Fixing Your Fire - 004 Anger | Frequent Anger
Anger Stemming from Fire-of-Earth-of-Fire: Frequent Anger
With siyata d’shmaya, let us continue to discuss the element of fire, and the trait which stems from it: anger. We are up to discussing anger that stems from fire-of-earth-of-fire.
In previous chapters, it was explained in general that anger stemming from earth-of-fire is a kind of anger where a person loses his feeling of vitality, amidst the anger. There are four branches of this kind of anger.
Anger stemming from “earth”-of-earth-of-fire is when anger results in despair, anger stemming from “water”-of-earth-of-fire is when anger results in a loss of energy, and anger stemming from “wind”-of-earth-of-fire is when anger results in a feeling of being paralyzed. Now we will discuss anger that stems from “fire”-of-earth-of-fire. This is a kind of anger that is constant and ongoing.
Two Kinds of Constant Anger: Hot Temperament vs. Pressure
Before we continue, we will preface this discussion with the following: we must know that there are two kinds of constant anger which people experience.
Some people have an imbalanced element of fire in their soul, which can be a source of frequent angry outbursts. These people are very hot-tempered, and they give off a very angry demeanor, as if it is their entire essence. Others experience a lot of anger on a regular basis, but their anger is not stemming from a dominance of fire in the soul - it is very possible that this person’s primary element is not fire, yet he still experiences lots of anger, on a constant basis. What is the source of this kind of anger (since it is not stemming from a dominance of fire)?
It happens to a person when he is going through a lot of pressure. When he reaches the peak of feeling pressurized, he explodes in anger. It is natural for a person to unleash his anger when he feels like he is under a lot of pressure; any small thing that irritates a person when he’s under a lot of pressure can cause the anger to explode from within him.
A Pressured, Stressed Out Generation
Every person has periods in his life where he experiences more pressure, and he is easily angered when under this pressure. But in many situations – and in our generation especially - a person is living a very pressurized kind of life in general, and this can awaken a person’s anger on an ongoing basis. When this is the case, the anger of a person is not stemming from a hot temper. It is rather stemming from external factors.
For example, some people have a nature to raise their voices when they become passionate about something, and they will even yell and scream at others, but it is not because they are angry. The “anger” they are showing does not fit their personality. Whenever there is something pressurizing them, they react with raised voices, shouting, yelling, and screaming. In many homes there is a lot of shouting take place, but it is not always because the family members are angry at each other.
Many people grew up in homes where the parents yelled at each other a lot whenever they were under pressure, and they continue this behavior into their own homes, where they explode and shout whenever they feel pressure, like if they hear something distressing or something that is hard to absorb; such as hearing about distressing news, or about a painful medical condition, which is usually very hard to deal with. Whatever the cause for stress in the home, these people grew up in homes where there was a lot of pressure, where there was a lot of shouting taking place, and usually it is more of a passionate reaction than anger.
In these scenarios, when people get angry due to the pressure they have become used to since growing up, it is not because they have a hot temperament, but simply because they were under a lot of pressure. This particular scenario has always existed, but it is a very common one in our generation, which experiences much more pressure than in previous times.
Thus, in many cases where people show a lot of anger, it is actually not stemming from anger. It is usually stemming from certain pressure, or medical conditions that are very distressing to deal with, and any other news which a person has a hard time absorbing. A person in this situation is much more likely to show anger towards others, even if his natural temperament isn’t easily angered.
(However, if the display of anger is very intense, it might be stemming from fire-of-fire-of-fire, which is the most extreme kind of anger, but we are not currently discussing this. Here we are discussing anger stemming from fire-of-earth-of-fire, which is when anger is awakened by a pressurized kind of life in general, which causes the person to lose stability (earth), coupled with a dominant amount of “dryness” in the soul; which, in turn, causes frequent explosions of anger.)
Now let’s explain this more in detail, with the help of Heaven.
Unnecessary Pressure and Imposed Lifestyles
There are two kinds of life people are living. Either a person lives in a way where he thinks originally and truthfully, or, a person lives with a superficial attitude of simply what has to get to done, how exactly things should be done, what is considered socially accepted, what does life obligate me to do, etc.
