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Anger

Anger

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You wanna know about anger? I'll tell you about anger. That's all I can do. I can tell you about it. And then you do what you want. Or what you can. Because anger will ruin your whole stinking life, if you let it. And maybe even if you don't. Anger, my friend, is one tough cookie. It grabs you. Twists you. Overcomes you. And then goes about destroying the things you love best in your whole life.

That's anger.

It grips you in the middle of your chest. Your chest feels tight. What you're feeling is the resistance of your flesh and muscle and bone against a pressure, an energy, an evil excitement that is bursting to get out. It's stronger than you, buddy. You have to know that. It's stronger and when it can't burst out of your chest or squeeze through the spaces of your rib cage or rip your heart into little pieces, it finds another route. It starts to flow out to your arms, up into your head. It hits the muscles in your shoulders and makes them tense and tight and ready to strike out. It makes your arms tingle and your tendons rigid. Your whole neck goes hard as the anger begins to flood your brain.

Sure you try to stop it. But this makes you even more tense, more frustrated, as you now begin to feel like the victim of this surge of fury . The anger's got you. You're angry that you're angry. You're feeling helpless against the uncontrollable urge. And as it fills your mind you're losing your power to resist it. Because now it's got your rational self in its jaws and its making mincemeat out of your attempts at logic and understanding.

Now, my friend, watch as your thoughts turn black and accusing. Watch how the anger has not only conquered your mind but now has your mind colluding with the anger. Fueling it. Thoughts that won't go away. Accusations. Blame. Indignation. Guilt. Jealousy. Hurt feelings. Scars and old wounds enflamed and enflaming.

And now comes the test: Will you act or not? Will you speak or not? Will you yell and hurt, insult and accuse? Will you trash and destroy? Will you lie and manipulate?

Will you begin to destroy your life and all the things you hold so dear?

An exaggeration? Not by a long shot. Because anger can destroy in a flash or over time. Even after all the I'm-sorry's and forgive-me's, even after you've made up and are trying to put it back the way it was, even after the flood of warmth that often follows after you've cooled-down, the damage has been done. And the damage can be forever.

Year after year, outburst after outburst, chink by chink you are destroying something that you once cherished, and maybe still do. You'll notice, if you have that much awareness left, that there's not as much trust as you once enjoyed, not as much openness. Not as much love.


I'm an expert on anger. I've lived with it all my life.

My anger has caused me and others irrevocable harm. I've tried countless ways to get a hold on my anger, but nothing seemed to work. The strength of the emotion was such that no techniques could quell its outburst. And it seemed that no matter how hard I tried to understand the source of this anger — whether in the past or the present — and to erase or correct it — I could not stem its destructive outbreak.

Anger, despite its destructiveness, holds pleasure, a surge of energy that enlivens the life of one whose life has grown dull. There is the righteousness — the sense of justice and punishment. The victory — not allowing one's loss or defeat to go without response. The vengeance — for the wrongs of yesterday or today. The simple feeling of strength and power, the sense of control, the gratification of seeing fear in the eyes of another rather than feel it in oneself.

And, of course, there is the delight of release and the relaxation that comes after one's fury is spent. And often there is the softening, the opening of the heart that had been so imprisoned in bonds of frustration and hurt, old and current, real and imagined. There is the desire for forgiveness and reconciliation, even the pleasure of guilt and remorse that follows.

The pleasure inherent in anger is the source of its sin. The destructiveness becomes simply the price of the pleasure, and the pleasure — like an addiction — is craved after and uncontrollable. Like envy or jealousy or greed or gossip it is nearly impossible to control, so powerful is the satisfaction and fulfillment it brings.

But if one is very lucky — for in the end I think it is primarily good fortune and Divine grace that overcomes anger — one gets to see that there is a different kind of pleasure, one that comes from kindness and forbearance, understanding and forgiveness, and, in simple terms, the pleasure that comes from having peace in the home and between humans, especially humans that you love.

And once you have the good fortune to see or experience this, well, this pleasure so out-intensifies the pleasure from anger that you simply don't want to waste your time. Because, you see, anger is a luxury for those who believe they have time.

