I’m MAD as Hell!

Category: Weekly Columns

Albert Finney in Network

It was an iconic movie moment when Peter Finch, in Paddy Chayevsky’s movie Network screamed out, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” I wonder how many readers saw that movie when it came out? Or even know of it at all? My question is why is everyone so angry these days over often very trivial things?

Let’s consider things some things/events where anger may be appropriate:

~~ 9/11
~~ The inept government that has allowed a shutdown
~~ ANY child that goes hungry anywhere in the world
~~ Mass shootings/murders or, for that matter, any senseless violence
~~ Being unemployed for a long time or struggling to find a job
~~ Having a chronic, painful illness
~~ Serious problems with addiction – yourself or loved ones

Now, let’s consider some things when anger may not be appropriate:

~~ Something you read (see comments in my column, Staying Single is NOT Good for Your Kids) hits you the wrong way
~~ A driver cuts you off – not dangerously – but because they’re a lousy driver. It’s annoying, it was sort of close, but it was really not that big a deal
~~ Your Internet connection goes down (for a while)
~~ You lose something like your keys, sunglasses, coat, etc.
~~ Television talk shows, reality shows, or anything with Charlie Sheen
~~ A minor tiff with a family member
~~ Allergies, a runny nose, or a sore throat

Cartoon about anger

Social Media has given the world a forum. Anyone and everyone can express an opinion and do so anonymously if desired. Obviously, anonymity allows a certain freedom to be mean and ugly with no repercussions. But, those comments and writings tend to be mostly ignored or disregarded because of that choice of (anonymous) expression.

It’s when people use words like “hate” to describe something they disagree with or, in the public political sphere, where name-calling is often the norm during heated political discourses, that’s when we as a society are losing our grace, our humanity. How many things really deserve the word, “hate” or the many names politicians call the “other side” when they’re disagreeing?

Anger and Our Kids

I suggest, as the lists above illuminate, that more often than not those issues that raise our ire just don’t deserve that attention, let alone the risk of higher blood pressure or simply allowing yourself to then have a bad day. Let’s reserve our ire for things that deserve it.

“Allowing yourself to have a bad day” is in fact, a choice. I often joke that the only thing I control is what I eat for breakfast. Indeed, especially if your married and/or have children, it often seems control is quite elusive. It may be, indeed, but we have full control over our attitude and reactions.

Angry baby with funny caption, humor

Viktor Frankl wrote about this very thing in his seminal book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” The first half of that book details his ordeal during the Holocaust and how he – truly – had no control over any aspect of his life: whether he ate, slept, lived, or died. The ONLY thing he realized he controlled was his reaction to all he was subjected to. After I read of his extreme nightmare and his revelation that he indeed did have some control, I reflected on my own relatively cushy, easy life and tried to emulate his heroic example.

So, when I get people – my kids included – saying they “HATE” this or that, I find myself laughing inside. Really? You hate your teacher for giving you that assignment? You hate me for writing those words about being single? Is your life so complete and you’ve solved so many of the world’s problems, that this is all that’s left that gets your goat? Wow, lucky YOU!

Crazy traffic

I talk to myself when I get “in a mood.” I ask myself, “Is this really worth THIS reaction?” More often than not, I end up laughing at myself. Not much in my life merits the word, “Hate” except for some macro issues (world issues – politics – war, etc.).

Consequently, when I do get the occasional angry comment on one of my columns, I usually wonder what is going on in that person’s life to make them so mad and unhappy. Rarely do I take it personally. In fact, most of the times any of us takes something personally, we’re wrong. So often, an angry response is a reflection of the other person’s issues or particular sensitivity to something that has nothing to do with you or me!

Funny anger management advice

Get over yourself is a good motto. My mother often advised me that I should put on a happy face, that no one wants to be around a sourpuss (when’s the last time you read or heard that word?). As usual, she was right. So, the next time you get Mad as Hell, think it over, and I will conjecture you will also laugh at yourself for that over-reaction!

Note: Interesting article on this subject: The Internet Isn’t Making Us Dumb. It’s Making Us Angry. 

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The Empty Nest Book

  • Zosha’s Mom

    Great advice and so serendipitous! My husband has been having a lot of issues dealing with his anger over our daughter’s behavior issues. She has a genetic syndrome and part of it is impulsive behaviors and lack of self control. ( she is 17 ) She is best when you are calm and reinforce her good behavior and ‘ignore’ her bad- meaning don’t get mad. When she spits on me ( yes, that happens a lot- she has trouble communicating so spitting is a way for her to tell me she is mad) I tell her she can spit on me or lose a treat her choice. That works. She then says ” she will use her words” and , though harder, communicats via talking. If she spits on my husband he reacts , well, actually, he reacts how one would expect-by saying , loudly “CUT IT OUT!!! ” This makes her do it more and more. I tell him to be calm but he insists he cannot control himself. I tell him if he cannot control himself how can he expect our daughter to control herself? I show him time and again how you can smile and hug while telling your child she just lost the computer for throwing things and ” oh well- we will try again tomorrow”– kiss on the nose” and she is upset but lets it go and stops throwing things. I am not perfect. I just know what works and I got tired of doing things that did not work. Figuring out how to stay happy while being spit on was a necessity for me. My husband seems constantly unhappy. But it is his choice. Now I just need to be happy while he chooses not to be. Because I can.

    Sorry for the ramble – it just hit home. Any advice from a Dad would be greatly appreciated!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks for sharing @ca2d8c5d9636cc48561c1142d67823d4:disqus. It sounds like a very difficult situation that you are handling incredibly well. My biggest advice for your husband is to get/find GOOD MEN to bring into his life. Perhaps a men’s group. It helped me during the demise of my first marriage incredibly. Therapy works but it’s expensive and hard to find a good therapist. Men supporting men is often a great solution. Best of luck to both of you!

