How to stop getting angry about the small stuff?
April 11, 2013 12:40 AM   Subscribe

My temper has always been on the short side, and I'm really getting fed up with it. The little things (eg: getting cut off in traffic, hitting my head on a cabinet, unhelpful customer service, when the restaurant's out of what I want) especially get to me. I get totally carried away with feeling angry and end up being rude or short with people. Acting this way is not in line with my values. I want to be kind and generous with strangers and make their days better. Especially I don't want to mess up my relationship with family, friends, and (most of all) my girlfriend. Has anyone else had this problem and overcome it? I've tried (with varying success): counting to 10, harmless acts of destruction (breaking a pencil), deep breaths, just being more aware of when I start to become angry (so I don't get carried away), and viewing my anger as a separate entity to be fought and overcome. Happy to provide more info if it's useful in answering.
posted by Gravel to Human Relations (34 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Pyschiatry and/or therapy might help deal with anxiety events that set off your short fuse. It is doable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:07 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have found that visualisation has helped when I feel the blood pressure rising: A stone standing still in a rushing stream, a solider standing calmly in the midst of a stampede of horses.

Also have some reflection about what is making you angry exactly, is there an irrational toxic thought stuck in your head? In my case, my internal monologue would often go like this.

"Man. Person X was kind of a dick right now. But imagine if instead of doing this, he actually did Y (Y being some grossly egregious act that he/she would never actually do). I would be furious!! I would want to break stuff. GRAR!!"

And I would be in a foul mood for the rest of the day, over something that had not happened, and was highly unlikely ever to.

Clearly this was irrational. Now when I feel it stirring, I can recognise it and nip it in the bud. Are there any similarly irrational thoughts going through you head when you feel your anger stirring?

Anyway. Good luck!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:33 AM on April 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's a story in a self-help book about two guys heading to work, sitting in traffic after the earthquake in Los Angeles, only one lane is open on the highway. The first guy is fuming, pissed off, yelling and screaming, going to be late, fuckin' LA, can't fucking believe it. The second guy called into work, let them know he might be late, packed a lunch and some of his favorite CDs, and is having a pretty decent morning. Both of them in the same situation, two radically different experiences.

There is no situation that necessitates anger. None. The four most powerful words in this area are: anger is a choice. Training yourself out of the choice you treat as a given, one day or even one moment at a time, is a great path to take. Pause when agitated. I'm going to tell you right now there is literally no strong feeling I've had that's lasted more than 20 minutes. And be easy with yourself; try to laugh at your reaction. Everything can be met with a chuckle. It's silly but powerful. I think some of us have a really angry inner voice that we harness for motivation. I guess we figure if we're right, it should be okay to yell. It is a deeply misguided assumption that motivates no one and garners very negative results. If anybody invites you to an angry place, decline the invitation. Have you ever laughed and waved at someone giving you the middle finger? It drives them crazy.

Spot-checking (counting to 10, deep breaths) is great, but so is daily meditation. Close your eyes, entertain your anger, and let it float by. What is the big picture for your life? Who is this person that you want to be? Dedicate your day to being that person. Do that every day for a month. Gratitude lists. Write one down every night, no matter how mundane it might seem. Nurture those relationships, and instead of filling those dull moments in life with anger, do something nice for someone on your list.
posted by phaedon at 1:36 AM on April 11, 2013 [389 favorites]

Sometimes when the anger about small stuff is really strong its because there's an underlying source of anger that hasn't been addressed. So it kind of leaks out in "safer" ways - about things which don't need a lot of working out. I second the idea of therapy to see if you can see if there's a "real" issue you're angry about, and in dealing with that hopefully you can remain calmer about day to day annoyances.
posted by billiebee at 1:36 AM on April 11, 2013 [24 favorites]

Nthing that you should consider whether the cabinet, other drivers, etc. are really what's bugging you, or if they are just easy punching bags on which you can take out your unrelated frustrations.

Another way you can come at this is to think of it in behaviorist terms. It's a habit -- a behavior that is triggered by some cue and reinforced by some payoff. If you can figure out what the cue is then you can cultivate alternate internal and external responses *to the cue* (not to the anger itself), e.g. 'when I feel pain, I will say "ow!" and ask my girlfriend to kiss my boo boo.' And if you can identify the payoff then you can look for more productive, less damaging ways to get that payoff, and maybe undermine anger's ability to win that payoff for you; e.g. if you find that anger gives you a shot of self-righteous confidence, you might resolve to immediately apologize to each and every person you get angry at.
posted by jon1270 at 2:34 AM on April 11, 2013

I have been like this. Sometimes I still am, but I manage it better than I used to. There are some good answers here, although I have to say that unlike phaedon, I have most certainly experienced a strong emotion that lasted significantly longer than 20 minutes. People are different in regard to things like that.