Anyone with a family, especially those who have bigger families (which Hashem has blessed them with), are aware that there are all kinds of situations in life which we go through. There are calmer times and there times of pressure. There is no home which does not go through some kind of pressure in it; that is the reality of our life. But many times, the situation in life which a person is placed in is a pressure that is way beyond his capacities.
There are homes in which the atmosphere of pressure in the home is so great that it is totally unsuitable for the souls of one of the spouses or the children. There are not a small percentage of homes – and I stress that it is not a small percentage of homes - where the lifestyle taking place is too pressurizing for either the father, or the mother. The children growing up in such a home cannot turn our normal and functional, by all natural means! Perhaps one of the children will remain normal - but he will be like the lone tzaddik in a city, and he is nothing short of a miracle. The atmosphere in such homes is simply not healthy for any person to grow up in.
Some pressurizing situations, of course, cannot be avoided. For example, if the family has become larger and more blessed with children (Baruch Hashem), and now there are more expenses, a mother who used to be a housewife might have to go out to work in order to earn livelihood. This new situation is pressurizing for her and it affects the children, but it cannot be avoided. But there are many things the parents do which are not that necessary in order to live life, and these things cause so much unnecessary pressure within the home.
There are all kinds of examples of this, but very common examples of include community individuals, or even very family-oriented individuals, who end up imposing all kinds of pressure in their homes, so that his spouse and the children should align their lives with his wishes. In these homes, the parent involved with this position gives off the impression to his family that a lack of conforming is almost like committing one of the cardinal sins of the Torah. The emotional needs of the other family members are not considered. Perhaps it is a lifestyle which is beyond the emotional capacity of one the family members to handle, but too bad! Everyone in the family must conform to the imposed lifestyle which one of the parents is leading and work along with it, whether it is suited to their nature or not.
Add to this all of the normal pressures of life which are already in place aside from all of these imposed pressures, creating an enormous amount of pressure upon the family that is unbearable.
We don’t have to get too far into the details; we can all understand already how problematic it is. If we get into the details of it, we can go and on, and there is not enough time now to discuss all of it.
The Solution: Make A List of Your Priorities In Life
To counter this problem, we need to try to think of what a normal and functioning kind of life should look like.
We cannot avoid problems that life will bring, but we definitely need to draw up a functional plan to begin with, of how we choose to live our life. After we are living a functional kind of life we should then seek to fix our issues, of course. But first, we need to at least have a plan for how we will live a normal, functional kind of family life.
I am not coming here to solve every possible kind of problem which exists, but we can at least begin to make things more normal, by first understanding the following.
Anyone who seeks to live a real, normal life should sit down with himself for some time, and come up with a plan for what kind of lifestyle he wants to live life with. He should make a list of what he thinks the necessities of life are, and which things are priorities, and which parts of life are not priorities. After doing this thinking with himself, he can then do it with his spouse and children as well and ask them what they feel about it.
These are the questions one should be asking himself: “What really needs to be done, in life? What is truly important, and what is not that important? What are we really capable of doing, and what are we not capable of?”
In most homes, the amount of pressure found in the home, due to the way of life of one or both of the parents, is way too much for the family to handle. This is the reality. Sometimes the family can handle the pressure, but in most cases, they cannot. So one has to know if the way of life he is living is really taking into account the needs of his family and how it affects them, if they can really handle it or not. One must know which parts of his life are really needed that should be pursued, and which parts of his life are unnecessary pressures that need to be cut out.
Understandably, if one is not used to deeply reflecting like this, he will not know how to differentiate between needs and wants, and he will discover that there are many things he needs to do which aren’t being actualized in his life, and then he will feel even more pressure.
But if one is already used to deep thinking, and he is very interested in doing the will of Hashem, he can go deep into his thoughts and ask himself important questions about what he should really want in life. He can think in an original way and he doesn’t have to think like everyone else thinks, like Avraham Avinu, who did not follow the rest of the world’s thinking and he uncovered his own original thinking.
One can ask himself questions like this: “What is the will of Hashem? What are the mitzvos of the Torah and what do they entail? What are the obligations of Halachah and what is considered pious behavior that is non-obligatory? What are the mitzvos between man and G-d, and what are the mitzvos between man and his friend?” and etc. He can keep asking himself these important questions and arrive at a certain picture of what an ideal kind of life should look like.
