One way some comedians can get you to laugh is by pretending to be angry. (Think Don Rickles or Lewis Black.) And it doesn’t take long for you to see through their faux-fury. You realize soon enough that part of their shtick is poking fun at anger itself. The joke is on perpetually angry people.
It’s no joke, though, how you may being scammed by angry others. Not by those comedians. And not by the usual bunch of miscreants who are out to steal your money, your identity or your self-respect. This is a different crew—they want to steal your spirit! And their method is simple: They want you, an otherwise kind and gentle older person, to be angry. In some ways worse than other cons, the “Keep the Old Folks Mad” scam is everywhere in our culture. And it could hurt you.
Anger is a common emotion, easily provoked, easily spread and easily addictive. When you’re angry, your brain’s emotional centers override your front-brain’s logical-sequential reasoning and prompt you to quick (over)reactions. Over time, repeated anger becomes a go-to habit and gradually decreases your other rational abilities. Physiologically, anger is a stressor that can weaken parts of your nervous system and some vital organs. Although it’s a natural emotion—and sometimes justified—anger doesn’t help you in the long run, especially if you’re always fuming.
One psychological feature that anger-scammers know about: When you’re angry, you don’t think straight. You can be easily manipulated to believe what isn’t true and take actions you might later regret. And if that happens all the time, these folks may be controlling your life more than you may know.
Angry older people constitute a potent political and economic force. Older adults may have more time on their hands, are more likely to vote and may have more expendable income. Primed by fear-mongers—we don’t have to name names here, do we?—older adults can easily be tempted to feel angry about whatever, and prompted to take actions.
What to do about constant anger? This may be difficult, because you might already be addicted to this emotion. (The pleasure may come from feeling righteous about overcoming a real or imagined injustice.) Still, consider these possibilities:
• Turn off or avoid the sources of the anger. (I’m thinking here of 24-hour cable “news” shock jocks, Facebook friends who are always indignant, Twitter chirpers whose acidic writing is rarely positive, people who forward conspiracy stories, mean-spirited jokes or personal invective.)
• In prayer and conversation with loved ones, get in touch with the positive, hopeful and helpful parts of your personality. Your spiritual core consists of more than a seething cauldron of fury.
• Show kindness wherever possible, especially to those who you think might not deserve it. Think of Jesus’ example. (Yes, he was angry sometimes—but not always!)
• When confronted (continually) by those who are angry, counter their wrath with love, shown in your deeds and in words. If they persist—they may be addicted to anger—let them know that their anger may be harmful to you. Ask them to refrain from that kind of discourse, for your sake.
• If you’re constantly enraged—and spreading that emotion, perhaps without knowing its effects—ask for some help. Be honest about this part of you, and listen carefully as loved ones help set you back on a loving and hopeful path.
• If you’re experiencing physical symptoms that might be attributed to anger—or its emotional relatives: fear, anxiety—talk to your doctor about this matter.
• Consider enrolling in anger-management classes that are available in your area.
At this time in your life, continual anger isn’t a good way to live. No matter who’s trying to scam you into any form of anger—irritation, annoyance, resentment, fury, antagonism, negativity—you don’t have to be angry. God didn’t create you to live an exasperated life of continually futile rage. You have better, more productive and hopeful ways to live.
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