It's true that sometimes this disposition towards hair-trigger anger at trivial annoyances can be indicative of a deeper issue, and the general snappiness is like the spitting of fat in an overheated pan. The main source of heat isn't the spattering fat; it's the fire under the pan. So definitely think about that. But sometimes, in my experience, it's just... the way some of us are. Our natures are such that we want things to go how we want them to go, and we get frustrated when they don't. That's just how we are. And when we see a person or event or object that seems to be causing things not to go how we want them to go, bang, we have a target and something to vent at. Because venting relieves the pressure.

I dealt with it by realising that I was caring too much. Caring about stuff too much. Caring about trivial quotidian routine too much. My sense of how important things were was over-inflated. Many years ago I had an almost Damascene moment during my morning drive to work. I had been vaguely aware that since taking the job that required me to make this drive, my driving had become more aggressive. Every one else would tailgate. Everyone else would hit 90-plus as soon as we reached the M4. So I did too. And then somehow those people who were only driving at 85 were making me late. Why were they in the fast lane? Why couldn't the assholes get the hell out of the way? And so on. One day, the teeming horde of us crested a rise and were presented with three lanes of stationary traffic. A squealing of brakes. Some skidding. I had been sharp enough to see the problem quickly and I brought my car to a shuddering halt some ten yards before the car ahead of me in my lane. The guy in the next lane had not been quite as sharp. He smashed into the person ahead of him. Shattered glass sprayed over my car. Four or five cars in the next lane shunted into each other; the people inside lurched and jolted back and forth. It was a mess.

And I sat there looking at the shocked people with their (thankfully minor) injuries and their crumpled vehicles thinking, "What the hell are we doing? What the hell am I doing? What does this hour of teeth-gritted, seething frustration achieve for me? Maybe I get to work five minutes earlier? So what? Do I love work that much? Why don't I just leave home five minutes earlier if I really do love work that much?" And I realised that this applied to my general attitude. I thought about the times I'd stalked down the street, internally fuming at that bunch of tourists dawdling ahead of me because god damn it, they were stopping me from getting to where I was going precisely as soon as I'd like to be there. My God... I was probably going to get there ten seconds later than I would have had they not been in my way! And then, at the pub, my favourite beer was off for the third time this week. Why the hell can't these people manage their stock better? They should have had a new barrel on by now! And then the customer service! Why is she serving him before me? I was here first! I know she saw me come in; why is she snubbing me like that?

But following my little moment on the motorway, I started to think about these things. Of course there are tourists dawdling ahead of me. This is London. How stupid would I be not to expect that? How stupid am I for not just accepting that as a part of life in London, shrugging and letting it go? Why do I care about that ten seconds so very much? So my favourite ale is off, again. T'ch! Oh well, I'll have a Guinness. I like Guinness, don't I? It's not like that ale is the only beer I love, is it? Maybe I'll even joke with the bar staff about how they need to kick the cellar manager up the arse. So I got served late? Am I really in that much of a hurry? And come on: how many times have I been served ahead of someone I knew or suspected should have been served before me? That happens in pubs, doesn't it? Swings and roundabouts. And at the end of the day, again: why do I care so much? It really doesn't matter.

The thing that has enabled me to maintain this attitude (most of the time. I have lapses) is the difference it makes to the way I feel. When I do this - have a word with myself, realise I'm caring too much, letting it go - I can literally feel my shoulders relax and the knots in my muscles loosen. It feels good, man. And it's nice to feel good. You want more of that feeling, so it becomes rewarding to repeat the behaviour that gives you that feeling.

Care less. It seems hard at first, given our nature, but once you get that good feeling it becomes easier.
posted by Decani at 3:44 AM on April 11, 2013 [141 favorites]

It comes down to your underlying beliefs and expectations about the world. When you get angry, think about why, and what belief or expectation these other people have (in your eyes) failed to live up to. Once you start noticing these things, you will probably start to realize that it is silly to expect other people to live up to your expectations. Even if they are morally or ethically right, you can't expect other people to care.
posted by gjc at 3:54 AM on April 11, 2013

It sounds like you would benefit from the practice of insight meditation. It can massively help in separating external emotional triggers and both mental and physical responses to these triggers.

Mindfulness in Plain English is an excellent primer which generally avoids the spiritual / religious fluff that puts a lot of people off meditation.
posted by protorp at 4:27 AM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sounds kind of cynical, but it helps to remember that people are idiots, including you when you hit your head on the cabinet door (assuming the cabinet doors are not moving on their own volition). More specifically, and at the risk of going into some macro-economics tangent, as a society we've chosen this setup where the counter person at a fast food restaurant, the Dell tech support dude, etc. isn't being paid a good wage and doesn't have any real incentive to be more helpful and on top of things it doesn't have to be this way, and it hasn't always been this way.