Take a half-hour and think about questions like this, during a quiet time where your mind feels settled. Come up with a more functioning kind of life than the kind of life you have been living until now. It doesn’t mean you need to think of how to totally overhaul your life; just try to come up with some minor changes in your lifestyle that are more truthful than the current way you are living. Think of the first thing you need to change, the second thing you need to change, the third thing you need to change, etc.
The more mature a person has become, he can live more internally and he will be able to see better the changes that need to be made.
Step 2: Knowing Your Actual Capability Level
That is all but the first part of the plan. The second thing a person needs to do, which is also very important, is, that every person must know what his actual capabilities are – what he can really handle, and what he cannot really handle (which only stresses him out when he takes upon those things).
This divides into two parts. There are some things a person pursues which ends dragging the other parts of his life with it, and he can keep carrying this load until the coming of Mashiach; and there are other pursuits where a person can easily flow along with (like the rule of “a live person lifts his carriers”), where he a person is living what he does.
One must know well what his normal capabilities are, and how much he can really handle.
Here is an example. Even in the world of Torah learning, where people exert themselves in the study of Torah, there are many aspirations to have exertion in learning Torah, to know halachah, to be exacting in halachah, to take upon chumros, to take upon pious behavior, to be good in interpersonal relationships, and many other such holy aspirations. These are all necessary aspirations to have, and they are holy, and we should want them. But in some people, there is a problem of immediately acting upon everything that they learn, without considering how this will impact on their emotional state. It is actually impossible for a person to act upon everything that he sees written in what he learns.
The Steipler zt”l told people that when he was young, he resolved to that whenever he heard a chumra, he would take it upon himself. When he reached a certain age when he got older, he asked people to stop telling him of any more chumros, because he knew that he couldn’t take upon himself any more chumros.
Most people who live with imposed chumros on themselves are not living based upon how they really need to act, but based upon what they perceive as “what needs to be done.” Of course, we are not referring to something that is firmly established halachah, which must absolutely be observed by every Jew, without question. That is clear and simple, and we shouldn’t even have to mention this. We are only referring to taking upon certain pious actions or behavior which may be too much for a person to really handle.
One needs to examine those behaviors he has taken upon himself. Firstly, he must see if it’s really meant for his actual level to take upon himself. This is a separate discussion for itself and we aren’t discussing this here. The second thing a person needs to know is if the behavior is really enough for him to handle emotionally.
Let’s give an even simpler example, which is from our physical world. Some people keep buying and buying things in the store and they aren’t aware that they won’t be able to carry all the bags home afterwards (Instead of abiding by the words of the Rambam that a person should only spend money on expenses based upon his income, this person keeps buying as long as he has expenses!). He doesn’t think about how me he is really able to carry home. He just sees what he needs to buy, and he buys it, because he wanted to buy it, without wondering how he will be able to carry home.
(If he really needed it or not, is the first thing he needs think about. He first wonders if he really needs it or not, and then decides. The next step he needs to wonder about is, even if he does need this item, he must know if he will able to carry it home!)
Let’s this apply this to our soul capabilities. One must know how much he can really take upon himself – what his emotional capacity is. How much can you really handle? That is what a person must know.
One cannot know it perfectly. Nobody knows exactly how much he can handle. But in between the areas of what we can handle and what we cannot handle, there is a large area of uncertainties, of which we are not sure if we can really handle or not, and we need to figure out those areas. This self-examination is only possible for someone who is trying to learn about his soul, to recognize it, who wants to give proper order to his life, and to take upon himself the burdens that he can really handle, as opposed to what he cannot handle.
If one recognizes his personal limitations in life, more or less (we said that it cannot be reached perfectly), a transformation in his way of living will occur. He will know how much he can really handle in life, and then everything changes.
Whenever a person is living a kind of life where he is taking upon himself too much, in most cases, his heart will become closed off from proper emotion, and even his mental abilities will become blurred. But in addition, he is far more prone to anger. Even if he does not have that much fire in his soul, he will still find himself getting angry a lot, which is really unsuitable to his personality. But that is the result of a very pressurized kind of life, and this kind of life is very commonplace in our times.