But time is an illusion. Time is here only now. And once you realize this, you get to make a decision about how you want to spend your now. Especially when you know that it is the only now you have and may ever have.

Do you really want to spend it in anger and create all that destruction?

Now, don't get me wrong. When I say that overcoming anger is primarily a matter of luck or good fortune, I am not saying that one who is afflicted with uncontrollable anger (is there any other kind?) shouldn't do, as I did, everything that he or she can to get it under control, whether that be therapy, meditation, jogging or whatever. Though it may be luck and Divine grace that finally brings the desired outcome, in the meantime the responsibility for anger and its consequences lies entirely with me and you.

And when I say that no techniques worked for me, I could just as easily say that all have worked for me, for I have literally spent decades working on this unfortunate part of myself in the hope of ending the spiral of destruction and loss of trust that anger brings in its wake. I look at this work as an investment, as seeding the field knowing that in the end it is only G‑d that determines when and whether the crops will grow. In the meantime it is up to us to plough, seed and pray, plough, seed and pray until the heavens open, the rains fall and the seeds begin to sprout and fruit.

But when finally I changed — and thank G‑d changed I have — it seemed like a gift, one of the greatest gifts I have ever received, from G‑d. I not only felt and feel grateful, but downright lucky.

My nows are filled with more good times, feelings of unity, pleasant vibes in the house, happier children, a better marriage, more compatible work relationships and even less frustration when driving on Israeli roads (perhaps the real test). Plus, I get to like myself more and walk the earth without the nagging feeling that I am a menace to myself and others.

Let me be clear. I still get angry. Anger, it seems to me, is just one of those emotions that people have, whether they should or not. Certainly the ideal may be that one would never get angry, but I haven't met those folks. Or, the ones I have met are in the category of tzaddikim, the righteous ones that walk the earth and heavens.

But I don't fit in that category, nor do the people I know and have known. So, for the vast majority of us, anger is a part of life, even though I believe, as our Sages teach, that anger is akin to idol worship, that it is a denial of G‑d's providence, omnipotence and omniscience.

But overcoming that denial, or rather coming to see and accept G‑d's hand in every aspect of life, is another of those things, like overcoming anger, that for most of us takes a life time, if it ever happens at all, if we're ever lucky enough.

Thus, anger remains.

The difference in my life now is that I just can't tolerate it or the destruction and hurt that it causes to others. I feel it, I recognize it, I accept it, and then, when I'm lucky, I let it go, along with all the obsessive thoughts that accompany it — the accusations and condemnations, the hurt and injustice, the jealousy, the desire for revenge.

I'd like to take credit for these changes, but in truth they feel as much the result of happenstance as effort, of G‑d's intervention and providence.

First, the destructiveness of my behavior in all its terror became so vivid I could not tolerate it. I not only saw this in times of anger, but also in vision and memory of angry times past, visions that I think were gifts from Above. I became tormented by all that I was capable of destroying, and had. I saw and felt the hurt and damage I was causing others with my cruel words and actions. I saw and felt it as if I were the object of my own anger. And I cringed and cried as I felt the pain and damage I was causing to those I loved most. It was as if the anger was happening all over again, but now I could see it with distance and perspective, though the feelings were as intense as if it were happening now. Not feelings of anger, but feelings of revulsion for what I was watching, for what I had done.

Second, during some recent difficult times, I have been the object of love and concern, patience and dedication by some of those at whom I had been the angriest. In the face of their kindness and of my need, I could no longer muster the anger I once had. Now, I could only feel gratitude and love and perceived in these onetime objects of my anger such angelic souls that I felt searing shame at my past actions towards them.

That they were now so loving despite the anger that I'd spent at them over the years increased their virtue even further and where once I could, in moments of blind anger, see only their negativity, now any perceived hurt or disappointment I felt from them was balanced with my awareness of and appreciation for their goodness and kindness. And to them I ask and will continue to ask forgiveness.