Which means being friendlier and more gracious to people in these situations actually WORKS better than yelling. When I've lost it, it's never failed to make the situation worse. About the only power some people have in their job is to make angry customers more angry.

If this sounds unpleasant, it is. One thing I do is avoid patronizing businesses that operate this way.

One mind game I've heard of about traffic is to imagine how you'd feel and react if you knew the guy - if you recognized it was your friend who made that lane change in front of you, for example. It sort of makes "love your neighbor as yourself" a bit less abstract in an urban environment. Works for the customer service scenario too.

A related mind-game that I'm afraid I've had to use on myself - would you act out this way if your parents/girlfriend/minister were watching? It's a reminder that anger is a choice, as has been said already.

I'd also add to the chorus on therapy, meditation, etc. Related issue - are you getting enough sleep and managing stressors in your life?
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:55 AM on April 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

What helps me: if someone's driving like a maniac, I pretend that his wife is giving birth and he's frantically trying to get to the hospital to be with her. Because maybe he is. You never know.
posted by baby beluga at 5:16 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I try to look at things that make me angry (people not following the rules is one of my triggers - parking overnight in 1 hour spaces, going the wrong way in parking decks - all things that are minor in life) and ask myself if in 2 years, they will still be important.

In 2 years, what will you remember about today? Will you remember that the guy cut you off? The person that went the wrong way in the parking deck?

This, in addition to focusing on trying to be the person I want to be, instead of this angry girl that I sometimes am right now, helps me.

Also, looking at things as opportunities - the person parked overnight in the 1 hour space that is closer to the nursing home - that's an opportunity to get more steps in my day by parking farther away, since I'm counting steps these days. out of what you want in a restaurant? That's an opportunity to try something new! etc.
posted by needlegrrl at 5:44 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think Decani has the right idea, the goal to work towards.

In the shorter term, it can be helpful, with relationships you value and don't want to torpedo, to develop a phrase like "I'm a black cloud right now" that mean "I'm pointlessly angry, and it's not about you, but staying out of my way will help keep it from being directed at you" that you can use on days that really are beyond your reach. Minimize the fallout, anyway.
posted by acm at 6:12 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Following up on what Billiebee said above, the anger is often about what the situation symbolizes than what is actually going on. E.g. Getting cut off in traffic may mean to you that people always get away with taking advantage of you. Hitting your head may mean that you're not special but are subject to the same laws of physics as everyone else. You need to deal with the underlying idea rather than the event itself. Do people always take advantage of you? Did they at some earlier time in your life? What did it mean? That you weren't who you wished to be? That you weren't respected? That you were afraid to stand up for yourself?

I don't know exatly what your situation is so I'm making stuff up, but that's the direction for you to look in.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:12 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't have time to go look up what it says right now, but in the book The Mood Cure there is a whole chapter that tackles the issue of being irrationally angry. This book takes the approach that these issues are not due to a failing on your part, but originate in your body's out-of-whack chemistry; it then proposes natural remedies (usually specific supplements you can find in a drugstore) that might help you. Could be worth a look.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 6:24 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

A cognitive behavioral therapist I briefly saw told me the trick is to stop yourself from immediately reacting (potentially like a jerk) by asking yourself questions. "Why am I so angry?" Then you answer: "Because that asshole just cut me off." Then ask yourself follow-up questions. Why does it make me angry? "Because it shows disrespect to me." Do you really think what he did was about you, instead of him? Can you imagine any possible reason he might have done that, a reason that you would accept as valid? Have you ever cut anyone off?

I think the idea was that while it would be nice to convince yourself with logic not to be angry, this asking also served to distract you from the emotion, and calm you down. Unfortunately, I have trouble remembering to do it, but if you practice, it is supposed to get easier.
posted by troywestfield at 6:40 AM on April 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oftentimes when we react this way to small things, it's playing into a narrative we have created in our head that life is shit, the fates are against us, and everyone else's goal in life is to make us miserable. These little slights feed this narrative.

So change the narrative. First, looking at the annoyance of whacking your head on the cupboard door (I did this last weekend, got a nice dent on the top of my head for my troubles), yeah it's really annoying. But in the grand scheme of your life, how big a deal is it? (I whacked my head in the midst of tidying up for hosting a Seder with loving family and friends, one of my favourite traditions. Damn, I'm lucky.)

Second, recognize the whole dynamic of society and people and see yourself in that context. Everybody, EVERYBODY is fighting some kind of battle. Big or small, everyone has challenges. With billions of us engaging in that effort, we're going to rub up against each other. But we have a choice about those interactions. For example, I used to be the same way about driving and traffic. Speeding, annoyed when someone wanted to pass me. Middle finger salutes to people who cut me off. We have the illusion that when we get behind the wheel of a car, the road is supposed to do what we want it to do. Now I look at it this way: If I was walking down the street, and it was crowded, if someone didn't see me and stepped in front of me by accident, would I scream in that person's face, give them the finger, and call them an asshole? What kind of freak would that make me? So why should driving a car be any different?