Developing A Place of Inner Silence In Yourself
Practically speaking, if one wishes to change this, every person needs to have a place of inner calm in himself that he can go to. If someone doesn’t have some degree of quiet calmness in his soul, the noise around him will increase the amount of his angry explosions. The inner way to live life is to develop a place of inner silence in the soul. This inner quiet is a source of inner yishuv hadaas (a settled mind) and it enables a person to return to his inner essence.
In order to reach this place of inner silence in oneself, we will give a sharp definition of it: It requires a whole different kind of “load” than what you are used to carrying. There is what you can carry when you live with a load, and there is what you can carry when you live with inner calm. We are not referring to a life of lethargy and laziness – we are talking about yishuv hadaas, of something subtle.
For example, if you are asked to do a chessed, like at the end of a wedding and you are asked to help and it will take a lot of time and cause you to come home late, instead of running to do the chessed, first think if you can handle this or not and how it will affect you. Think of the fact that you will go to sleep late and perhaps wake up late the next morning. The point is, in whatever you enter, think about what the consequences will be on your yishuv hadaas - and consider your yishuv hadaas more important. Protect it and guard it.
Also, consider how much sleep you need. Some people need more sleep than others. Although Torah scholars lose sleep over their Torah learning, and it is not a good thing to always go to sleep on impulse, one must be aware that he needs sleep, and he should know how much sleep he needs. We can’t say here exactly how much sleep each person needs. (If someone is drawn towards sleepiness, that is a different story.) The question of how much sleep you need directly affects one’s yishuv hadaas. If you hear that your chavrusa sleeps less than you, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you to do the same. Just because you saw others succeeding in this way doesn’t mean you can handle it.
Sometimes, of course, you need to awaken your aspirations, and woe to a person who has no aspirations to improve and he is never inspired by other people. But everything must be weighed in terms of how it will affect your yishuv hadaas or not. This is your new “load” in life that you will be carrying – everything you encounter will be weighed against how it affects your yishuv hadaas.
At first, you will see that you cannot handle that much in your life, and you will see your limitations. But in the end, you will see that you have acquired an ability to carry a lot more on your shoulders, than how you started with. This is because when you started out, you wanted yishuv hadaas, but you didn’t yet have it, and with the more you live with this inner yishuv hadaas, you will find that you are able to handle more in your life.
Proper Spiritual Development
We are talking to Kolel men here, who are at a more mature stage of life, but a yeshiva boy in his younger years needs to hear something. A young boy needs to learn how to exert himself in Torah learning and he needs to learn how to “break the body” through accepting the yoke of Torah. Only after getting used to this comes the stage we have described here, of yishuv hadaas.
If one begins his development in Torah learning through focusing on yishuv hadaas, generally, he will not want to exert himself in Torah learning, and he has not yet broken the hold of his body; he will remain tied to the materialism of the body. But if a person has begun his development with exertion in Torah learning, and he has already gotten used to a stage of learning Torah whether he has energy for it or whether he doesn’t have energy for it, he has already developed some connection to the Torah to some extent, and the next stage in his development will be to become attuned to taking care of the needs of his inner world, as explained here.
Let us emphasize that the first stage of development, which should have been traversed in one’s younger yeshiva years, is to get used to exertion in Torah learning, without considering of how this will affect one’s actual capabilities. Exertion in Torah learning means that one must learn with all his energy and he must also exert himself a little bit beyond his normal capabilities sometimes. (This must be done sensibly, as we see that many tried to do it and were unsuccessful). Only at a later stage in one’s life, long after one has traversed this elementary stage, should a person be concerned of how his yishuv hadaas is being affected. At this stage, one needs to make sure that he is not taking on anything that is negatively removing his yishuv hadaas.
Pressure Doesn’t Mean That You Have To Fall Apart
When this is the perspective of a person, he avoids completely the problem described in the beginning of this chapter: a lifestyle of pressure which takes its toll on a person’s natural capabilities. With a pressurized lifestyle, a person’s emotions become hardened and his mind cannot think properly, bombarded by so many different thoughts; and he easily explodes in anger, due to all the pressure weighing on him.
A life of maintaining your inner yishuv hadaas greatly decreases the amount of angry explosions that a person would normally have under a lot of pressure. It does not take away anger completely, of course. There is no such thing as a totally peaceful life, and anyone who thinks otherwise is too dreamlike, wrapped up in himself and out of touch with his surroundings.
