One of the most common and mundane reasons to get angry is that somebody else is getting mad at us for “no good reason”. In some part of our brain we think, “It is unfair they are upset. I will stand up for myself! If I get angry, they will realize their misplaced ire and repent.” Of course, if you take just a few seconds to think on this, you’ll find that this has an extremely low success rate. In fact, usually it just prompts them to get even more irate. Because from their perspective, often they didn’t even realize that they were expressing anger (or it was at least justified irritation), and all of a sudden you just got mad out of nowhere or are becoming defensive instead of hearing their important grievances.
The bright side is that in your anger is the seed of a solution. Say the person said, “Stop being angry!” what would you say? You’d probably say something along the lines of, “I can’t.” Either it’s justified and so won’t just go away, or you can’t just “turn off” your anger. If you could, maybe you would, but that’s not how your emotions work.
And therein is the lesson. Just as you cannot turn off your anger, neither can the other person. Using this empathy to realize that they cannot stop their flashes of annoyance any more than you can, that they feel they are right as much as you do. That emotions are not like light switches where one can simply turn it off.
Of course, this insight won’t instantly make you stop getting angry in response to others for that very reason. You cannot just stop having reactions. However, if you work on internalizing this idea, you’ll find yourself reacting less frequently, with less intensity, and you won’t feed your anger as much. You’ll be less likely to ruminate forever about how unfair it is that that person got mad at you and realize that we’re all just imperfect humans, doing our best, with emotions that are far more complicated than a light switch.
I'm an effective altruist who co-founded Charity Science Health and Charity Entrepreneurship.