I know you don't just decide to change the narrative of your life. It takes time, effort and help. So I agree with others who suggest working on your habits, and discussing it with a therapist.

This is the only life you have. Your time, and more importantly, your energy is valuable. So spend your precious energy on the things that are worthwhile. Don't spend it cheaply. Is expending energy being pissed off at the cupboard door a good use of it?

Best of luck.
posted by dry white toast at 6:43 AM on April 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I once observed angry/undisciplined young men be sent to spiritual guides for training (by elder monks). The results were impressive, and from what I understand, lasting.

I've noticed this phenomenon in many parts of Asia. It is predominant in eastern traditions, compared to western practices.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:59 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your efforts to fight your anger are still about conflict and venting rather than reorienting those feelings. You're treating the symptoms, but not the disease.

As the saying goes, anger is a gift. You can accept it or turn it away. I've found you only have so much energy to go around during the day or, if you prefer, you only have so many fucks you can give on a day to day basis. Spending all of them on some poor CS guy (who probably doesn't know you enough to even care if you're angry) means you have less of them for your girlfriend, family, and people you care about. And worst of all, it doesn't matter.

Because what is being angry accomplishing for you? Does that other driver take notice of your screaming and flailing around and stop driving like a lunatic? Does the CS person actually solve your problem or do they shut down and go eyes glazed and "Sorry sir, that's our policy?" Before you start doing anything or reacting in any way, ask yourself what will actually be accomplished by your actions or spending time being angry about it? If you can actually solve something besides "It might make me feel better", then do it, but otherwise, take a deep breath and move on.

It's not really going to make you feel better, not long-term, it's just going to frustrate you more because essentially what you're doing is this child-like reflex of putting on a big display of anger so people recognize your feelings, fix it, and make you feel better...only it's more than likely no one's going to do that, so you'll just wind up more annoyed. Will your actions actually fix the problem in any way? That's what you need to consider.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:10 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding dry white toast that everybody is fighting some battle. Nobody cares much about your battle but you. Anger is often about being thwarted, being in haste and not getting there in time, feeling clumsy, being forced to follow up on the bad choices of the other guy. So why not slow down? Follow the great mantra "slow is smooth", smooth is fast". Avoid instead of fix.
posted by Eltulipan at 8:56 AM on April 11, 2013

Another vote for mindfulness.

In Getting Unstuck (which I recommend), Pema Chodron talks about shenpa, which is a Tibetan term that she translates as attachment, or being hooked -- in this case, being hooked to certain habitual, destructive reactions. And she says that these moments where shenpa arises always have a vague familiarity to them; they always have a kind of taste of ashes in the mouth as you're about to go down that old, miserable path.

So use that feeling as a cue, in the moment (while you're taking those deep breaths), to ask yourself explicitly: "do I really want to go down this path? Will I feel more content after I've done this?" Just asking the question is often enough to know the answer, and that's often enough to start bringing the heat down a little.

Good luck.
posted by scody at 8:59 AM on April 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

First, I want to say that it's a wonderful thing that you're noticing what's going on with yourself. Someone close to me is a chronically angry person and it is unpleasant and wearying to deal with this anger, both as a target and as a bystander. The fact that you recognize what is going on and that it's something you need to work on makes (I imagine) all the difference in the world to your family and friends.

Second, I'd recommend that you watch for the angry moments that you're able to dissipate. Do funny thoughts or humor from those around you help? What snaps you out of your angry mode? All the recommendations for moving toward general mindfulness are excellent, but maybe there's also some concrete small-scale things you can do as you follow that path. For example, can you prepare a Plan B at restaurants or other places where you might encounter disappointment? Can you create the best possible driving environment (give yourself extra travel time, have soothing or happy music or podcasts, snacks, etc)?

Third, can you engage with those close to you about ways they might be able to help? That's not to say you need to make your anger their problem, but maybe there's something they can do (or not do) that will help diffuse your anger in the moment. For example, I also get outrageously angry when I hit my head on cabinet doors. I worry for the safety of the person who quickly asks me "Are you okay?". My boyfriend knows to stay away for a minute or so before checking that I'm still conscious.
posted by annaramma at 10:48 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that irritability can be a symptom of depression. So you may want to start out with some of the approaches (such as mindfulness) suggested above, but certainly give therapy and/or psychiatry a try if you find yourself still struggling.
posted by Carmelita Spats at 11:01 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also recommend Pema Chödrön. Don't Bite the Hook is specifically about anger. She says one thing in it that I think about all the time, which is about being compassionate to other people who make us angry. She says, (I'm paraphrasing) "May I and this asshole both find enlightenment." There was a period where I said that to myself about my boss several times a day every day. When I was going through a particularly rage-filled period, I listened to her audiobooks all the time on my MP3 player. On the bus, at night while falling asleep. I found I didn't even need to listen all that closely, but it all kind of seeped in. Plus her voice is really soothing.

