Dear Andrew W.K.,
I have horrible anger issues. I’ve had them for years and I don’t know what to do. When I get angry, it’s not a normal angry. I yell at people I care about, I swear at them, and I hurt myself, sometimes by punching whatever’s near. I don’t know what to do, and I feel trapped by these issues, like they’re all I am. I would really appreciate it if you could give me some advice on how to get rid of my anger.
Dear Angry Anger,
I can relate very deeply to what you’re describing here. There have been times where I’ve punched walls so frequently that I had to replace the drywall and patch up holes. I never hit another person, just myself. Punching my own head, cutting my own face, clenching every single fiber in my body out of sheer rage and frustration, until I thought the muscle pressure would break my own bones from the inside and burst all the blood vessels in my heart.
Starting at around the age of thirteen, I became more and more aware of a type of surging emotional power deep inside me. It started in the front of my head and sank down into the middle of my chest, and from there it grew tighter and hotter until it spread throughout my whole body and back to my brain. I couldn’t figure out what the feeling was, exactly. It was extremely raw and it frightened me. The only way I could describe it to myself at the time was “anger” — a kind of seething misanthropic rage, directed at everyone and no one in particular, but coming from within myself and lashing out toward the overwhelming frustration of existence.
But why did I feel this way? Why was I so worked up? Not having an easy answer for that question only made me feel even more turbulent. I knew I didn’t have any real big obvious reason to be this mad and upset. I had a family that loved me and friends that cared about me and I was surrounded by just about every privilege and opportunity a person could ever hope for. Yet I still felt this incredible coiled-up tension that kept wanting to smash the world and me along with it.
I envied and resented other people who always seemed carefree and never in a bad mood. What did they have that I didn’t? I even had friends that had a million reasons to be angry and upset, and yet somehow they never really were. This only made me more confused, and I also felt guilty because I couldn’t enjoy other people’s happiness.
Many people told me that this inner feeling I described as “anger” meant something was wrong with me and that I needed to get rid of it. I was told over and over again that an ideal life was meant to be calm and serene and that I should learn to eliminate all those feelings and “bad energy.” This only made me feel worse and more hopeless. The harder I tried to zone out and be serene and calm, the more my inner turmoil grew. It almost seemed like trying to kill it just made it stronger.
I now think that there is no such thing as “bad energy.” There is only “energy,” and what we decide to use it for is what makes it good or bad. Just like energy can be used to electrocute someone or to save someone’s life through defibrillation, it can also be harnessed and directed toward good. The point of life is not to drift through our days in a lobotomized state of emotionless calm, nor to numb and sedate ourselves so that we can go through the motions of life while feeling nothing. The point is to use the energy we have to make the best and most meaningful life we can.
Emotions are energy. And just like all energy is valid, all human emotions are valid and worthy of being felt to some degree. But when one emotion starts to take over and dominate our lives, it can seem as though we are becoming that emotion and losing ourselves inside it. Emotions we consider negative, like anger and sadness and worry, can dominate our minds to such a degree that we can feel as though we have lost control of our minds entirely. This is our challenge: to regain control of our emotions, and listen to them, learn from them, and steer them toward empowering our life through growth and development, just like directing electricity to power a light that illuminates the way in the darkness. The point isn’t to cancel out our feelings, numb them, or hide from them, but to respect them and realize that they have something very important to tell us. Just like physical pain can alert us to some sort of need in our body, emotional pain can alert us to a need in our spirit. If we just cancel out our physical and emotional pain, we can do more harm than good, even though it seems easier at first just to tranquilize ourselves. The point is to build up the courage and strength necessary to fully feel our emotions, honestly examine them, and then turn their power into something beautiful and positive.
So I would say that you actually don’t have an anger problem, you have a surplus-energy problem. And that’s not really a problem at all; it’s actually a kind of gift. In fact, your massive inner power could be your greatest blessing. It just hasn’t been disciplined yet. You must show it where to go and what to do or it will just keep lashing out at the people (and walls) around you.
Just like the Incredible Hulk, you can be capable of great things when that power is used for good. This is your talent and your challenge. It won’t be easy, but that’s OK — it’s not supposed to be. These sorts of challenges force us to be more than we once were.
Some people have very little energy and would love to have a surplus of vitality like you have. When that power builds up in you and it feels like you could flip over a car, go do something productive, anything that allows that energy to be put to good use, instead of wasting it on negativity. Put something between you and that energy, like a project, or a task, or even a barbell or a treadmill. I’ll bet you could really sprint fast when that power wells up inside you and wants to get out.
Start thinking of your “anger” not as an affliction, but as a great inner source of super-strength that you’re learning to master. Just like a wizard must earn the ability to manipulate the forces of the universe, you can earn the right to take your power and manipulate it toward good. It’s a win-win: You get to harness your power and become a better person in the process. If you don’t prove that you’re strong enough and responsible enough to handle the gift you’ve been given, it will remain out of your control and continue to torment and frustrate you. If you don’t master the power within yourself, it can and eventually will destroy you.
No one else can master your life for you. No one else can tell you exactly how to gain control over your power. All anyone can do is remind you that it’s all part of your life quest. You must look back inside yourself for the answers and solutions to the puzzles of your soul.
It takes hard work to get good at living, but that hard work is the best work we will ever do. You must promise not to give up. You must be prepared for extreme difficulty and discomfort. You will be pushed to your limit and then pushed past your limit, and just when you think you can’t be pushed any further, you will be pushed even more. Every part of yourself will say, “This is too hard.” But you mustn’t quit. You will make it. You already are making it. This is all part of the process, and now you’re ready to go on to the next step.
Living is a constant cycle of falling and then rising up, being beaten and then overcoming — but the failures are just as valuable as the successes. The entire undertaking of life becomes a victory once you devote yourself to embracing its challenges rather than avoiding them. And the biggest obstacles and challenges are rarely in the world around us — they are right inside ourselves. You can do this. Stay strong. And use your powers for good.
[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. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
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