Why are there so many angry people in the world? At the gym the other day, some of us were talking about this. And I have a simple hypothesis. Anger is often an avoidance response.
Here's what I mean: Many people who express anger over little things, or even for no apparent reason at all, are subconsciously attempting to deflect an experience of certain other emotions that they will do almost anything to avoid.
This is the idea. There are certain heavy emotions like sadness, grief, disappointment, anxiety, discouragement, fear, and guilt. Such feelings can weigh on us. They can bring us down. We can be terribly oppressed by them. And when we acknowledge and express these emotions, that often just makes us feel worse. We wallow. We're stricken. We're crushed even lower.
And, on another side of the negativity spectrum, there are hot emotions like frustration, irritation, and - most of all - anger. When you express these emotions, it can be cathartic. You release the negative energy. You get it out. You stomp your foot, or throw a book, or punch a pillow. You curse. You send the power of the feelings through your voice or limbs and actively discharge it out into the world where you think it can't hurt you. Well, maybe you don't do this, but many people do.
You may know people who act like this all the time. In a situation where another person in their place would be feeling bad, or sad, or anxious, they instead turn the tables and attack someone who happens to be nearby, and often for transparently bogus reasons. But by doing this, they send any unpleasant inner energy they might be feeling out into the world for other people to deal with. They've transformed their guilt into offense, or their anxiety into rage. There's nothing wrong with them, they think. It's you, or the boss, or the neighbor, or the colleague, or the so-called friend who's just a jerk and the only source of any real problems in the situation.
It seems like many people won't allow themselves an authentic experience of the heavy emotions and, to avoid one or more of them, will deflect and externalize in these ways, instead. So, when you find yourself in the midst of an explosion of some hot emotion on the part of anyone close to you, and you can't figure out how it makes any sense in context, or in its degree or focus, consider that it may simply be avoidance behavior. It may be deflecting something deeper and too heavy to bear. And then, the only effective way to respond is to try to help your irate friend identify and deal with the real source of the problem, to the extent that he or she will let you. Otherwise, just let it go. It's not really about you, or the boss, or the neighbor, at all.
At least, that's my opinion as a simple philosopher utterly untrained in psychology, or psychiatry, or any of the disciplines that would actually cost you something to consult on such an issue. But then again, as they say, you get what you pay for. And if you disagree with me, just don't get hot about it. Ok?