Therapy is always a good choice for this kind of thing, too, obviously. I'm seeing a psychologist for anxiety and when I started I was angry all the time (see above!). But now a couple years later, I'm way less likely to feel those bursts of rage. I've been going through a period of increased anxiety in the past couple weeks, though, about something I don't have a lot of control over, and I've been really irritable. This past weekend I realized that part of that is because when the only options are feeling scared, sad or angry, anger is the one that feels the most like being in control (even though you really aren't). It also provides a release and some relief. So, maybe you want to consider the underlying feelings you might be masking with the anger.
posted by looli at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

For a specific technique along the lines that you are mentioning, something I've noticed is that when I'm getting pissed off and irritated by someone else, often it's myself I'm pissed off at or uncomfortable with. So, I'm standing in line at the post office, I'm in a hurry and worried about being late for something, and I'm getting more and more angry about how slow and chatty the staff is. I'm getting steamed because they are going to make me late for my thing. So I try to remind myself that it's not their fault that I just had to read one more article on the internet before I left the house, not their fault that I didn't get this package in the mail yesterday, not their fault my shoes are uncomfortable, etc.

I actually "learned" this technique once when I was pushing back at a colleague who was getting angrier and angrier with me because I couldn't meet his unreasonable emergency deadline. I said, "Look, your failure to plan ahead does not constitute an emergency for me" and this light kind of went on for me and I realized how often I got angry because someone else was unwilling to make up for my shortcomings.

I try to take responsibility my own disappointment in myself, in the embarrassment I feel for being being late, in the vanity that went into choosing pointy shoes, etc. and not try to dodge those feelings. There are rare occasions when the other person really is the person responsible, and when your anger is totally appropriate, but most often when you really look at the situation, you find that's not the case.
posted by looli at 11:17 AM on April 11, 2013

All of the advice above is very good, I think. To add to it, I feel that my over-all mood and general outlook on life is greatly affected by the music I listen to, the TV shows I watch, and the people I am around. Negative, angry music and people made me more readily negative and angry. When I watched too many of those CSI cop shows with violent crimes, I was more apt to think about and be afraid of being a victim of violent crimes. So I stopped watching those shows. I stopped listening to so much angry, negative music. I adjusted the people I chose to be around. And I know I am much, much happier and much less apt to bouts of anger.

So I would suggest maybe taking a look at some of those kinds of environmental factors in your life that may also help keep you closer to that ANGER trigger.
posted by jillithd at 2:37 PM on April 11, 2013

I think twice because it scares other people and makes them keep their distance from you, and it's really hard to repair a relationship once you flip out at someone. I also think twice because if it's not scary it often looks ridiculous! Do you ever read internet comments from angry people who lash out because someone is wrong on the internet? How silly do those comments seem? I used to comment on a few blogs and quit when I realized that arguing was bad for my stress level and my angry comments, reread after I'd chilled out some, made me sound like a petty aggro arrogant jerk. I used to throw things and drive aggressively all the time but I don't anymore.

So now I think about how funny it is to get angry over mundane stuff that's not worth it. And cultivate a healthy appreciation for the absurd. People doing stupid stuff like cutting me off in traffic.. I mean, they're so inconsiderate it's just funny. Do you ever watch ESPN right before Monday Night Football because of "C'MON MAN"? When they show players being idiots and sometimes taking cheap shots and everyone else on set is LMAO? That's kind of how I react to terrible drivers. Come on, man! (Terrible drivers who nearly hit pedestrians who have the right of way are fair game for yelling, though.)
posted by citron at 5:23 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a why to why all these small things cheese you off, that at its heart is a bigger problem. Maybe you were raised in such away that you take these slights as disrespect, or maybe you don't think it's fair that your parents always yelled at you for being late when no one else seems to have been raised that way. Or maybe it's just something as simple as "i'm not sleeping well and that's making me cranky." Who knows. But I wager that if you get at the heart of all of these things, that will help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on April 12, 2013

I saw this a couple of years ago and I think about it -- honestly, seriously -- almost every day.

It doesn't address all the causes of my anger, but somehow it even affects things it shouldn't. I still grapple with things like how mad I get at people that ride their bikes on the sidewalk, and there are a few pet peeves that make me a bit nuts, but somehow the way Louis C.K. nails this had a profound, perpetual effect on how much I appreciate things versus how much I am frustrated by them.

