One of my coworkers is the second angriest person I’ve ever known. He once threatened to burn down his boss’s house. Then he blamed his boss for reporting him to the police.
My coworker said, “I was just kidding.”
Angry people are never just kidding, especially when they say they are. An angry person doesn’t know how to tell a joke. They mislabel threats and insults in a pathetic attempt to hide their cruelty.
My mom wins gold in the anger games. She drove everyone away — even her own children. We didn’t speak to her for years. She died alone in the only care facility in the state that would admit her. Even before she was mentally ill, she was a deeply angry person.
The anatomy of angry people
There’s a difference between being angry and being an angry person. Everyone feels anger. It’s healthy to express your anger, as long as you do it with a little self-awareness.
A mature person says, “I’m frustrated because of X.” They say, “I’m angry at you because of Y.”
An angry person doesn’t do this. Angry people lose their tempers, but never actually talk about what’s bothering them — and they never deal with it. So their anger just builds on itself.
Angry people make themselves angry, even when there’s no reason. They secretly like being angry. Their anger at other people and things distracts them from their own problems. But their own problems are what’s causing their anger. They swirl in a vortex of their own design.
Don’t do what angry people do
Raw, unprocessed anger poisons your logic and creativity. It hurts your relationships and even your physical health. It will keep you from accomplishing anything.
Like many smart people have said before, one of the best ways to get better at anything is simple. Identify bad habits, and put a check on them. It won’t solve everything. But it does a lot.
Here’s what angry people do:
1. They have imaginary arguments in their heads.
We’re all guilty of this to some extent. We predict someone will behave a certain way, and start revving up for a confrontation. We think through what they’ll say, and how we’ll respond.
We prime ourselves for some kind of showdown, complete with hurtful little mic drops before we walk off.
This is some truly insidious, unproductive behavior. You’ve built up pointless animosity toward someone you care about. The worst part is that nothing has even happened yet, and you’re already angry at them.
This is why angry people blow up for no apparent reason. The rest of us try to avoid these imaginary arguments. They don’t make you feel good. They accomplish nothing. Angry people live in this state. They’re always preparing for their next argument.
The takeaway: Don’t turn an imaginary argument into a real one. Ask yourself why you’re making someone else the bad guy. Realize that you’re really just arguing with yourself, and putting a different face on emotions you don’t want to own.
2. They go from zero to sixty with no warning.
Anger exists on a spectrum, just like any emotion. There’s slight irritation on the low end, frustration in the middle, and fury at the top. We can feel exasperation and scorn, too.
Part of becoming a mature person is developing a vocabulary for all your emotions, and a range of appropriate responses. You could also think about it like a toolbox with lots of tools.
Deeply angry people don’t have a wide vocabulary for their emotions. They don’t have a wide tool box.
They try to solve every problem with a hammer at 60 mph. It works in the short term. When you blow up at someone, you tend to get your way. This is what my coworker does. He bullies everyone into submission. He pitches fits and storms out of offices.
This kind of behavior catches up with them. Over time, nobody wants to work with them anymore. Nobody invites them over for dinner. They wind up becoming human hot potatoes.
The takeaway: Find a more specific word than “angry” to describe what you’re feeling. Unleash your temper in private if you have to. Wait until you’ve calmed down before confronting someone.
3. They cling to grudges.
Mature people don’t always have to forgive and forget. You don’t have to be friends with someone who screwed you over. You don’t have to like your boss, or even respect them. You can be blunt about who you want in your life, and who you don’t. That’s not the same as holding a grudge.
Angry people hold lots of grudges. They tell the same stories over and over about some handful of wrongs done to them. They seek payback. They try to turn everyone against their own personal nemesis.
They keep their grudges hot by reliving all of their bad experiences. This prevents them from moving on.
Deep down, angry people don’t want a resolution to their grudge. They don’t even want an apology. They want to annihilate everyone who mistreated them, which is impossible. Destroying someone only happens in novels and movies. In real life, revenge plots usually land you in jail. Deeply angry people know that on some level, so they settle for a smoldering resentment that hurts them more than anyone else.
The takeaway: Remove problem people from your life, then you won’t need grudges. When you remember what they did, be glad you don’t have to deal with them anymore.
4. They judge everyone around them.
Everyone knows how easy it is to judge someone else. It elevates you, however briefly, and gives you an illusion of control. We all judge each other at times. Mature people know how pointless it is. It’s not that they never judge anyone. They just catch themselves. They compensate. They try to give people a second or third chance.
Most importantly, mature people want to be wrong.
They like to admit when they’ve misjudged someone. They like it when someone proves themselves smarter or more capable than previously thought. And they’re okay feeling silly about it.
Angry people judge everyone all the time.
