Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Anger Frequency

The following article was written by a long-time friend in response to my posting, Dealing With Anger. Our friendship dates back to the late 1970’s to the Whole Life Learning Center days in Denver, Colorado. (See Lloyd’s bio at the end of the article.) As I mentioned in prefacing my article, people who search Google for various references to “anger” have been directed to my blog and represent about 25% of the new readers, so obviously, there is a need to consider the subject. While this article is longer than my normal postings, please set aside some time to take it in.

By Lloyd Agte

Thanks, Dan, for posting a link to one of your old posts about anger, which I had planned to blog on last year, BUT I WAS TOO ANGRY (only joking). What I wanted to write, and now can, since house-building deadlines are mostly over (read: "ignored"), was that I think we have a "Frequency Of Anger" that the mind sometimes locks onto, just like we have a "Frequency Of Depression" and a "Frequency Of Happiness." Think of the frequencies as on a radio dial. When something makes us angry, we "tune in" to the frequency of anger and thus many of the past angers and frustrations connected with anger emerge, and we are then faced with a litany of anger-making events, which seem to stoke each other and temporarily dominate the landscape of our thoughts.

There is nothing wrong with anger. Sometimes it is good. It is our assertion of a boundary, a way of telling others that they have crossed our line of moral, decent, agreed-upon, expected, etc. behavior. This is how children and students learn boundaries. Parents/teachers set boundaries and are angry when they are violated. Children/students learn to respect the boundaries set by authority and all is relatively harmonious. But if those boundaries are unreasonable, or tyrannically enforced, there will probably be established an anger that may be life-long and most likely hidden or displaced. A control-addict's anger is an overly rigid boundary that probably IS ego driven, and it does great damage to those around him/her. It is a form of emotional abuse like verbal abuse. But, yes, Dan, you are correct in saying that we are taught not to have anger. So that when we do have anger we feel guilty and suppress it. Frequently children are denied their right to anger, often by an angry/controlling parent. We are talking control addiction on the part of an adult here, a compulsive disorder that can and has ruined thousands of lives. So the victim of a control addict's anger probably needs serious help, and of course so does the control addict, but he/she never sees it as a problem. Their ego insecurity is covered over with many layers of compulsive disorder, which they do not see as a problem until (if ever) they crash against the consequences of one or more of their addictions.

And while it is important to come to terms with past unresolved childhood anger, it sometimes is impossible, particularly when the person with whom we are angry is no longer living. Christian forgiveness is one way. But it is also important to dial ourselves off the "Frequency of Anger" so that it is not a closed loop of anger feedback.

Often there is something in our immediate life that is making us angry. It could be another person, or our own behavior, anger with ourselves because we are not doing more, accomplishing a task we have set out for ourselves, or anger at the government or some institution. There are obviously an infinite number of possibilities to cause anger, but the three somewhat arbitrarily listed above seem as good a place as any to start.

In the first case, anger at another person needs to be resolved on a joint (ideally) basis or internally resolved. This, basically, is what Dan writes about so admirably in his blog, so I won't go into it here. But what Dan seems to be saying is that what was assumed to be a resolved issue of anger, emotionally, sometimes crops up as a full heat of unresolved anger. This suggests that there is something behind the incident that may or may not be the fault of the other person. We are blindsided with the surprise attack of anger. Do we need to exercise Christian forgiveness, seek revenge, beat on a pillow, or nurse our anger so that we don't fall into the same trap with someone else in a similar circumstance in the future? But we do need to do something to keep the anger from debilitating our daily functioning and from starting the anger feedback loop. So writing down the reason for the anger would be a good start, then dial in another frequency and forget about it. And if it won't go away, set aside a certain time of the day, say from 12:00 to 12:10 every day and just be mad as hell about it and work up all that anger and imagine revenge, and whatever, but then at 12:11, shut it off and go on about your daily life until 12:00 the next day. I call this "programmed anger frequency."