I totally get where you're coming from. I hope this helps.
posted by Shepherd at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2013

Came here via the MetaTalk thread.

I am, by stereotype and formerly in practice, hotblooded with an extra short fuse. (Ask me if the smallest peppers are the hottest!) A few things have helped me disconnect that rage circuit.

Being kind to yourself helps you be kind to others
As a college kid, I came across the business self-help book One Minute for Myself which memorably suggested asking what you can do for yourself right now in just a minute. "Demonstrates how taking care of oneself promotes the capacity for, and the enjoyment of, taking care of others." When I start feeling the rage-o-meter climb, I try to do something nice for me - my favorite is to schedule a massage if I have the time & money. I think the protagonist in the book's suggestion was similar to phaedon's - go get the new music album (cassette tape since this was first published in the 1980s?) from the car trunk so you can enjoy your drive home, even in the middle of stop-and-go traffic.

Finding role models to illustrate good behavior
After college, I fell in with a bad crowd of super polite Hawaii brain-drain expats in the San Francisco Bay Area. There was some Hawaii music concert at Six Flags Great America that we had carpooled for in one minivan and I remember being completely stunned how calm everyone was about the parking clusterfuck. I mean, the driver wasn't being aggressive in swooping into empty spots so we circled around at least an extra 10-15 minutes. But everyone said "it's cool, there'll be another one." No one got on his case, no one was mad at other drivers for taking "our" spots, and I just steamed all by my lonesome in the back.

Now that I actually live in Honolulu, I marvel and appreciate the fact that very few people honk. The driver in front of you spaced out and didn't go when he had the left turn signal? No need to honk. I know, pace of life is a huge factor, but seriously, I almost never see customers get all huffy with service people here.

Keeping a sense of the absurd
I've yet to fix my immediate "FUUUUCK MY LIFE!!!!!" fury after physical accidents (banging toes, heads, fingers, etc) but after a little while, I remember how my mom used to tease little-kid me when I would bang my head by asking whatever piece of furniture I had collided with "oh! are you okay Mr. Table? Annie's head is so hard, huh?" I recollect just being startled and huffy when my mom did this during my childhood, but nowadays it helps me giggle through the tears after I've dropped a reference book on my foot. "oh! Ms. Oxford Handbook, I'm so sorry!"
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:42 PM on April 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try meditation.

Ignore the new-agey-ness of it; that's extraneous. Meditation is the act of focusing your attention; every time you meditate, you're practicing focus.

Like every other skill, you get better with practice.

If you're got enough practice at focus, instead of immediately getting angry when something crappy happens, your improved focus gives you a few seconds to put it in perspective. This skill - which some people innately have, and some of us don't - can be learned through meditation.

Near as I can figure, internet use/modern life makes humans worse at this skill than we traditionally are, so a bit of practice doesn't hurt.

Search Inside Yourself is a book that's a bit lighter on the new-agey stuff and a bit heavier on the howto... but only a bit. Ignore the fluffy bits, and read the "how to" parts; essentially, you focus on something, like your breath, for a set period of time, on a regular basis. The "period of time" might be one breath, and the regular basis is probably daily.

Most beginning meditation learns to focus by paying attention to your breath. It's easy. You've always got it with you. You might listen to it, or feel it in your throat, or feel your chest go in and out; whatever "breath" means to you, the details don't actually seem to matter.

In a nutshell, if you practice focus for a minute a day, focusing on one thing, and during that time actively don't let yourself get upset at distractions (and keep gently bringing your focus back to the thing you're focusing on)... you should notice less anger after a week or two, which is a grand total of fifteen minutes of your life spent trying it.
posted by talldean at 12:09 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mindful self compassion
posted by lalochezia at 4:03 PM on April 13, 2013

Some anger is good anger! Read on...

Context 1: This is an extremely faith-based biased approach to anger, but it is what has helped me a lot with my own short fuse.

Context 2: Its sermon notes from a sermon I heard at my church in NYC years ago.

I think you'll still find a valuable nugget or two in the wisdom below even if you're atheist, agnostic, whatever. Feel free to skip the scripture section if that's not your cuppa. Anyway I hope it helps. Sorry I don't know how to format it better on here.

Tim Keller: The Healing of Anger
October 17th, 2004 - Redeemer Presbyterian Church

Text: Proverbs 14:29-30; 15:1,18; 16:32; 19:11,19; 24:28-29; 25:21-22

29 A patient man has great understanding,
but a quick-tempered man displays folly.
30 A tranquil heart is life to the body,
But passion is rottenness to the bones.

1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

18 A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension,
but a patient man calms a quarrel.

32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.