I also began to more and more recognize G‑d's hand in my life, and His goodness. The reality of G‑d's participation in and control of the world, even in times that could be described as "bad", penetrated deeper and deeper into my psyche and soul. Thus, no matter what happened I began to see and truly believe that this, too, comes from G‑d. The hurts or disappointments, the lacks and the frustrations — all come from G‑d. There is no one to blame. Or if there is, it is only Him. Each obstacle, each frustration, each hurt, each fear, every childhood injury or lack comes ultimately from Him, for my benefit, as part of my life's journey — a journey tailored by Him only for me.

From this perspective I saw that anger is always wrong. It has no justification, no matter how righteous the justification feels. Acknowledging both the humanness of this emotion and its total wrongness gives me a place from which to relate to my anger. Knowing it is wrong, the mental obsessions are also wrong. There is nothing to do with my anger other than to acknowledge it and let it pass. And often, letting it pass requires that I ask, that I beg G‑d to take it from me, to open my heart and my mind so that I can perceive what is taking place more compassionately, from a wider perspective, from outside myself and inside the other.

And luckily, this has taken place enough times that I am able to experience what life is like without my anger: what life in my home is like, what my relationship with my wife is like, what my relationship to myself is like, and what my relationship with G‑d is like.

And, it is good. So much better than ever before. It is, without exaggeration, like a rebirth. And each moment, each day that I live without anger or even with less anger, I beg and pray that it not return. It is, in spite of its humanness, so very evil and destructive. And each day that it does not return, I thank G‑d for His intervention, for the "luck" He provided and provides.

Please hear this: Even after your remorse, if you are fortunate enough to be forgiven by those you love, you will still not be able to recapture and relive all those days and nights you wasted in your anger, time that could have been spent in love and good feeling. Anger fills the irreplaceable now, disallowing the wonder that could be.

It destroys the goodness of life.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Anonymous Los Angeles, CA January 1, 2017

I never saw the correlation ... that I use anger as a false display of power. Thank you for showing me how weak I have been and how far I have to go--as the dictum goes "who is strong? The one who controls his impulses" (ethics of our fathers) Reply

Lucy Texas, USA November 29, 2014

anger yes, anger is in fact a waste of time. the worst anger i've seen stems from needing to put something right by expressing what has been done and how wrong it was. the pain of possibly being misjudged and unjustified and left broken feeling & that their very life was in vain can let in a very nasty anger indeed. even if we feel at the moment that we are alone and live this life in vain - with the rest of the love and strength we have in ourselves - we must pray again and again.we must hold onto faith with the rest that we've got. Reply

andrew June 21, 2014

In my experience, when anger comes to me. I observe the energy pressure on my left chest. Stay with it. Observe it. And in (mostly) maximum 2 minutes the emotion would dissipate. As simple as that.The problem with anger is because we are involving the illusory I which if you observe deeply in your feeling, there is no I, only anger. this I that prolongs and strengthens the anger. Anger when it stands alone and under watchful observation would easily dissipate. Reply

John Nocera Calhoun, LA March 18, 2014

Anger Anger..........When we allow someone's words or actions dictate ours! Anger is giving license to someone else to have control of our emotions. Reply

Rita Stichinsky Forest Hills, NY April 30, 2013

I am not an angry person, I am very patient but I think you misunderstood me, I have a run of bad luck. These bad coteachers and assistants do exist. I have had more than my share and it does not have anything to do with me, this article is not me. Reply

Anonymous Panama city beach, Fl October 2, 2011

Wow You really described losing your temper so well! I just lost my temper at work and I made my co-worker look really horrible when he wasn't. My dark and ugly side came out loud and proud. I can't take any of it back. Your article really showed me how to handle myself or talk my way through the anger till it subsides. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous Garland via chabadplano.org February 14, 2011

Tom I'm sorry it had to come to this for you to realize you had a problem. I don't believe you are without hope. A good counselor can help you tremendously, and your wife also if she's willing. It has been the difference in my marriage. My husband is becoming the man I always knew he was, and I'm a better wife also.
I hope you will consider it. Reply

