God grant me the serenity, dammit!

The last time I got really angry about something, I really didn’t.

It’s rare that something upsets me to the point of being angry anymore. Disgusted, yes. Irritated, sure. But angry, almost never. I credit four years of a psychotherapy degree, 15 years in practice, and six years clean and sober for that rarity.

Anger is always the second emotion.

Anyone who’s read a book on managing emotions knows this but fewer know what it really means.

People don’t actually get angry, but as one of my favorite instructors once put it, “They should all over themselves.”

Martha was one of those weird professors with a new age twist on pretty much everything. But having run out of grains of salt taking in her lectures, one day the epiphany finally hit me.

There are few things that get me so riled up that blood pressure medicine is the first remedy. Thanks to Martha, though, the second is a quick evaluation of the shoulds, oughts, musts, need-tos, have-tos, got tos and supposed-tos that overcome us all at times.

For the record, as if it really matters, my angering short list includes a)incongruous people who publicly profess one virtue, yet practice another in private. The other two include self-absorbed people and bald-face liars, both of which round out my personal anger trifecta.

But why?

Anger is the second emotion…second only to deep and erroneous beliefs that things and people should be different, better mannered, more fair, decent and, well, more like me.

Plenty of good people fit that bill, but there are plenty who don’t, won’t and don’t care to.

In my recovery from drug addiction, the Serenity Prayer was the cornerstone: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. The healing power of this prayer lived out within a congruous life has helped me address my angry moments therapeutically, long before they become destructive words or behaviors to myself and others.

People ‘should’ all over themselves.

If anger is the second emotion, then the taking of a big disgusting ‘should’ in your head is the first.

When I was a therapist, I used this simple illustration:

The speed limit is clearly marked 45mph. People should observe that limit. But however reasonable, life-saving or safe the speed limit, if I pull onto that street, I am bound to encounter an 80 year old blue hair in a Dodge dart going 20 and/or a dude in a Ford F-150 going 70. Failing to embrace this possibility beforehand is a certain set up for becoming angry and saying or doing things I will regret later.

Changing my expectation of situations and the behavior of other people to a language of “I hope that…It would be nice if… or I’d prefer that…” before I pull out into traffic, potentially mitigates against an angry response if my preference of what happens doesn’t actually come to pass. Our heads are full of mistaken beliefs and expectations such as these which embrace more of what ‘should or ought to be’ than what, in all honesty…and sadly…, really ‘is’ in this world. So when I’m stuck behind the blue hair, I accept the imperfection of the situation and arrange away around her, and maybe even chuckle at her timidity. When the truck blows by, though startled, I can save myself the rage and perhaps wonder if he’s late to watch the birth of his first born. It doesn’t make it right. It just makes the moment tolerable.

I’ve learned to be creative. Not so much for the sake of others, but for the sake of myself. “Be angry and sin not in your anger” is the key to control and the solution is to abandon the mind’s misbeliefs of a perfect world.

God, grant me the serenity in this imperfect world.
And God bless old Martha, wherever you and your blue hair are now after all these years.