5 Ingredients of an Angry Person



I’m not irritated by much. Well, there’s the reasonable stuff. Indecisive people, overattentive people, clingy people, leechy people, snooty people, wishy-washy people, emotional people, fickle people, obtuse people, naive people, people who expect an answer to a rhetorical question, and Jodie Foster. And pleonasm. And other things.

Maybe I should never leave the house.

This week I was feeling particularly misanthropic. Knowing that children can give surprising pearls of wisdom, I asked my four-year-old, “What can Mummy do when people frustrate her?”

He responded brightly, “Would you like a coffee, Mummy?”

I laughed. I’d been anticipating something completely unrelated to the question, but he’d gone straight to my In Case of Emergency coping strategy.

Coffee can solve the symptoms of the problem in the immediate instance, but it’s no good as a long term solution. If I have more than two coffees in as many hours, I feel sick, and I can’t count on the annoyances to space themselves out for me.

I’m an angry person. But it’s probably difficult for most people to see. Apart from yelling at my children, I don’t have much of a visible rage monster. I’m much too confrontation-shy for that. My furies tend to fly around my head with inner monologue in real time, to perhaps be blogged about later, with a quaint little philosophical contemplation for garnish.

Angry people aren’t just the ones throwing toasters through the window. Angry and Docile can co-exist. Just not peacefully.

Jessica Cox, founder of Canadian clinic The Anger Managers, shares in her own blog post that people struggling with anger often share other common characteristics, and that success at managing one’s anger comes at managing these other characteristics. As I read them, I tried to imagine how well those other character ingredients mapped over my own proclivities.

1. They’re bad communicators. They’re aggressive, like the toaster-window people. Or they’re passive, like the people who bottle everything up only to burst into tears later because someone put an empty milk bottle back in the fridge. Or they’re passive-aggressive, like the people who give you the silent treatment, even though their driver’s licence claims they’re an adult. They assume the worst of everybody and their motives.

How I measure: I’m glad to say I have actually become better at this. I used to be incorrigibly passive (with a bit of passive-aggression in moments of confidence), but I’m much more likely now to be calm and rational. I’ll still need the stretches of silence and distance to process things in the first place, but I’m usually willing to discuss things diplomatically after that. Which reduces the occurrences.

2. They have high expectations. Unfeasibly high. They don’t subscribe to the trite adage of ‘Aim for the moon, because if you miss then at least you’ll land among the stars’. They’ll aim for the moon because the moon’s what they want, and nothing else will do. I think people with double standards should be grouped with this characteristic. Even if they don’t aim for the moon themselves, they expect someone else to, and then get angry when that person fails.

How I measure: I’m all over the place, with this one. If someone misses a meeting, I’ll presume unforeseen circumstances got in the way, or that they just forgot about it; not that they were being lazy or vindictive. But if my husband leaves the curtains open when it’s dark outside and the light’s on inside, I growl through gritted teeth about his showcasing our things to passing opportunists because he just doesn’t care. I have a mounting list of goals for myself (read: a mounting list of things I’m failing to meet), which puts me in a perpetual state of panic, so all considered, maybe I should consider this point applicable.

3. They’re short-fused. Patience is nowhere near their skill set. With low tolerance for even minor irritations, they’re easily frustrated, and frequently stressed.

How I measure: This. Just…yes, this. All of this.

4. They’re impulsive. The censoring filter between their brain and mouth is broken or absent, and they have the self-control of a spoiled Tasmanian devil. They tend to be unable to identify the lead-up to their explosions of anger.

How I measure: I’ve maybe a bit of this. Except for the brain/mouth filter thing. My filter lets almost nothing past. I can look like a quiet recluse, when really I’m just under self-imposed gag order out of fear of the fallout that would happen otherwise. But once I decide I want to do or buy a particular thing, I want to do it right away; my decisions don’t get cool-down periods. Otherwise they’re just another bullet point loitering on my way-too-long ToDo list. I’m not sure how the inability to identify lead-ups relates, but I certainly have that difficulty. So my furies feel like they come out of nowhere.

5. They think in black and white. They see the world in absolutes. Like a child. There are only goodies and baddies; things happen always or never. Since most of reality doesn’t actually comply with an absolute designation, they frequently feel let down by it.

How I measure: Not a problem. I think little-to-nothing is actually black or white. It’s one of the reasons I don’t tend to participate in online discussions.

So…a pretty insightful list of observations by Jessica Cox, and it did give me some reassurance to see that I don’t have all of them. But the ones I do have, have left me enough to be getting on with. So for my next research experiment, I’ll pick one of those characteristics—the High Expectations one seems most feasible—and focus on improving that. Then I’ll see if anything happens to my anger, as an accidental byproduct.

How do you manage irritation? Do you bottle it up inside yourself, and give a schooled smile? (In my family we call that a ‘Christmas Smile.’ It’s the one you use when someone’s given you yet another address book, even though you’re only 12 years old and have no addresses to remember except your best friend’s—which you already know by heart—but you have to appear grateful because the little floral thing was a gift.) Do you lash out in rudeness, believing that as long as remarks are honest, it’s okay? Do you give a schooled smile at the time, then complain about the offender to the next person who stops long enough to say Hello, How Are You?

More importantly…do any of these five ingredients contribute to your irritation in the first place?


(2) Comments

  • Deborah Makarios
    05 Aug 2016

    Christmas smile… I’ll have to remember that one.
    I’m the kind of person who doesn’t say anything at the time but then goes away and ferments about it (instead of sleeping) and endlessly re-hashes all the arguments they could have had, or could one day have, or… (How I don’t have a gastric ulcer is a complete mystery. )
    I don’t say anything at the time because I’m afraid that if I start saying, I won’t be able to stop, and it will all come pouring out like a flood of vitriol. Beautifully expressed vitriol, naturally.
    But I am not the kind of person who can be at peace with a damaged relationship, so I keep my mouth shut and stew alone.
    Totally agree about the curtains, by the way. This isn’t a stage show!

    • Eve
      08 Aug 2016

      Ah, yes, endless mental rehashing… I know that one, too. You have my condolences. It seems the brain is just a petulant child who doesn’t like to be told when to go to sleep!

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