When you think about emotions, what comes to mind? What does happy look like? Is it a group of friends laughing together? What does sadness look like? Is it raindrops running down a window? What does fear look like? Is it a dark room with a single door?
And what about anger? Is it more than the color red?
For me, anger is not an emotion in the traditional sense. It is a reflex in much the same way that someone may tap your knee, and it will respond with a kick. In simpler terms, you may notice that anger is first out of you when something bad happens, instead of an emotion like sadness, because you haven’t had time to rationalize or process your feelings yet. Once you have taken the time to think it through, you turn to another emotion to cater to your expressive needs.
On the other hand, sadness, happiness, and even fear are not reactive. They are the product of something, but only after you’ve had time to ruminate. Anger is somewhat pure in that it is not tainted by thought, and actually, it is so strong because it’s devoid of thought entirely.
But of course, anger is problematic as a result of its nature. You may find yourself lashing out because of not being able to form what it is that you want to convey, and so anger beats you literally and metaphorically to the punch.
This is why anger is like a splinter.
Splinters. You will notice when you get one…or at least you think it’s a splinter. It could be just a little bump of unusual pain in the middle of your hand. You don’t really know because you can’t see anything. All you know is that you are hurting and the sharp sting of the tweezers is not making it any better.
It’s the same thing with anger. You don’t really notice that anything has happened until you are crying and honking uncontrollably at the car that cut you off. You don’t really think that you are upset until you are eating your feelings and swaddling yourself into a snuggie. You don’t really know what’s come over you, but you would love to start a fight club right after your book club. Anger is also a generalized, unreachable pain.
Now the trick is to head off your anger. You have to identify the exact issue you are angry at, the exact position of the splinter. Because your pain and frustration radiates and poisons everything else if you don’t. It creates layers and layers and layers until you are shouting at a shadow when you should really be telling a loved one “I’m sorry.”
Simply remember that anger is a symptom like pain, and that it is does not represent the emotion that you are actually feeling. Rather, anger is a substitute, a filler, and until you can identify what you should be really feeling (frustration, grief, jealousy, confusion), you need to root around with your tweezers until you can find the right spot. Ask yourself: Okay, I know the barista getting my order wrong is not what I’m actually cheesed off about, but what is making me so upset? It may be momentarily painful for you, but it will save everyone around you their own anger.
And even more like splinters, remember that anger is pretty much unavoidable. It would be great if it never happened again, but since that is unlikely, it’s simply best if you kept a pair of emergency tweezers nearby. And of course, ask for help when you need it.