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  • Writer's pictureJillian Sawers

What is your anger trying to tell you?

Psychology 101 says that anger is a secondary emotion, fear being the first. And fear as distinct from our natural survival instincts, is a by product of our interpretation of events happening around us or to us. We aren’t usually in physical danger, but our thoughts dwells on the threats to our comforts, positions, reputation, beliefs and so on.

The ego is a multi-layered complex structure based on neural pathways or thought habits, which form something called our identities (who I think I am). At any moment, a fear-fill thought can be created by perceiving a potential threat to ones of those identities. Our egos are like a house of cards, and anger is the guard watching carefully to ward off dangers to our fragile inner world.

For instance I got angry or at least irritated recently at drivers. Many times throughout the day I pulled off the road to let cars pass me on the windy country motorways of New Zealand. Occasionally a fellow driver would beep in thanks and I would get a little buzz of delight at being appreciated for my being such a jolly helpful driver. However 9 times out of 10 they would just zoom on past. And I would feel a little wave of indignation rising in me. I looked for some common denominator which would allow me to focus my anger more precisely. Were they foreign tourists, young people, rich folk, new SUV owners, alas it seemed to include everyone and anyone. If no one ever beeped a thank, probably I would never expect one, and would simply pull over because I don’t like to drive very fast myself, and have no further thought about it.

But how quickly my mind got attached to that little buzz that confirmed someone’s appreciation of my behavior, and how ripped off I felt when I didn’t get it. It somehow touched on my strongly entrenched identity about being a nice helpful person, of which confirmation is always appreciated. It's almost as if my ego was a little maniacal figure running after the cars, shouting ‘you didn’t give me love!’

Later on in the day I got stuck behind someone for about 17km on a narrow windy shingle road going really really slowly. Here my ego took its chance to have a wee complain about how they didn’t know how to drive, about how often they used the brakes, and boast to itself how 'I' used to live at the end of roads 5 times worse than this one. Fortunately this time, I didn’t feel anger, because I managed to just observe the nonsense coming out of my own head with interest, and appreciate how safely they were driving, and relax into the calm pace of driving.

These are just two mild examples, if you have a lot of anger towards something, that would indicate a lot of fear, and a very deep attachment to a certain aspect of your identity. And some fear based beliefs are commonly supported by cultural norms. For instance if someone insults your country or your religion, people consider anger to be a rational justified response.

There was a case in Turkey some years back when a Liverpool fan, a known hooligan, had attended a match and mimicked out wiping his bottom with a Turkish flag. He was shot dead. There is a reason mad is another word for angry. In a moment of madness, two men gave up their lives in defense of an idea.

We say we are born empty handed, alone and naked and leave likewise. We are also born empty of the awareness of race, nationality, religion. And when our spirit departs it leaves them behind with the ashes of the brain in which those identities were embedded. If someone insults your nationality and you get angry about it, trace it back to the fear, and what aspect of your adopted identity that anger is defending.

How many times I’ve heard people say how friendly New Zealanders are, and then again, how many times I’ve heard people complain about how unfriendly New Zealanders are. Which is true? Both, none, what is a New Zealander anyway? The original inhabitants were birds, then pre-Maoris, Maoris, then Anglosaxon colonists, then the rest of the world arrived too. I really do appreciate living in a beautiful, relatively safe, clean country. But people are people. Humans everywhere are full of opposites, contradictions, beauty and ugly violence. No human trait or experience is unique to one country, just the wrapping varies.

Appreciate the life you have been born into with all its gifts and tribulations. But rest lightly in the awareness of belonging to a particular place and time, never forgetting how empheral it really is.

You don’t need to have the best country, religion, sports team, driving manners, or anything else, in order to feel valuable or special. Just being alive, a divine spark of universal intelligence in a beautifully complex organism made of ancient star dust, makes you pretty special I think.

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