12: Irritating Ourself

Of all the dark moods, anger is the most destructive to our well-being because it is the strongest. Many of us resort to anger as a means to appear powerful. Anger can make us strong—but only as strong as a bully. Anger can likewise appear to make us commanding, but only as commanding as a thug. As long as we stay angry, we seem invulnerable to criticism, but at the expense of being arrogant and immune to common sense. Anger can be used to create a strong defense against any opposition by making us stubborn and totally resistant to logic and facts. Anger in all of its forms—resentment, hostility, disgust, self-loathing—is a huge problem for individuals and society.

Anger is also the one dark mood that is most likely to be self-sustaining. Once we use it, it easily provokes retaliation from others. When we say or do something in a hostile manner, it will annoy those who witness it. Many will silently or overtly respond with less than friendly words and deeds. Anger poisons the psychic atmosphere so that it promotes more hostility, resistance, and distrust.

Most angry people, except in rare instances, never seem to notice their anger. If they do, they believe it is fully justified as an appropriate response to disturbing events. Even less noticeable to them is how their anger provokes cycle after cycle of retaliation to their harsh words and deeds. They often fail to recognize that their aggressive behavior is being interpreted as hostility and incites an angry response. Because they are so blind to their provocation, they often leap to the conclusion that they are being unfairly attacked. Therefore, they are likely to retaliate as if they are innocent parties who have been offended, launching a war that will continue until one party surrenders.

Because angry people are usually accustomed to being annoyed, they rarely notice how hostile they have become. For them, this is just a normal and necessary attitude to help them cope with an increasingly antagonistic and threatening world. Anger is the first line of defense against any assault on their competence, authority, and place in the world. Many do not realize that by doing this, they have created a thuggish raging bull that stomps about the world, ready to destroy all enemies.

When events have evolved this far, angry people are convinced that any show of tolerance or friendliness would be a sign of weakness that would only invite others to exploit them. Anger has so distorted their beliefs and perspective that they come to view gentle and caring people as wimpish and deserving of being intimidated and exploited.

These are the people who depend on arrogance and the ability to intimidate others to sustain their self-esteem. The illusion of power created by hostile control is what strengthens their sense of being important and relevant. To them, their hostility is a natural and normal response to nasty people and situations they deem to be unacceptable. For these reasons, anger continues and builds without restraint.

Naturally, not all angry people are this intense or destructive—just the obvious bullies and tyrants. However, average people also know how to be indignant, stubborn, and unwilling to admit they have been wrong or behaved badly. They may be able to be tolerant and polite in most activities and relationships, but in areas of greater sensitivity they will remain angry, unforgiving, and stubbornly refuse to see how hostile and abusive they have acted.

Because anger is very powerful and can be sustained, its bodyguards are equally powerful. Anger poisons our world outlook so that we perceive dan- ger, threats, and enemies everywhere. Hostile people expect to be treated badly—even though they usually fail to recognize how it is their bad behavior that guarantees others will be unfriendly toward them. Angry people often rehearse hostile behavior to prepare for their next encounter with their foes. If they experience a rare, peaceful day, they are certain it will not last. The bodyguards of anger will not let them yield to contentment or feeling safe. It is as if a constant war is raging, and it is forbidden to let down their guard for an instant—for the next attack is imminent.

Fortunately, anger is both self-defeating and self- curing—but only after the disasters created by hostility come back to overwhelm the perpetrator. Even- tually, angry and stubborn people will encounter others who are more angry, stubborn, and powerful than they are. Battles ensue and one party will be crushed. After several cycles of being devastated, it finally dawns on them that their entire world view and behavior just does not work.

This is the magical, prodigal moment when we realize we are creating our own misery. We have provoked the animosity we have received from others. We are the ones who are destroying our opportunities and sabotaging our success and happiness. After these humiliating insights, the truth is allowed once more to direct thinking, analysis, and behavior. Thus begins the long journey back to basic common sense and decency.

Unless we correct our general attitude and heal these beliefs and memories, we risk engaging in a downward spiral of increasing resentment triggered by disrespect, criticism, and rude behavior. As our accumulation of anger builds, it poisons our outlook and attitudes even further. Slowly, we invite additional rudeness, hostility, and abuse. Our world shrinks to revolve about threats to our well-being and those who oppose us—not our joys and achievements. Our intentions shift to being more concerned about how we will defend ourself than what we can accomplish. Our psychic radar is reprogrammed to search through the wreckage and disasters of our past—and dwell on threats of more to come.

This is how misery magnets and misery multipliers work to preserve our anger, provoke more resentment, and sabotage our confidence, happiness, and productivity. We irritate ourself, provoke hostile reactions in others, and sustain an antagonistic state of mind and heart. Until we recognize how much we have contributed to creating and coddling our anger, we will be stuck in perpetual resentment, waiting for rescue or the extremely unlikely event of our enemies apologizing and making amends.

Many people so thoroughly rationalize their anger that it becomes a permanent part of their character and their habitual self-expression. They build a new identity based on the wounds and injustice they have experienced. They adjust to hostile attacks from others by becoming defensive, stubborn, and resistant to anything that is not on their agenda or compatible with their beliefs. The ability to intimidate others becomes the way they preserve their self-esteem, control others, and fend off any criticism of themselves. This is how chronic anger slowly dominates our mood and remodels our character to become a permanent home for continued hostility.

Fortunately, most people eventually tire of continuing the hostile approach to life and the high cost of maintaining all their resentments. They come to recognize how the patterns of their hostility provoke unpleasant results. They can accept that forgiveness is not a weakness but a way to liberate themselves from the grip of feeling victimized and abused. If they can achieve this insight, then they can develop a new view of the world that attracts good opportunities and the goodwill of others. This is how they reverse the habit of being angry and the hostile lifestyle that attends it. And the raging bull of anger slinks off to join the Frankenstein monster, exiled to Antartica.

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