I know someone who is addicted to anger. Being around my friend is like strolling through a minefield, never sure what inconsequential occurrence will set him off. I have seen a wrong ice-cream order unhinge him. Once, a car color that he dislikes enraged him. A mis-dialed phone number, an advertising flyer he did not ask to receive, a smell in the air… all have the ability to cause him to reach for his drug-of-choice: Anger. When he is not angry, he worries about everything and anything. My theory is that anger not only enables him to stop worrying, but also enables him to convert worry into an emotion that he can turn outward and unleash upon a world that distresses him with its demands.
One might rightly wonder how someone could be addicted to anger, a state that is generally self-destructive. His is but an extreme example of a trait that we all indulge in, from one time to another, and that is: To distract ourselves from what bothers us. My friend’s drug is anger, but others of us use ice-cream, meth, booze, comic-book collecting, sex, hoarding, travel and other things to give us relief from the anxieties imbedded in our daily life.
How might we better deal with those anxieties? One way is to put limits on the extent to which we avoid dealing with them by keeping a pad of paper upon which we put the date when we have indulged; taking stock, once a week, of how many times we resorted to numbing our feelings might awaken us to the extent of our involvement with being distracted. Having become aware of how many times we indulge in avoidance, a second way is to put a limit on how many times we let ourselves off the hook.
In the end, reality just does not care that something distresses us. What must be faced… must be faced no matter how we feel about it. The secret that mature adults have discovered is that when we stop either running from or numbing ourselves to what distresses us, we rob it of its power to terrify us! Being an adult means having to pay our own bills as well as answering our own front door, even if there is a bill collector on the other side; anyone or anything that saves us from answering that knock on our door causes us to remain infantile.
I feel badly for my angry friend, but I have lived long enough now to know that I cannot cope for anyone but myself. Watching him has certainly made me more aware of the ways in which I am tempted to avoid facing what must be faced: How about you?