this animal as good or bad or right or wrong or happy or sad. It is just a creature who can’t help but be true to its wild and passionate nature. This wild animal’s natural state is to be ferocious and incredibly powerful. You can succumb to this animal’s fearsome and intimidating prowess, give in to it and let it pull you down and trample you, or you can harness it, saddle it and control it, and ride it toward goodness, using all of its incredible energy for all it’s worth. Again, this “anger” is really just pure, raw, life force. We too often judge it and decide it must be bad, so we label it as “anger” or “negativity” when really it is too pure to be anything other than spirit.
It’s up to us to direct it toward something good. We can let it bring out our worst, or we can discipline it and let it bring out our best.
It’s very important to remember that we’re not trying to remove, cancel or pretend anger isn’t there — we’re trying to transform it into something powerfully good. This takes some amount of conscious effort and discipline, but you absolutely can do it. The fact that you’re even aware enough of it to write in about it is proof that you have what it takes to master and tame this emotional power. Again, we aren’t trying to live without these feelings — we’re trying to live better by embracing them and using them constructively.
It’s extremely valuable to develop good manners, polite behavior, and a type of inner and outer resilience that helps you keep a hold on that rage rather than let it spill out and abuse other people. That’s like letting the wild animal break out of its cage, and then it mutilates everyone around it just because you were too lazy to keep the door locked. Once that energy breaks out in an uncontrolled and chaotic way, it’s like a powerful poison that can do irreparable damage to what you care about unless that poison is tamed and transformed.
In those situations where you feel like you can’t keep the animal at bay, the best way to keep it caged is through the power of gentle habits and good manners. Take deep breaths. Swallow your power back in where it can be transformed and redirected. Hold on to that anger until you can let it out constructively. Believe me, mastering this is absolutely one of the most difficult things in life. Running a marathon is infinitely easier than trying to master these kinds of emotions. But sometimes having something to physically push up against will help contain and absorb the power in a positive way. Pushing against weights, pushing against your physical limits, running and exerting yourself with all your might — any form of physical effort or exercise is a beautiful and simple way to transform that dark energy into something deeply beneficial and immediately rewarding.
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes just sitting quietly can be a challenging but deeply empowering way to stop that outward overflow of rage. But remember, you are not sitting there trying to let go of the anger — you are trying to use it wisely. You must find the methods that allow you to grab hold of it and control it. These feelings are here to tell us something. They are here to be used wisely. They are here to test us. When you feel the overwhelming anger swelling and growing uncontrollable, always remind yourself of this essential truth:
“This is a test. This is just another test to see if I’m strong enough to really live my life. Do I have the strength to be the best person I can be? Do I have the strength to pass this test? Yes, I do. I can pass this test.”
The anger wants to be used. It wants to serve our best motives and it wants to be transformed into something useful and noble. With laser-sharp honesty, we will almost always see through the nonsensical reasons we have come up with for our anger. We’ll quickly realize that we’re trying to explain our inner feelings with outer justifications, and most of the time, the anger is completely and purely unrelated to anything real beyond the feeling itself. It’s just that untapped raw power, and if we don’t learn to use it wisely, we’ll continue to search for outside drama. But again, feelings and raw vital energy don’t make “sense” in the way our mind often wishes it does. We have to think beyond that sort of rational logic and look up to our higher intellect. If we are deeply honest, we know that our frustrations are usually our own self-deception and emotional ignorance looking to blame anything other than ourselves for our situations. Everything we are feeling and going through, it’s all an a series of ongoing sacred life lessons — to be used by us for our own transformation, our own salvation, and our own elevation. Failure to harness the insight of their wisdom will lower us to despair and unredeemable suffering.
Anger can be our friend, a majestic and formidable beast we have tamed. In anger we have a reliable companion we can turn to in moments where we need a trusted source of rough, respectable, and mighty vigor. We can admire it; we don’t have to fear and resent it.
So, stop fighting your anger and start using this power inside you to push to higher levels of living. Don’t let go of those feelings, but reinterpret them and train them to work for you rather than against you. Ride that raw vitality toward beauty and joy rather than empty rage and door-slamming violence. You can master these feelings. That’s what they are there for. That’s the whole point of feeling them. Never numb yourself. Feel it all, use it all, and love it all. Love it all.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 8, 2015
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