They like making the worst assumptions about anyone who’s doing better than them. They love to supply malicious motives, because it excuses their own awful mindsets and behaviors. They don’t have to try so hard, if everyone’s just as bad as they are. Judgement leads to gossip. Angry people love gossip, except when it’s about them.
The takeaway: You don’t have to judge someone if you know for a fact that they’re this side of a criminal. Let life judge them. Meanwhile, leave them alone. Don’t talk about them simply to make yourself feel better, or for some perverse form of entertainment.
5. They willfully misinterpret everything.
Sometimes you just don’t have anything to get that angry about. Mature people love peace and quiet. Angry people don’t. When everything’s going fine, they need to start something.
Misunderstanding someone is the easiest way to start a conflict. Half the world’s drama comes from poor communication.
Angry people go out of their way to bend words around until they show no resemblance to their original meaning or intent. They spend their time looking for threats and insults.
They love being offended.
Being offended justifies the senseless, shapeless anger already inside an angry person, and gives them an outlet for it. In an ironic twist: they turn around and tell everyone else not to be so easily offended.
The takeaway: There’s more than enough misunderstanding and poor communication in the world. Don’t add to it by accusing people of saying and doing things they clearly didn’t.
6. They go out of their way to be jerks.
Angry people crave conflict to distract themselves from the problems in their lives, ones they could fix if they were just a little nicer. Instead they cut people off in traffic, throw fast food wrappers everywhere, and create unnecessary problems at checkout lines.
Angry people talk in movie theaters.
These people are unconsciously punishing the world for their own misery. They want someone to ask them to be quiet, so they can act offended and then start an argument. They want to get thrown out by the manager so they can complain about how unfair they were treated. Then they want to call the movie theater every day demanding a refund.
The other day, I read a story online about a woman who accosted someone at Target. The woman demanded help finding something. He wasn’t even wearing a red shirt, but she kept insisting he worked there. That’s not just entitlement. That’s deep, unmanaged anger.
The takeaway: Anyone who treats a stranger like crap has a lot of anger issues. Don’t take it personally.
7. They blame everyone else for their smallest problems.
Mature people don’t make a huge deal out of not getting their way. They don’t go around looking for enemies to explain every single imperfection in their lives. They know that the world is imperfect by design.
Angry people need everything just so, partly because they know nothing can ever be perfect. It’s a great cause to get behind.
They never run out of flaws to point out. These faults are always someone else’s doing, and they always completely explain why they’re unhappy. Even when they do have to finally admit a mistake, they find a way to make it 40 percent someone else’s fault.
Mature people seek out causes and explanations, including ones they’re responsible for. Angry people look for excuses. They also put small problems under magnifying glasses.
The takeaway: Let other people’s little mistakes go. You make them too, all the time. If you think you’re perfect, that’s just because everyone else gives you a break when you screw up.
8. They make empty threats.
A threat is a serious thing. When a mature person makes a threat, they actually don’t want to follow through on it. But they will. That’s why they don’t make threats very often.
Angry people make threats all the time.
As a result, their threats are meaningless. Nobody takes them seriously. This in turn makes them angry, and they make more threats.
One of the biggest threats angry people make is to quit. It’s actually the threat they’re least capable of delivering on. Nobody wants to hire an angry person who quit their last job out of spite.
It’s actually funny to watch sometimes — until they start upping the ante on their threats. This is how they wind up threatening to burn down someone’s house, even if they know they never will.
The takeaway: You’re better off never making threats. Making threats is addictive, and every one you make means less.
9. They ignore the beauty in the world.
Even on your worst days, you can still probably go for a walk — or just sit outside for a while. You can look at photo.
You can watch some porn.
It’s actually hard to stay angry for very long. Staying angry is hard. You have to keep thinking about unpleasant things.
You have to not want to do anything else but fume and complain.
Meanwhile, beauty diffuses anger. This is probably why the angriest people don’t appreciate art, music, literature, or movies without explosions. These are natural antidotes to anger. They won’t always solve your problems, but they’ll always help a little.
The takeaway: If you’re furious, seek beauty now. Make art. Deal with the thing that upset you later.
10. They seek out conflict and discomfort.
Mature people will remove themselves from unpleasant or stressful situations if they can. They take earbuds to the gym so they don’t have to listen to that guy who talks on the phone while cycling. Angry people want discomfort. It’s the same reason they do everything else on this list.
The takeaway: Don’t complain about something you can change, through direct or indirect action.
Managing anger isn’t about repressing it
Mismanaged anger is the biggest obstacle to anyone’s success or happiness, however you define the two.
It strangles all the good ideas out of you.
Even jealousy and envy are just mismanaged forms of anger toward someone who’s doing better than you.
Anger isn’t a bad thing if you know how to use it. First you have to see your anger, and identify the source. Anger doesn’t make you powerful. But dealing with your anger does. Replacing counterproductive outlets for anger with productive ones is a good place to start.