The earliest incident I remember of my temper getting out of hand was over something trivial. My older cousin had been needling me until I snapped: I grabbed a scythe and swung it down at him as hard as I could. He jumped back and I missed, burying it deep into the ground, unable to pull it back out. He took me to the ground and into a judo choke hold until I calmed down. I was eight or nine when that happened, I’m not sure anymore.
This wasn’t the last time my bad temper got the best of me, nor the worst. Throughout my youth and early twenties, I flew off the handle many times. I’m immensely lucky that I didn’t seriously injure or kill somebody and end up in jail or dead. I’m even luckier in that I realized early on in life that I needed to control my temper or I would eventually mess up my own life. The pivotal moment came after I kicked somebody in the ribs and he was hospitalized. He didn’t deserve that, there was no reason for me to kick so hard, other than that I was angry. So I went looking for solutions to my anger issue.
I learned that there are many different types of therapy or approaches to fix this problem. I tried several and found behaviour therapy, reframing my thought process, progressive relaxation, meditation and humour to work well for me. These might or might not work for you, we’re all different.
After years of hard work, I progressively got better at staying in control and rarely if ever lose my cool anymore. I’ve come to the point that people who’ve known me for years have never seen me angry and say I am the calmest, most patient person they know. But here’s the uncomfortable truth self-help gurus don’t tell you: my temper never went away. It’s still there. I have simply learned to not let it rule me.
Every day, I get up and tell myself to not be an asshole and hurt people just because I am pissed off. No matter how easy it would be to do so.
Every day, my temper gives me opportunities to beat people up and ruin my life with the consequences:
- The idiot who cuts me off in traffic, I’d ram him off the road if I acted on my temper.
- The arrogant bastard who gives a snarky comment in a meeting, I’d gladly slap him in the face until he starts crying.
- The wannabe tough guy who eyeballs me at the gas station, I wouldn’t mind taking him on to see the look on his face when he finds out he can’t win and I won’t stop.
After all these years, my first reaction still tends to be the same: my temper wants to flare and take over. Then I tell it not to.
As I got older I got better at this, to the point where it has become automatic and I don’t end up with a big adrenaline dump anymore. I expect to always have to work, at it, until I die.
Why do I bring all this up?
Letting anger control you is a sure-fire way to get into trouble and attract violence.
We all know we’re supposed to avoid violence and de-escalate problems. Yet we continue to see CCTV or cell phone footage of people ignoring this advice and letting their anger get the better of them until fists start flying. If you take an honest look at your own violent encounters (or near misses), you’ll likely discover your anger and other emotions were a determining factor.
Violence takes at least two parties: you and the other guy. You are half the equation. The decisions you make during conflicts, regardless of what your monkey brain is screaming for you to do, are ultimately yours. Avoiding violence is easy in theory, but once a strong emotion like anger is thrown into the mix, it becomes much harder to stop from engaging the other guy when you should de-escalate. The consequences of that violence can leave your life in ruins or end with you bleeding out on a pavement.
If you are quick to anger, here’s an empowering truth for you:
Your temper is not a force of nature. You can learn to control it.
It isn’t easy. You have to question yourself, your motives, your emotions, your mind-set, your decisions, everything. You have to find a balance between doing that while at the same time avoiding “paralysis of analysis.” What’s more, you only get the benefits of self-control after you do all the work. But once you do, your odds of successfully avoiding violence increase and you can live your life more safely.