Trying to live a life less irritable

Anger has always been a vice of mine. Like Loki in the picture above, I’m likely to reply to “have a nice day” with “don’t tell me what kind of day to have,” even if I don’t say it out loud.

Anger is the easiest emotion for me to summon: always there when I need it and often when I don’t. My anger seems to be just below the surface of my life, a molten lake that I can tap into at any time to fuel my interactions with the world around me.

Anger makes me into someone I don’t like: a man with a hard face and a vicious tongue who hectors and bullies and who will not be appeased. Sometimes he’s a man who gets things done. Mostly he’s a man who hurts the people around him and makes things worse.

Yet even though I claim not to like this man, I spend too much of my time being him credibly to repudiate him. He is a man who is not afraid, not depressed, not powerless and not worried about the consequences. There are times when it pays to be him.

Perhaps that’s why I sometimes nurture my anger, holding it close to me to keep its flame alive. I am a little in love with the joy of rage.

I’m not a people person. I’m high on insight, low on empathy, low on affiliation, strongly resistant to being told what to do. It’s the perfect recipe for “Does Not Play Well With Others”.  Yet my job depends on influencing other people and I’m fairly good at it. I stay calm. I sound reasonable. I’ve learnt to make myself authoritative but approachable.

There is very little room for anger in my work life and I am always suspicious of it when it tries to raise its head.

When I’m under non-work-related stress, (accidents, injuries, sickness, death, actual or perceived threats to the safety of those I care about) I tend to stay calm. I shut my emotions down and do what needs to be done by riding the adrenaline and staying focused on solving the problem.

This is effective but the ride isn’t free; I pay for it later. The emotions I shut down at work or at home will find a way out. Days after the stimulus that created them; my emotions can be triggered by something much less dramatic: I find myself crying while watching a movie or raging in response to a trivial conflict.

I hate this lack of control.

Actually, I can live with the crying or the apparently inexplicable sadness, because I can limit their effect on others.

The anger worries me because it always finds a target, a victim if you like and because I am too good at it for comfort.

A while back I realised that my most frequent state of mind, when not sedated by a book or a film or writing something, was irritation. Irritation is the advanced guard of anger.

When I looked objectively, I realised I have very little to be irritated about and a great deal to be thankful for.

So I did what I always do in these circumstances: research.

What I found out is that irritability and anger in males is often a sign of depression. In men from their mid-fifties onwards, it may also be symptomatic of hormonal changes associated with drops in testosterone. This is given the pop-science label “Irritable Male Syndrome”.

What I take from this is that, as a male in my mid-fifties with a long-standing weakness for anger, things are likely to get worse rather than better unless I do something about it.

So now I’m in search of a life less irritable. This is not the same as a search for happiness. I love being happy. I just think it’s unrealistic to expect happiness to last. Perhaps the more sustainable state is to achievement contentment.

My first step is allowing myself more time each day for things that make me happy.

My second step is to try and avoid the things that make me irritable.

My third step is to try and replace irritability with humour where I can

My fourth step is to let more of my emotions out when the stimulus for them is present.

My fifth step… well I’m going to focus on the first four and see what happens before I add a fifth step.



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