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Rabbi Shmuel Gluck - Areivim - When Anger Holds Us Back - Part 4
by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck

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When Anger Holds Us Back - Part 4

I would like to end this series discussing the other side of anger. How should people react if they find themselves involved with an angry person? There are several aspects to this question. How do they keep themselves from becoming angry? How should they understand the angry person? Should they, and if they should, how can they, help the angry person?

1. How should people control themselves in the presence of an angry person? Control does not mean "holding back" their emotions. People who feel the need to get angry and hold themselves back from it will eventually "let it all out". In addition, while they're controlling themselves, they become unhappy, tense and often, angry. Holding back their anger only serves to exchange one negative state of mind (anger) for another (frustration, resentment and/or self pity).

The secret of controlling negative feelings towards an angry person is to exchange those feelings for a clearer understanding of what that person is experiencing. Doing this will allow them to understand why they should feel empathy, not resentment, towards that angry person. They should "push aside" what they may be feeling, and understand what they should really be feeling.

Should they feel upset or feel pity? I suggest that pity is the more appropriate thought. Angry people are in their own personal jail. Their body is free to go wherever they want; however their mind is confined to a dark, uncomfortable, and small, place. Angry people often become victims of their anger.

Appreciating that angry people are victims does more than help us understand how they think. Humanizing the faults of others helps us come to terms with injustices and we, in turn, become less angry when confronting those same injustices. When people see others as wicked, or evil, it allows their personal anger to build, and places them angry, and locked, into their own personal jails. Anger, as well as other negative emotions, suck out a person's emotional strength. Having pity increases the person's emotional energy.

Even when we see the angry people as victims, that doesn't mean that we're responsible to help them. Contrary to what many people think, having pity doesn't create an obligation to help unless they want to. Similarly, believing that people are poor doesn't obligate anyone to help them financially, unless they want to. Not everyone is gifted, or otherwise able to help those in need. Even if we believe that the angry people are victims who're deserving of help, and not rejection, nevertheless we must choose wisely before undertaking them as our projects. People who are themselves grappling with unhappiness, have quick tempers, or who are too busy to dedicate the necessary time, should avoid building close relationships with angry people. In addition, those who're involved with angry people, are generally not suited to play the role of therapists.

If the angry people are spouses, parents, or children, avoiding relationships are impossible. Instead, they must learn how to deal with them by a) first protecting themselves, and b) second by helping the angry person.

a) How do we ensure that those living with angry people stay emotionally healthy. People must first realize that they aren't to blame because other people are angry. Even if the angry people complain about something specific, they're mostly reacting to their present mood and general attitude, and not to the specific event that's taking place. People generally find it easier to tolerate, and problem solve, difficult situations, when they aren't burdened by guilt or blame. In order not to become depressed, or offended, when living with angry people requires a healthy amount of self esteem. Without this, people may believe that the angry people are always right when they're angry, when in truth, the angry people are often wrong, because of their personal faults and misconceptions.

On the other hand, people who are confident can accept that the angry people's wrath is not their fault, and therefore they'll be more patient with them. Tolerating angry people is an effective decision, but they must make certain that they don't become abused. The fine line between patience and abuse must be recognized. I suggest the following rule: People should accept mistreatment by others if they are confident that it won't bother them or, when it does bother them; the bother will be short lived, not lasting longer then the event itself.

This rule assumes that the people living with angry people are not willing to help them. They’re just trying to protect them from their behavior. The decision to help, or not to help, is dependent only on whether they can succeed without significantly damaging their own wellbeing.

b) How does one help angry people?

This requires an approach that is similar to helping anyone change negative character traits; however, there are some points specifically related to angry people. (For a copy of an article about creating change in others please contact the office.)

Angry people can't see beyond perceived injustices, and are truly unaware of how much they're mistreating others. Before people react to angry people, they should first determine if the angry people are even aware of what they did. If they're aware that they've mistreated other people, then those people trying to help them can respond in a direct and somewhat aggressively manner.

On the other hand, when the angry people are unaware of how poorly they're treating others, one can't speak to them as if they understand what they did. Instead their actions, and how it makes others feel, must first be explained to them, even when it appears obvious to everyone else. The most difficult task will be to explain to the angry people how their actions negatively affect others. Since this must be done on an individual basis, people attempting to explain to angry people how their actions affect others, should ask advice from someone experienced in anger management.

In addition, angry people don't usually realize that they're angry. They truly believe that what makes them angry, will make all sensible people angry.

When one attempts to change angry people, there are some messages that must be conveyed to the angry people about how their anger is counterproductive:

a. Anger makes people less effective in fixing the problem that made them angry in the first place. Anger creates a high emotional state of mind, when problem solving requires a more logical state of mind.

b. Anger isolates a person from others. This effect lasts even when the person is not angry. Effective living requires teamwork. No one wants to be on a team with an angry person.

c. Anger usually causes more damage to the angry person then the situation that caused the anger in the first place. For instance, feeling angry for an entire day because someone broke something worth a few dollars, places a person into a bad mood for hours, when the object itself was worth only a few minutes of anger. (Assuming the item was worth $15 and the person earns $20 an hour s/he can "rightfully" be in a bad mood for 45 minutes.)

d. Angry people are not realistic of what they can expect from others. The owners of a business may become angry when employees don't care as much about the business as they care about it. The truth is that no employee will care as much about a business as an owner does.


Anger is a terrible trait, one with which many people grapple. Even when we strive to control our anger, we won’t succeed overnight. The goal should be to recognize that when we're angry, it damages us, our family, and those around us. With honesty, hard work, and time, we may find that we're better than we ever imagined.

Shmuel Gluck

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