In the second case, anger at ourselves, we should probably first stop what we are doing and do something else for a time. There is a thin line between frustration and anger. The can opener won't work right. The sink is plugged. The weather is terrible. As in most cases, anger is not a solution, only an expression of our belief that the world should maintain itself to our liking at all times. This is where we need to take a breath and "tune out" the frequency of anger. Anger can be a learned habit, just like turning on a radio set to a certain frequency every day. We hear that small spectrum of information on that particular station and nothing else. It sounds stupid, I know, but singing the song "Whistle while you work" (or whistling it) can give some humorous perspective to our conditioned-anger response. Also time for meditation, relaxation, physical workout, walk, whatever. The world will not stop if the house is not spotless for the party, the dog will probably wreck another screen door and the kids will not behave in the future, either. And most likely we have started objectifying the world around us: it's the crap "out there" that is the source of the problem. I call this "dial another frequency."

Anger at ourselves for not living up to our own self-imposed goals is something only we can resolve. But doing something else for a time, taking a vacation, practicing meditation, socializing, and so on is needed to break the bonds of burnout. In my own case, I have been building a house for over three years, and when I find that I have what I call "a very short fuse," and start yanking cords, kicking stuff out of the way, I know that it is time to stop for a while, at least clean up the work areas, and perhaps change tasks for a time. In all of these three examples, at the height of frustration and anger, many (it seems like ALL sometimes) the past frustrations and angers connected with building, with teaching, with being a student, all of which have high personal expectations we set for ourselves come to the fore. And even personal relationships, (the clumsy, awkward, or failed ones of course) in the past keep trying to spring to mind, and I realize that I am on the Frequency Of Anger and that I must break it before I destroy something, either through inattention or deliberately through anger. I say to myself, "Let that go for now." And I will be the first to admit that it is easier said than done. Robert Persig's novel "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is valuable in showing how one needs to become one with what one is working on to produce quality. When we become angry it is often at something "out there" and as we are all directly connected with everything in the universe, it is "in here" simultaneously. I call this "tune in to the frequency of self."

Anger at the government, employer, any institution is probably best resolved through direct political action. We are still, at least in theory, a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a lot of work to change any large institution, but working with others to change it produces less destructive anger than the slow burn of feeling hopelessly victimized by it day after day. Unfortunately there is at present a fairly substantial body of people occupying the right wing of our political system that seem to be daily consumed with anger to the point of vitriolic hatred. They are angry at the political system, angry at the President, at immigrants, at various if not all races, at welfare, at "liberals," at young people. Were they to become engaged in some aspect of the political process, they would have to tune out the anger frequency long enough to turn their position into constructive legislation (at least from their perspective) and in the process the issues angering them could be debated in a give-and-take exchange. This would be democracy in action rather than hatred in emails and bumper stickers. This would be much more beneficial to them personally and to society than passing on hate-filled emails, which feeds anger in its feedback loop but does little else. I call this "create a new frequency."

The "Frequency" theory also works with depression. Waking up in the night depressed, lying in bed thinking about a depressing situation often brings up the ghost of depressions past and the feedback loop starts again. This could have a physiological cause, such as low blood sugar, which releases adrenaline and gives us fight-or-flight (and both sometimes) nightmares, which can be temporarily relieved through raiding the refrigerator at midnight and eating slow release sugars such as in carrots (my technique), and waiting for the blood sugar to come up in 20 minutes or so. But in any case those depression causing events of the past won't get resolved during a sleepless night, so best to jot down the depressing "events" on paper or in a journal and work on them after a good night's sleep. Probably the next morning when the depression or anger frequency is tuned out, some will seem silly to be concerned about. Same with anger. Lying awake with anger or sleeping with anger is a debilitating stress on the system, which is rarely productive. Throwing open the window, as in the '80s movie "Broadcast News," and shouting "I'm sick and tired and I'm not going to take it any more" is healthy because the true self has found honest expression, but it probably won't do as much good as sitting down and writing down a list of "Why I am so damned mad" and then doing something about some of the key items on the list. With the anger objectified on a list, solutions can start and the cognitive brain can take over from the frequency of the emotional brain (not scientific, I know, but then I never claimed to be a scientist).

