Nearly 2,000 years ago, Roman philosopher Seneca taught: “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.” This philosophy still rings true today, and today’s political and social arenas would surely benefit from practicing delayed anger.
It’s easy to become angry quickly. Cruel injustice occurs on a daily basis around the world, causing people to fall quickly into anger. Many think of anger as a primary emotion, when in reality, anger is a secondary emotion in response to a vulnerable primary emotion according to HealthyPsych. Those primary emotions can include pain, confusion, sadness, loneliness, fear and discomfort. Anger essentially becomes a defense mechanism against vulnerability.
According to the Gottman Institute, anger itself can be seen like an iceberg. At the tip of the iceberg, we see signs of anger, such as resentment, aggression and hatred. But below the surface are other primary emotions making a person feel vulnerable, and anger is trying to protect this person’s vulnerability. Looking at the entire iceberg, we can see the angry person is only trying to protect themselves from appearing weak or hurt.
Nobody is immune from the temptation of reacting with anger. But, everyone has the ability to control anger. Controlling anger is found in simply pausing during the moment anger is triggered. Delaying our angry reactions helps us understand why we are angry, and instead of inflicting damage through expressing anger, we can recognize the true emotions we are experiencing and find genuine reconciliation.
But how do we obtain the self-control to pause ourselves when we feel anger rising? It’s actually more simple than you would think. One way is to simply take a few deep breaths. Deep breaths help restore yourself from the physical reactions anger causes, which can help to identify what you really feel. Another way is to step back from the situation triggering your anger. Leaving the triggering situation helps to calm down and obtain clarity for your thoughts, therefore recognizing the primary emotions you feel. Other management tactics can be found in this Mayo Clinic article.
Our local and national political arenas have rapidly grown saturated with anger. It’s easy to identify the sources of anger affecting both sides. But the anger in politics is in reaction to neglected primary emotions. Who doesn’t read in the news about cases of prejudice, violence, hate crimes, spreading illnesses or failed government policies, and not feel fearful, hurt or disheartened? Can all sides agree we are collectively floundering? What needs to be done to dissipate anger and foster unity?
A simple answer comes to mind. It’s a belief everyone can agree on, no matter what background. We can all be willing to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Next time a friend expresses their pain from a moment of racism they faced, empathize and mourn with them instead of letting collective anger mask the pain. Next time someone from the LGBTQ community shares their hurt from being told homosexual couples can’t marry in the temple, empathize with them and comfort them instead of mutually surrendering to a resentful disposition toward Church leaders. Next time someone cuts you off while driving, consider how the driver might be having a bad day instead of angrily labeling them idiotic. Next time an injustice occurs on a national scale, mourn the victims instead of just pointing blameful fingers.
Anger is corrosive and only divides. But anger doesn’t have to control us; we can control our anger. Control is found in pausing ourselves in the heat of anger, removing ourselves from the angering situation and evaluating what primary emotions we are experiencing. Seneca’s philosophy about delaying anger to remedy it remains true today. By delaying anger, we can better understand each other and find true healing in the process. It’s time we embrace this timeless philosophy to soothe our anger, regardless of the large chasm of differences we may have.
— Dallin Wilks