Welcome to the Sidebar’s advice column, where we sit down for a chat with our very own Muffle. Her advice might be bad, but hey, at least someone’s listening. Today we’re talking about anger.
What do you do when your entire outlook on life changes for the worse?
For the past six months or so, I’ve been pretty consistently in a bad mood. Not sad or depressed, (I haven’t lost interest in the things I enjoy, for instance,) just irritable and ticked off. Little things annoy me way more than they used to, and I find myself feeling angry a lot, even at people I really like and care about. I don’t know why I feel this way, but it’s been going on long enough that I’m confident it’s not all in my head.
I’m scared that I’m turning into a bitter, jaded person. How do I stop feeling this way when everything seems to make it worse?
Man, I’ve been there. Some days I feel like I’ve been pissed off for a thousand years, and everything everyone does is just. So. Annoying! Why are people so stupid and careless and awful all the time?! Stop it! Just stop!!!
Ahem. Let’s try again.
Let me first say that some anger is absolutely real, justified, and essential. Right now, there are a lot of things to be angry about that could easily last six months or longer, particularly if you’re queer, a woman, a person of color, environmentally conscious, fat, poor, disabled, non-neurotypical, a member of a non-majority faith… and so on. Systemic injustice should piss you off, and if it doesn’t, you’re not paying attention. So it’s entirely possible, Bird, that this is what’s triggering your mood, and if that’s the case, my advice is to channel that into productive energy. Write your congresspeople, call your mayor, protest, organize, run for office! Take the power that comes with all that rage and use it to fix the things making you mad in the first place.
That said, the thing about anger is that much of the time, it’s stepping in to keep you from feeling something else entirely. Anger, while not pleasant, can shield us from much more vulnerable emotions like sadness, grief, betrayal, and loss. When we’re not in a place, either in our lives or our own heads, where we can feel safe being vulnerable, we retreat to the safety of just getting mad instead.
Anger is a big, bulging Thor Björnsson standing between you and your problems. It’s powerful, reassuring (when it’s on your side), and strong. Anger feels invincible.
Sadness, on the other hand, is charmander huddling under a leaf in the pouring rain after his trainer abandoned him for being weak (which has had me messed up since 1998, BY THE WAY).
Of course we would rather feel strong and brave than weak and sad. But anger is an emotion that is directed outward; it blasts all our energy and strength at other people. That means that none of that attention is focused inward on addressing what created the hurt you’re avoiding. And as long as the original issue remains, you’ll just keep making more and more anger to keep from facing it.
So what you need to do now is figure out what’s really going on here. If what you’re feeling isn’t justified anger, what is it protecting you from feeling instead? I can’t answer that question for you, but once you come to the answer and start dealing with it head on, I think a lot of this rage will start to below itself out.
LIKE CHARMANDER’S WEE TAIL! Sorry, I’m going to need a minute.
Snark and tipples,
Got a question for Muffle? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.