11 A man's wisdom gives him patience;
it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

19 A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty;
if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.

28 Do not testify against your neighbor without cause,
or use your lips to deceive.
29 Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me;
I'll pay that man back for what he did."

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

- What is wisdom? In 1st Kings 3, Solomon prayed for a heart that could determine right from wrong. Wisdom is not less than being moral and good, but knowing what the right course of action is in vast majority of situations that the rules do not address. You will not become a wise person until you learn how to handle anger in yourself and others

The 4 things you must know about anger to be wise:
I) Dangerous Power of Anger
II) Basic Goodness of Anger
III) Why Anger Goes Wrong
IV) How it can be Healed

I) Dangerous Power of Anger

- Anger: the dynamite of the human soul - can disintegrate and destroy:

A) Your body (v. 30 - passion is rottenness to the bones) - it has been medically proven that anger is far worse on your body than any other emotion - leads to heart disease and all kinds of physical ailments

B) Community (v. 18 - a hot-tempered man stirs up dissention) - when you get angry you throw words around like weapons - words have an enormous power

C) Your wisdom (v. 29 - a quick-tempered man displays folly) - after you cool off from anger, you feel like a fool, because you were - your view is distorted and you make foolish decisions

D) Your will/ability to make smart choices (v. 19 - if you rescue him, you will have to do it again) - of all the emotions, anger is the one most like an addictive substance - it leads you into denial / hides itself. Denial leads to more anger, more problems, and therefore even further anger to remain in denial about it. (Citation of a Psychology Today article that quoted a letter to a newspaper counselor about her advice to a mother to let a child kick the furniture to get the anger. The writer spoke of her younger brother who grew up kicking the furniture and now kicks not only the furniture, but now his wife and kids. 20-30 years ago, venting your anger was the cure. Secular psychology is beginning to see the addictive nature of anger.)

II) Basic Goodness of Anger

Slow anger (v. 32 - He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty) - the ideal is slow anger, not no anger, or blow up anger

- it is a sin to never get angry, and it is a sin to blow up in your anger

- Eph 4:26 (Paul) "be angry, but sin not" - an imperative: not "you will be angry" but "you should be angry (sometimes)"

- John Chritensen (early American preacher) - perfect summary of anger: "He that is angry without cause sins, he that is not angry when there is cause, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices."

- Slow anger is an attribute of God - Ps. 103:8

- Exodus 34 - Moses asks God to "show me Your glory," God responds "I will declare My name for you...I am the Lord, slow to anger."

- Many New Yorkers have an issue here: "I believe in a God of love, not a God who gets angry." If you never get angry about anything, you don't love anything. Anger is a love response to a threat to the object of your love.

- Becky Pipper: "Think how we feel when we someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might towards strangers? Far from it. Anger isn't the opposite of love, hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference. The more a father loves his son, the more he is angry at the drunkard, the liar, the traitor in his son. And if I, a flawed, self-centered woman can feel this much pain and anger over someone's condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them."

- Love in its uncorrupted origin is moving to deal with a threat - anger is love in motion to deal with a threat toward that which you really love (to disintegrate the threat) - to see what your heart loves the most, you need only ask what you are defending.

- Romans 1: God is continually angry because He loves us; in the Gospels, Jesus (continually perfect) was angry at the moneychangers in the temple (John 2), angry at the religious leaders (Mark 3), angry at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11) - Greek words describing his emotions were incredibly strong (bellows, snorts with anger) - He gets angry but sins not.

- Individualistic cultures emphasize personal rights and over-value anger as something that should be expressed, whereas Moral/Traditional cultures emphasize the family and see anger as something that should be repressed. The Biblical approach sees both the Basic Goodness and the Dangerous Power

III) Why Anger Goes Wrong

- (v. 28-29): anger disproportionate / inappropriate to the cause - our anger is disordered.

- Augustine: Disordered Loves - we take good things into ultimate things, instead of loving them, we look to them for the ultimate comfort only God can give. Ex. of romantic love - turning the need for the other person into an absolute necessarily disorders the love.

- Disordered love creates disordered anger:
A) Disordered in its causes: we are angry for ourselves, not injustices done to the oppressed. We get incredibly angry over causes we shouldn't be, and we do not get angry over causes that we should be.

B) Disordered in its proportions: our anger usually feels uncontrollable

C) Disordered in its goal: ordered (loving) anger seeks to do surgical strikes against the anger (like a parent seeking to destroy the foolishness in a child). Loving anger goes after the problem, not the person.

