Dealing with Anger (2)

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Reminder: anger=feeling upon being provoked; rage=reaction to angry feeling (mild to severe; resentment=retaining a grudge

 

The major problem with rage is that we learned that it works, for the short term. And that is what influences behavior.

 

It’s very similar to what happens with the drug addict. The drug gives him an immediate pleasurable sensation, and even though he may pay bitterly for it in the long run, he is not discouraged by the long-term negative consequences. Rather, his continued use of the drug is reinforced by the short-term effect, even if it lasts only for several minutes.

 

From childhood on, rage has produced results. We cried or threw a tantrum, and we got what we wanted. We learned that rage works. As adults, we shout at someone and we get results. An employer screams at an employee and the latter does what the boss wants, or the husband screams at the wife and she does his bidding. Sure, the employee gets to dislike the boss and may not be loyally devoted to him, and the wife builds up resentment toward the husband, but these are long term consequences. The short term gain is what usually determines our behavior. From early life through adulthood, rage is reinforced.

 

The Talmud says it clearly. We should calculate the short term gain of a sin against the long term loss (Ethics of the Fathers 2:1). This is true of rage as well.

 

A CEO was referred to me by his cardiologist, who felt that his chest pain was due to tension. I found that he ran his company with an iron hand, and if someone did something of which he disapproved, he exploded. I was able to convince him that he would accomplish more by making his comments softly. Eventually, he achieved this. One day his secretary called and said, “Dr. Twerski, whatever you are doing with him, do more of it. It is a pleasure to work for him now.” He achieved a much better work-performance from his employees.

 

This is nothing new. The Talmud says “A person who is easily angered cannot be a teacher” (ibid 2:4), because his flare-ups will discourage students from asking questions. The Talmud also says that a person who is easily enraged ultimately is left with nothing other than his rage. In other words, his short term gain is undone by the long-term loss.

 

The first step in rage control, as well as in addiction, is to put our intellect to work and reverse the pattern we learned in childhood. As intelligent people, we should focus on the long term results, and make the calculations as instructed in Ethics of the Fathers realizing that we stand to gain much more by controlling our rage than by expressing it.

 

I’m sure you’d like to know right now how to avoid rage. We’ll get to that eventually, but first we must understand more about anger, so be patient. Incidentally, being patient is in itself a deterrent to rage.