In addition, everyone goes through certain difficult periods in his life; everyone has his ‘bag’ of troubles. One of the Gedolim once said to someone, “Just because you see that I am always serene does not mean that I don’t have any troubles. The ‘pekele’ (the ‘bag) I must carry is not small.” A person can be going through a lot yet he is still calm and peaceful inside, where we do not lose our yishuv hadaas, in spite of all of the troubles.
We do have a lot to deal with in our life, each on his own level. We are faced the responsibilities and pressures of having to make livelihood, maintaining our health, raising our children, growing in Torah knowledge, perfecting our character, performing acts of chessed, and davening better, and so much more. The list can go and on, and each person can fill up a list of the many responsibilities we have; it’s enormous. Yet we must not allow all of this to take away our inner calmness.
If only we could have known about this as we started out life. But even if we didn’t, it’s never too late, because if not now, then when?
Understandably, we cannot make such extreme changes so fast and we cannot change so many aspects of our life all at once, so we won’t able to remove all the pressures in our life at once.
If, for example, you realize that you really need another half hour of sleep, and you want to make sure that the home goes to sleep earlier to accommodate your new plans, you need to know well if this will go well or not in the family. Before you make any changes to your lifestyle, you need to consider well how it will affect others, whether you will be adding in some new rules or whether you will be taking away some old patterns.
Anger Due To Lack of Orderliness In The Soul (Inner Anxiousness)
Based upon the above, we can now proceed to another point.
Until now we have explained what happens when a pressurized lifestyle causes people to lose their calmness, which furthers the opportunity for more angry explosions. But there is another kind of angry explosion we will address, which, as we explained, is not rooted in the element of fire in the soul: There are people who are relatively calm (we emphasize ‘relatively’ calm, because there is no one who is completely and always calm), but they lack inner order in their souls. Since there is chaos taking place in their souls, there are wars taking place inside themselves, and this hampers their inner calmness.
Sometimes people are very ambitious and as a result, they cannot be calm, because they are very anxious about what they want. Others though are not particularly ambitious about something they want, but there is a lack of balance in their soul, and this itself is a reason for inner anxiousness, which does not allow a person to be calm inside.
There are a small percentage of people who are born with balance in their souls. These people still have an avodah, of course; all people have an avodah that begins from the point where they are, and every person has an avodah when it comes to learning Torah and in improving their middos. But there do exist some people who, relatively speaking, are born with a proper balance in their souls. Most people, however, are not born with a balance in their souls, and there are also people who are born with extremities in their nature.
This problem can also be manifest in a good character trait when it is too extreme. For example, some are people have a very generous nature, always involved in acts of kindness with others. They are so generous that their own family needs are neglected in the process of all their acts of kindness to others.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach once said that he would never fall into the problem of giving too much charity to collectors. This is an example of maintaining a balance in the soul – to make sure that a good character trait doesn’t become too extreme. It is wonderful to have a good heart, but a person with a family must remind himself that he has obligations towards his family, which must come first.
So in some people, it is their best quality which causes problems, when they are imbalanced. The trait of generosity can be a very good example of this. In other instances, being too generous can be a different problem, of not being able to say “No” to others, which stems from a problem in the nefesh habehaimis; this is a separate discussion. In either case, too much generosity can cause problems to a person, even though it is a wonderful quality to possess. When a quality is too strong and it is not balanced out by other abilities of the soul, there are deep inner contradictions that are formed within a person, and it’s all stemming from a good character trait which is missing balance.
Surely this is the case when the imbalances in the soul are not stemming from a good character trait, but from an imbalance in the elements of the soul. If a person has too much earth in his soul and not enough wind in his soul, there is a lack of balance between his earth and wind. If a person has a particular desire that is very dominant in his life, which he is trying to overcome, there will be much more opportunities for him to become angry, because every time he can’t overcome the desire, he is disappointed with himself that he couldn’t overcome the desire. His life becomes anxious and there are thus more opportunities for him to become angry, so he regularly experiences anger, due to his many frustrations.