- Levels of Disorder:
1) Things that make us angry every day

2) Things we haven't been able to forget or forgive (heats up level one - like a man
slighted by a woman who is more prone to be easily offended by all women)

3) Things we've decided we need instead of God (family, job, etc) - the bedrock anger of self-pity against God Himself (heats up levels 2 and 3)

IV) How it can be healed

A) Have to admit you are angry: get in touch with the reality of it – you must own and admit it. People commonly say: "You deserve anger, but I'm not angry" (really means "You deserve anger, but I'm above you"). Even owning up to your anger is an act of vulnerability / weakness. Refusal to do this not only prohibits reconciliation, but also heats up level 2 angers, and creates a "root of bitterness" (Heb. 12) - roots become shoots become trees become forests. You become utterly controlled by your anger.

B) Analyze your anger: (24:28-29) - (self talk) - Angry person speaking to himself - anger is not so much because of what you've lost but because of what you tell yourself that you are defending (most often your pride / ego / self-esteem). Citation of Jeremiah 45 (KJV) "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not." We must question what is so important to us that we get angry - this question identifies our idols. (Example of mother who had God's love as an abstract idea but son's love as an idol - couldn't forgive anything that would come between her and her son's love)

C) Transform your anger: (15:1; 25:21-22) - When you experience anger, don't be angry back, but rescue the enemy from the anger. Wisdom literature of ancient world goes over the top in using this redemption language with enemies. Example of dealing with a child's disordered anger: a) give into it - evil wins, b) fight back in anger - evil enters your life as well, or c) surgical strike: get mad a the foolishness in the child, insist on the truth gently, and absorb the anger and the pain.


- Proof that we are mad at God - when He became human, we were angry. We got our angry hands on Him, and He absorbed our disordered anger and said "Father, forgive them." He took not only our undeserved anger but also the cup (ref. to OT cup of anger) - the anger we deserved: ultimate example of loving the sinner and hating the sin - the ultimate surgical strike - taking this into our lives will heal the level 3 anger.

"Jesus said: 'Love your enemies, that you may be children of your Father which is in heaven.'

Of course you say, 'All this about loving enemies is not practical. Life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog-eat-dog. Well, maybe in some distant utopia the ideal will work, but not in the hard cold world in which we live.'

My friends, we've followed the so-called practical way for a long time now. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered into hatred and violence. We are going to follow another way: we will not abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our strength we will continue to rid the nation of the incubus of segregation. But we will not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we will love the segregationist. This is the only way to build the beloved community.

To our most bitter opponents we say 'We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will continue to love you. We cannot obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as it is to cooperate with good. But throw us in jail, we will still love you; send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community and beat us, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down.

One day we will win freedom, but not only for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and so our victory will be a double-victory. The great military leaders of the past have gone, and their empires have crumbled and burned to ashes, but the empire of Jesus, built solidly and majestically on the foundation of love is still growing. May we solemnly realize that we shall never be sons of our Heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us as He did for us."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:39 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

To add to all the great answers here, controlling your angry reactions takes time and practice. When you get frustrated in traffic, and remember to chill out, take a deep breath, consciously relax your shoulders and any other tension spots, and realize that you've made progress. The car is a great place to practice, because there are plenty of opportunities for annoyance, and you can reward yourself for passing up opportunities to be reactive.

Make a conscious effort to look for what's going right They finally painted that grungy house; looks nice instead of disliking the color. This road really needed repair instead of, or at least in addition to being annoyed at the delay. I can tell you from long experience in customer service, being cheerful tends to make people be cheerful, or at least less cranky back. When the clerk says Can I help you find anything say thank you, and either yes, or no, thanks. When the clerk says How are you today, say Pretty good. How are you. I lose my temper at machines, at persistent stupidity, at bloody-mindedness, but seldom at low-wage, inadequately trained staff who may not have adequate tools to do their jobs. That kid at McDonalds has to say Would you like fries with that? Be sweet to him, cause he needs it. Practice being nice in small situations; it will help you be nice in large situations.
posted by theora55 at 7:06 PM on April 16, 2013

Response by poster: I asked this quite a while back, but thanks for all the answers! I didn't find them immediately helpful, but I think I subconsciously got some help from this and noticed some significant progress already. I think these are the main lessons:

-I was under a lot of stress and didn't even realize it until everyone said "is something else going on?"

-I noticed I'm way more irritable when I'm in a hurry. Now I've started recognizing and accepting when I'm going to be late. If I didn't want to be late, I should've left on time.

-Right before I engage customer service or bureaucracy in any way (or when I'm running to catch the bus), I take a second to say to myself "this really may not work out the way I want it to". I mean I'm lucky to live in a society where I can even count on fairness most of the time. Forming this new habit has been the biggest change and I recommend it to anyone.

-When I start to stew, I find myself asking "is this helpful or useful" and then I'm usually able to move on. It seems like getting angry over little things can be approached like many other bad habits. Noticing right when it starts to happen is half the battle.

Thanks again for all the thoughtful answers!
posted by Gravel at 3:59 PM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

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