Some people spend much of their time feeling angry, fighting, and being constantly preoccupied with the thought they are being overlooked or disrespected. They are unable to live one full day without lashing out at someone else, complaining or thinking of ways to overpower others. They believe that this can solve their problems, and acting this way will lead them to a good outcome.
What do anger and resentment really cause in your brain, body, and relationships? Can fighting others truly have positive effects? Does winning an argument and outdoing someone mean you are strong?
I have never been an angry or a resentful person, even though I do sometimes lose my temper, and during my adolescence and younger years, I went through the usual rebellious and hurtful stages. Growing up, I met and shared parts of my journey with different people. Some thought that, in order to succeed in life, they must be aggressive, fight, and constantly defend themselves in a sort of constant battle to be considered, listened to, and respected.
I have learned that this is a painful way to proceed. I was often told that I was “too nice” and forgiving to be heard, so I started to reflect and wonder if there was any truth to these comments.
Despite my stubborn personality and the ability to be loud if I want to (I do have a “teacher’s voice”), I believe that it is not by yelling and screaming that one obtains something, as the wisest and most determined voices are often the kindest and gentlest. I, therefore, decided that giving anger and aggressiveness a positive value in my existence did not reflect who I was or who I wanted to be, and I would work in the opposite direction.
Many people confuse aggressive and domineering behavior with being strong, not realizing that people who are really strong are the ones who keep their cool and, after falling, stand up motivated to improve. Strong people can balance rationality and emotions, and they do not aim at being better than others. Their goal is to better themselves while building up those around them during their journey.
Strength is being able to hold on to your values in the face of difficulties and personal interests, to be true to yourself and bear the consequences, even when it would be easier and more convenient to deviate. Strength is forgiveness and, at times, even giving up. It is the capability to be driven by compassion, considering others first, and just like with physical strength, it requires training, self-discipline, determination, and sacrifice to develop and grow. It is an ongoing process of awareness, introspection, and change, which lasts a lifetime — and it is not exempt from making mistakes.
Over the years, I worked in different industries before choosing the education sector and I have been in some management positions. These gave me the chance to observe, experience, and learn from a broad range of situations.
Many people live just to compete with others — they want to “climb the ladder” and will do anything to reach a position of power, a high wage, or a certain type of reputation. Anger, resentment, and revenge are common traits that often go hand in hand with this desire to compete, and it stems from other negative feelings, including jealousy, greediness, and envy.
Even though these emotions and the consequent actions might bring some superficial and temporary episodes of fulfillment when overtaking others, in the long run, they do not lead to any truly positive outcomes.
We can look at anger and “its friends” from a number of perspectives. Physically, when a person is angry, their blood pressure, heart rate, and testosterone level increases. If this state persists, the gastric system and skin can be affected too, one can suffer from reflux and rashes, and these are only some of the possible effects. The mind and body are strictly connected and constantly feeling resentful and in a negative state of mind can make a person more inclined to become sick.
When you are bitter, your chest feels heavy and your thoughts revolve around the issue that caused that state — you are stuck. It becomes a vicious cycle, which, if not addressed, escalates and affects you more and more. Not only does anger not lead to a positive solution to your problem, it also undermines and deteriorates your relationships, especially with family and friends. Hateful and spiteful words hurt and cannot be taken back once they are pronounced.
The Buddha school believes that anger, negative feelings, and words produce karma, a black substance. For this reason, many monks cultivate their thoughts and speech by constantly cleaning and purifying them and even spending periods of time in complete silence.
Regardless of whether you agree or not with this, just reflect on how you feel when you have the courage to hold onto your values and who you truly are when you give up something to help another person, or when you know that someone or something hurt you in the past but cannot do it any longer, simply because you have forgiven and moved on. Doesn’t all this feel much better and lighter than anger and resentment?
We need to teach children to reflect and communicate, rather than prevaricate and dominate. But to be able to do this, we adults need to learn it first. Gentle, sincere thoughts, words, and actions are mighty — they go deeper and farther than hatred, anger, and resentment. In the same way, the ability to remain calm requires much more strength and leads to a better place than becoming aggressive and attacking others.