One who observes this person always getting angry might conclude that he has a very hot temperament, and he might diagnose this anger as stemming from fire-of-fire-of-fire. After all, the person always seems to be getting angry – isn’t this is a sign of a bad temper? But it is very possible that there is a totally different reason for his anger. This person might have a very weak element of fire in his soul, yet he still suffers from anger all the time, because there is an unusual lack of order in his soul, creating much imbalance in his soul. Thus he finds himself often in situations which anger him.
Unlike the scenario where we discussed earlier, where anger stems from a pressurized kind of life, which is an outside and environmental factor, here we are discussing a person whose anger stems from an internal anxiousness.
If a person merits it, he can attain a balance in his soul in his younger years, or at least at the beginning of his marriage, where he will be forced to attain a balance in his soul in order to maintain marital peace; this can provide a person with great balance in his soul, if he utilizes the opportunities.
But getting married doesn’t always give an automatic balance to a person’s soul. If a person has married a wife who doesn’t test his anger, or if he is the type of person who can bear through a lot of difficulty, he has never yet attained a balance in his soul, and eventually, at some point, he will still have to straighten out the lack of order in his soul, when the pressures of life begin to set in. The children will certainly add pressure to his life, and he will have to work on himself now in order to handle the pressures. His wife perhaps has already learned how to “accept suffering with love”, because she is used to raising the children and all of the pressures that come with it. But the husband will find the pressures involved with the children to be unbearable, because he has never yet given order to his own soul.
As he begins to realize his responsibilities to his growing family, he is apt to feel explosions of anger on a regular basis from all of this pressure that he has never dealt with before. This is what happens when a person has never yet given inner order to his soul.
If a person was born with a natural balance in his soul, or if he is at least very close to having a well- balanced soul, he will encounter far less situations that arouse anger. But there are a small percentage of people that have been born with an extreme imbalance in their souls, so they end up experiencing frequent explosions of anger.
The avodah of such a person does not mainly lie in fixing anger. Many times people who want to work on their anger will seek various tips on how to reduce anger, but that is not where the issue mainly lies. Of course, we cannot say that a person shouldn’t work on reducing anger; we certainly should work on it at some point. But the main avodah of a person who experiences frequent explosions of anger is, to learn how to give general inner order to his soul.
When many people begin to give inner order to their souls, they become calmer, and they experience much less anger. How did they accomplish this, without working to uproot their anger? It is not simply because working on yourself in one area causes improvement in other areas; although that can also be true. It was mainly due to the inner orderliness that has been given now to their soul.
In Summary and In Conclusion
Making this all practical, we have discussed here several root causes for anger. Some people have an angry temperament, and that is the root of their anger; but we did not discuss this type of anger here. Here we have spoken about two kinds of frequently experienced anger, which are not stemming from “anger” per se, but from other factors.
In a very large amount of people, there is a lot of frequent anger being experienced due to all kinds of pressures in their life. These pressures include the many stresses of life, such as financial stress, marital difficulty, difficulty with raising children, problem with children’s shidduchim, health issues, etc. Everyone can have a full list of his troubles, and all of this pressure is apt to be a cause for frequent anger. The solution to such anger does not lie in fixing “anger” per se, but to come up with a plan for a less stressful kind of life, as we explained. Understandably, one should also daven to Hashem for help.
Another kind of frequent anger we discussed are those who have imbalances in their soul which causes them to have inner anxiousness, which leads to their frequent explosions of anger. Here the solution lies in giving inner order to the soul’s elements and abilities, which will lessen the situations for anger.
Understandably, every person has times where he feels pressure and he feels stressed. If a person is sensible, he will think beforehand of how he should act when under pressure, and not push this off reflection until when he feels stressed. If you never think beforehand about how you will act under the situation, you won’t find the strength to deal with it when you are under stress. That is why a wise person makes sure to think about it beforehand, and in that way, he’ll find the stressful situation more manageable when it arrives.
Making these reflections will greatly lessen the opportunities to get angry, and thereby lessen the amount of angry explosions in a person’s life.
 For more on “dryness” of the soul and how it relates to anger, refer to the first chapter (Fixing Your Fire_Anger_001_Despair Caused By Anger)
 nefesh habehaimis: animalistic layer of the soul, the source of base, underdeveloped emotions
 To learn how to give inner order to the soul, refer to the author’s Getting To Know Your Soul