We cannot totally stop the mind from thinking what it wants to think, which is probably the best thing and worst thing about the mind. Our unconscious boils up in our sleep and tries to reconcile tensions in our dreams. Many drugs, especially recreational drugs, including alcohol, and all sleep-inducing prescriptions and over-the-counter sleep drugs, depress Delta sleep, the few minutes of time when we actively dream, every 90 minutes or so throughout the night. (I recently saw this disputed on TV, saying that "maybe" we dream all the time and only remember when we wake up after Delta sleep, but as the brain waves are so radically different during Delta sleep, I hold to my original statement, with deference to an exploration to new studies I need to look at.) In short, to fight anger and depression we need to lead drug-free lives to let out unconscious do its job for us when we have "down time" rather than competing with our waking frustrations during the day.

Anger is part of the human condition. Wrath, one of the Seven Deadly Sins listed by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century, is something each of us has to learn to manage. Limited forms of the Deadly Sins of Pride, Avarice, and Envy are actually ENCOURAGED by our society as engines of a vibrant Capitalist economic system. But an excess of them results in our current economic collapse and depression. So too is limited anger a healthy reaction to social buffeting dealt out to us in every day life. (If enough of us get angry at the rude driver, he may change his ways--and then he may shoot us, too). But in excess, anger is destructive to ourselves and others, and we need to learn to recognize it as a problem to be solved or a frequency we need to manage, dial away from, or find a substitute for in order for us to get on with our creative life.

--Lloyd Agte
After graduating high school in Plummer Idaho, birthplace, worked at Boeing in Seattle for three years as a Final Assembly Inspector before attending University of Idaho, graduating with a B.A. English, 1964, � Received an M.A. at Sul Ross University, Texas in 1966, then taught as an Instructor at the University of Wyoming until 1968, married during this time. �Attended Kent State University, Ohio as Graduate Student and Teaching Fellow until 1972. �Worked as a carpenter in Lewiston Idaho, summer and fall of 1972, toured Mexico spring of 1973 and began teaching at Casper College in fall of 1973. �Awarded Ph.D in English 1980, continued teaching English, Film Studies, Video Production, and Multi-Media Production at Casper College and University of Wyoming Extension at Casper College until retirement in 2004. �Divorced in 1990 and remarried in 1996. �Currently living with wife Barbara Joe in a home that we have been building since 2005.


Shawny said...

an incredibly great article one that I relate to*
love shawny

The Logistician said...

This is a fascinating discussion to me Dan, because I view the issue of anger so simplistically. In my mind, anger is that immediate, primal, visceral response to something that offends us and which we dislike.

The issue then becomes what to do. As a general proposition, I have found that if one simply walks away, says nothing, and takes the time to consider one's response, you're probably going to be far better off. Once you've calmed down, you can then relate your concerns in a fashion or manner far more likely to effectively communicate with the other person.

It's just that simple to me. Obviously I am one of the less sophisticated out here since very few seemed to agree with me when I posted an article on anger on my blog.

Any athlete will tell you that it takes you off your game, gets you distracted, and consumes your energy. Why go there, or even entertain it longer than 1 second?

Dan Perin said...

Reggie, this article has stirred up the "innards" of a number of folks. The most intense have come to me in emails rather than comments here. I really do not think you are off base in your manner of responding to anger. Each of us determines our appropriate response based on our experience and other factors through which we have learned what happens when we respond in a certain way. While I think some responses probably get us to more positive conclusions than others, I don't think it is our job to tell others what they must do. I do think we have the option of demonstrating in our life positive actions that others may want to follow.
I realize this leaves the subject up in the air. Why even write about it except to offer experience and options?
Thanks for your response!

julia said...

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Dan Perin said...

Julie: Thanks for your comment. It is always good to find that an article provides some specific support to our readers. Hope you will visit us again.