Advice From the Trenches

Grrrr!: Should this reader embrace the anger or expel it?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I want to know what I can do with my anger, and if I hear one more person suggest meditation I’m gonna slap them. I DO meditate. I do yoga every day. I’ve been to therapy, I’ve tried medication. None of it does a damn thing to change my reflexive nature. Through good times and bad, my most readily accessible emotion when things screw up is anger.

I have come to accept my anger. I think there may be a genetic component to it. My grandfather, I hear, was one of the angriest men ever. He was on his way to becoming a top prize fighter when his dad died and he had to take care of the family. He channeled that boxer’s aggression and anger into success – even during the depression, he rose to the top of his sales force and never knew when to quit. I do think that anger can propel people past their comfort zone … if it doesn’t tear them apart first.

So this is why I am wondering if you have anything other than the usual “yoga, meditation, bipolar meds, blah blah blah” BS to offer me here. I think I’m getting ahead of my other coworkers in our company because my drive is greater than theirs. I don’t want my personality artificially altered. I just need something that can expel excess agitation when it builds up, before I jump out of my own skin. Got any bright ideas?

Angry Alice

Dr B says: Do what your grandfather did. The technical term is called sublimation. Join a sport that will utilize your aggressive nature as a plus and use up most of that energy for the day. Studies show running a mile will give you two hours of calm focus. You can take a run every two hours at work if it makes you calm and productive you can probably get it worked into your accepted work plan. You can always get a medical note from your doctor if your work requires it. Or you can do what a lot of school kids do – join a sports team and practice in a 5:30am slot. Go to the gym, take up lifting. Any of these things have worked for a lot of people. If it doesn’t work for you, then you might have to rethink your preconceived ideas about medications to adjust your genetic predisposition. Why not? It is just what the medications are for. Those that target anger work very well if the patient is not living in a stress-producing life.

C says: I beg to differ. This textbook advice based on academic studies doesn’t address a very key issue here: There is a huge difference between anger and energy. Running and team sports work off excess energy, but if physical activities were all it took to tame anger, then you would not see so many professional athletes being charged with acts of  brutality and violence off the field. Let’s face it, Alice – if it is your nature to get angry at just about everything, I doubt if team sports or running will calm you. You will probably just end up getting pissed off at your bumbling teammates or your untied shoe laces. 

There’s something else going on here and you need to address whatever has turned your energy into anger. A wise person once said: “The cause of all anger is unmet expectations.” So which of your expectations are not being met? Figure it out! This is a different world than the one your grandpa lived in. During the Depression it was a dog eat dog world and powerful, ruthless men prevailed. In our modern world, success in civilized society requires the ability to cooperate and gain the support of others. With your attitude, you are just as likely to eventually be met with lawsuits as with success.

Current stress is not always the source of anger – people who were abused as children have an increased risk of something called intermittent explosive disorder. This can cause seemingly unfounded rage, but the source is in the past. A number of mental health disorders can cause disruptive emotions. Back in Grandpa’s day, a great deal of abusive behavior was written off as the natural entitlement of powerful men, but your grandfather may have been mentally ill. 

As far as the “why not?” advice on medication – this is what makes ME angry. We have an incredibly casual attitude toward taking pills in this country. Advertising and the pharmaceutical industry have conned us into believing that all it takes to improve our lives is the right pill. The problem is that this idea is not making us any healthier, happier or wiser. According to international health studies, the United States has some of the worst mental health–related outcomes of any industrial country, including the highest suicide rate and second-highest drug-related death rate. 

Medications are for sick people who can’t live without them. Anger with a real source has got to be faced, not buried. And self-control is something every adult needs to learn. Don’t confuse anger with power, Alice. It is just another negative emotion that will ultimately lead to only more of the same.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at