      • Zosha’s Mom

        Thanks for the feedback!! We have talked about finding a good men’s group. Just need to find one! He does try and is so good at a lot of things it is just hard for him not to react. He is out of town right now and I sent him your column. 🙂
        I do think the brain is malleable and you can train yourself to be calm. Hopefully we will get there. We also think he needs to implement a good exercise regime. Me, too, actually. My daughter, too actually 🙂

        I look forward to reading more of your columns!
        Zosha’s Mom

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          Both of you might enjoy the #DadChat community @ca2d8c5d9636cc48561c1142d67823d4:disqus http://www.brucesallan.com/category/main-categories/dadchat/

          • Jennifer Weberman

            Dear Zosha’s Mom,

            I’m so glad you shared your story. There are so many parents out there that struggle to manage their reactions to their children’s behaviors – and that’s without a genetic syndrome present! Its one of the greatest challenges a person can face is to stay calm in the face of disrespect, aggression, non compliance or just a full fledged tantrum – all from the little person that you’ve devoted your life to! It can feel infuriating!

            I know you didn’t ask for it, but if its alright with you, I’d love to add my two cents. I believe that the things that trigger us in our children represent wounds from our own childhood that haven’t been healed yet. And that’s why its hard to stay centered when that trigger has been activated. For example, if we grew up in a home with lots of anger and we were afraid, we may have trouble tolerating anger from our kids. Or if we grew up feeling responsible for the feelings of others, then we may feel its our fault if our child is unhappy – and then feel resentful because they made us feel guilty. Its a cycle that continues until we recognize that our tempers are actually signs of some healing work that needs to take place. We ALL have it. Its not anything bad. Its an opportunity to do something with it.

            When you’re husband is triggered and says he can’t help it, in a way he is right because he has temporarily stepped into a much younger version of himself in that moment. Without a way to get back to his adult self, its the wounded child that is trying to stay calm with your daughter. And that is impossible! He needs help getting back to center. In other words he needs to receive love and support to heal in order to be able to give it to your daughter.

            It just so happens that Bruce and I will be talking about this very topic on his radio show on Thursday afternoon. If this is something you’d like to hear more about I’d love for you to listen. If what I wrote above doesn’t sit well with you, then I just thank you both for the forum to share.

            Have a good night.

          • Zosha’s Mom

            Hi Jennifer ,
            Thanks for the advice. I know my husband’s Mom was/is very reactive. But his Dad was/ is soooo calm. My husband even jokes about the time his Dad got hit with a very fast baseball right in the , well, you know, and didn’t blink an eye. Just walked off the field. I often wonder if my husband is much like his Mom who was a stay at home mom and very hands on but wishes he was like his Dad and feels inadequate. My FIL is actually so non active because his own Dad was a mean alcoholic so he learned , at a young age, to be very quiet. So sad. He passed any before my husband ever met him.
            Also, my Dad yelled a lot at me-over very little things -and it hurt me a lot so I am very cognizant about raised voices. When my husband gets mad I cringe because of my own experiences and he knows this. I wonder if this makes him feel more pressure? In th moment he is very hard to reach but later he feels bad. We talk about this so much and it just seems to be a cycle. Again, he is not abusive, he is just really reacting as one would to a typical child but as we are using the behavior method of ‘ ignore the bad emphasize the good’ he should not react negatively at all. It messes up the whole behavior plan.
            I would love to listen to the radio program. I will look for it.

            Thanks again, any advice is welcomed!

          • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

            TY @jenniferweberman:disqus for offering your wisdom. I’m sure @ca2d8c5d9636cc48561c1142d67823d4:disqus appreciates it. The show can be heard LIVE tomorrow ZM or anytime afterward – free and commercial-free – either by downloading it on iTunes or from my radio show page, here.

          • Zosha’s Mom

            Thanks! I will look into it!!

  • Pingback: Anger and Money - Good or Bad? | Bruce Sallan Radio Show | Bruce Sallan()

  • David Weber

    Over the years, I have been able to reduce little by little the number of things about which I get angry or upset. I consider myself affable, temperate and even-keeled. My approach to life has become this: Reduce to as few as possible (I guess I would say a half-dozen)those matters, issues or values about which you are 100% inflexible; then hold to them; and regarding the rest of it, handle it.
    There are about three “buttons” that if my students (I am a college professor) push them, I do anything from get defensive to lose my temper. An example is coming to my office with only 3-4 weeks left in the semester to ask about to improve your grade. This happened just today. A student named Brian came in to ask how he could overcome a C- average on 3 of the five scheduled exams, plus very poor attendance, and not turning in his written assignment, in order to get the minimum B he needs in the course.
    In the past, I would have become indignant and more. But the past few times, I told myself after the student had left, “Next time this happens, stand up, excuse yourself, go to the workroom, cool off before you get overheated, and then return to your office to talk with the student in a temperate way.” I did this FINALLY for the first time today.
    I told Brian that getting that B would be mathematically impossible, and then I outlined for him a best-case alternate plan. No accusations, no harsh words. I can think of SO many times in my life — not just office conversations with students — in which I would have benefitted from simply rising, excusing myself (concocting a reason, if necessary), and going anywhere else for a few moments, in order to return in a more grounded state of being.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      @7f990e539df4ddefe26884eb65a5f04c:disqus – well done, Professor! Your experience confirms my assertion that the ONLY thing good about getting older is getting better (at handling life)…Walking away – giving yourself a “time out” – is always wise when you’re very upset. If, a while later, “you” are still upset, so be it!