Anger Therapy that Works
The emotion of anger is experienced by everyone, and every animal. But wait! People have one thing that animals lack: we have the capability of reasoning because we can symbolize our experience. And reasoning leads to the conclusion that it is always best to decline any angry impulse. Put otherwise, anger is never to your benefit. Even a soldier on a battlefield will perform better and live longer by keeping their wits rather than giving in to blind rage.
Are you an angry person? Ask yourself how often any of these other words describe you:
aggravated, aggressive, annoyed, antagonized, ballistic, belligerent, bitter, bristling, contemptuous, crabby, cranky, cross, fired up, fuming, frustrated, furious, hateful, hopping mad, hostile, hot under the collar, incensed, indignant, inflamed, infuriated, irate, irritated, livid, loathing, a loose canon, menacing, outraged, peeved, quick-tempered, rabid, raging, ranting, raving, resentful, riled up, seeing red, seething, smoldering, sore, spiteful, ticked off, vengeful, vindictive, violent, vitriolic, and wrathful.
Of course this is only a partial list of words that associate closely with anger; we have quite an English vocabulary for this, now don’t we. However you describe it, and yourself, it is childish rather than manly, childish because it lacks self-control and reason. It is also poisonous because it damages you. And there’s a better way to live.
More Than Managed
Since anger is experienced by everyone, it is often regarded as natural, as acceptable within limits, and as something to be managed. But since anger is opposed to reason, every instance of it is regarded here as a temporary insanity, as something unacceptable — because it is unreasonable. We refuse to humor the idea that
2 + 2 = 5 because it is obvious that it is unreasonable. Likewise, every angry thought is an unreasonable thought, but this is not quite as obvious. If it were self-evident, most of us would reject it outright. Anger therapy will focus fundamentally in the beginning on the unreasonableness of any anger. When we realize that every instance of anger is a problem, no matter how small, we also understand that anger is not to be managed, but countered at every turn. The goal is not anger management, but anger vanishment.
The Dour Incompatibility of Anger and Happiness
One way to kick this around, this firm claim that every angry act is an unreasonable act, is to consider every act in relation to your primary goal: lasting happiness. Everything we have ever done, and ever will do in our lives, is done in the pursuit of lasting happiness. Of course the problem is that people make mistakes. Even the best of us make mountains of mistakes, daft with doosies. Each time we make a mistake, we are moving away from our goal rather than toward it. And anger is always a mistake with respect to our goal of lasting happiness, because anger is obviously incompatible with happiness. You cannot be both angry and happy at the same time. These are contraries: anger is contrary to happiness. Importantly, I am referring to an enduring happiness, the rare kind that can maintain through misfortune, not some temporary and trite little excitement of the moment.
We Are What We Think
One way to put this all together so far — the idea that every angry thought is an unreasonable thought, that our goal is lasting happiness and that anger is incompatible with our goal, and that we seek anger vanishment not management — is to consider the fact that we are what we think. When a person has an angry thought, and agrees with it and justifies it, and approves an angry act, those neural pathways in the brain that were associated with this angry thought and act become reinforced. At the same time, other neural pathways associated with other things get weaker with disuse — say, gratitude, for instance. Mental usage is like physical exercise: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
When a person has an angry thought, and agrees with it, that person is reinforcing their own anger, will be quicker to anger, and will experience anger more deeply in the future. In short, an angry thought serves to make a person angrier. Mental conditioning is equivalent to physical conditioning here. Once we realize the extent of this, we must stop and question who we want to be. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be happy, think happy thoughts to some extent. And if you want to be an angry person, then justify that latest angry thought. Once again, reason will be our sole guide through the wilderness of the will, and it dictates that we begin immediately and vigorously to oppose any angry thought, lest it make us even angrier.
This is, in a sense, a method of starving the neural pathways associated with angry thoughts by opposing those thoughts with reason. This starvation strategy could be called — tongue in cheek — anger famishment. And, yet, we will not let food go to waste, so we will choose to feed something else — does the belly of gratitude rumble? While anger reinforces angriness, gratitude reinforces gratefulness. Together let us build a fence to separate these pastures, and decide on which side of this fence you wish to stand.
Anger’s Bedfellows: Regret and Shame
Regret and shame are two very, very close associates of anger. These bedfellows are also ingrates, and are not aligned with your primary goal of lasting happiness. Acts done in anger such as acts of aggression often lead to regret and shame, nourishing these hungry and miserable mouths. Keep this in mind momentarily the next time that vengeance seems appropriate, revenge feels right, or punishing someone seems justifiable. Once again, as I am sure you are catching a theme, anger is always detrimental and you should or will want none of it. Each of these unbridled beasts of unreasonableness only beguile and bewitch. They betray. Our only answer is: begone! Yes, anger banishment.
Stoic therapy is the best therapy for anger, foremost because it is based entirely on pure reason, meaning deductive logic. I may have made all of this sound sublimely simple so far. Yet, if you suffer from anger, it can and will take work to correct it and regain control. It may take some effort to internalize that anger is never beneficial. It may not be that difficult to intellectualize it, I mean to understand it and agree with it on the surface. But it can be trying to internalize it. The strategy of anger famishment, while successful, takes time. And like any new skill, it is most difficult in the beginning, though it gets easier with experience.
Anger therapy, in Stoicism, will focus in the beginning on education about reason and anger, and the latter stage of treatment specializes in anger famishment, which also emphasizes how to prepare for potential triggers. This is dwelling in advance of adversity to starve or weaken the associations that can overthrow reason, that can give away control to ineffable anger.
Anger Vanishment Awaits
Please call Ron at (860) 960-6711 for a free phone consultation. Let’s discuss the specifics of your situation, and let me answer any questions you may have about anger therapy. We can meet in my office in Farmington, talk by texting, or have voice chats such as with Duo or Skype. Welcome to Stoic therapy.