Tom Palatine February 12, 2011

Anger, Without Hope My wife recently filed for divorce. We have been married for 13 years. She said she can't take living with me anymore because I verbally assault her and she realizes there is no hope of ever having a healthy relationship with me . I love my wife, but I finally realize she is right. For the first time in my life I am coming to terms that my anger is out of control and is a rage in me, that when unleashed, I have no way of stopping it. I always knew I had anger, but always made an excuse for it by blaming it on someone else. The sad part about all of this is that I hurt the people in my life that is most important to me and who I love most. Saying "sorry" just don't cut it anymore. The dilemma I'm having is I know it will never go away and no matter how hard I try it will always manage my life. The people in my life have the option to leave me but I am sentenced to remain no matter how hard I try to escape. I know now that there are no other options left. I can only say I'm sorry. Reply

Anonymous October 11, 2010

anger my eyes are burning with tears. this has hit me like a thunderbolt Reply

Anonymous Indiana June 7, 2010

The Spirit of Anger I don't know why G-d allowed me to be angry, but I'm thankful He's taken and is taking it away. Jay Litvin's essay on anger is terrible... it's beautiful... it's me.... Thank you for publishing it, may it be a blessing to all who read it. Reply

Dale Sands Saskatoon, SK June 7, 2010

Anger I also have been captured by anger for a time in my life. Thankfully through the teachings from Chabad and several other sources it seems to have evaporated and I am much happier know.

I still get angry and it is interesting how bad it physically hurts now when I am angry. I can't eat , I can't concentrate, my stomach feels like it is winding into a knot. Once or twice I have been physically sickened, the bad part is once it is over the physical drain seems to be worse than having a cold.

It seems though we need a little of it to function properly. I have noticed if I am calm and peaceful all the time I lose the ability to make some decisions that require a little more aggressive behavior.

Maybe what I am noticing is the necessity for the evil inclination. I have been told that no babies would be created if we didn't have it since we all would too concerned with hurting each other. Reply

Anonymous Baltimore, MD June 2, 2010

speaks to me So honest and humble. Every paragraph contained an insight, a gift, never wasting space on stylized, self-indulgent words. Such a generous writer. Reply

Chan Tu LA, CA August 26, 2008

Such Honesty Such Inspiration I saw this website as I was searching for a fix for a Microsoft problem and one of the reults was your website. So I thought I would just take a look. What a blessing what a gift! I am Buddhist but read it with an open mind and saw how this human being recognized his own struggle with letting go of the anger that he had clung to, and how it had caused suffering for those around him and ultimately for himself. His honesty and humility and recognition of how he was still trying to overcome this obstacles to happiness is truly inspiring. Your site is an invaluable tool for everyone. Although rooted in your own tradition, it offers inspiration for us all. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous Providence, RI April 22, 2007

Anger I'm no stranger to anger. All my life, I've had to deal with it in ways I never wanted to - it also sapped all the energy out of my body and made me tired and weak!

Thankfully, I learned the truth about myself: I have Asperger's Syndrome, which is High-Functioning Autism, and I've had a MUCH easier time being able to cope. I still get therapy and take medications for depression and anxiety. Today, I'm happier than I've ever been in my life!

Unfortunately, my parents - especially my mother - had worse problems dealing with anger and she took everything out on me. After her death, I wasn't sure if my father still had issues with anger, but I'm sure he did. I asked him, but he said he was fine. I'm not so sure of that!

As for myself, I learned there are many ways to help yourself deal with anger. I admitted I was a hothead without patience and I needed to calm down. I talk about it, and it helps me stay out of trouble. Reply

jackie yaffe kfar saba, israel January 30, 2007

Jay Litvin i am only discovoring the writings of this very special person. What a tragedy for his wife and family, and indeed for Chabad that he could not continue his work. I find his writing inspiring Reply

Dawn West Dallas, TX via chabadplano.org November 26, 2006

Wow! What an article! I have been inspired, moved, humbled, and convicted. What a gift to use language in such a way! I've only met Jay today through his articles, and I have been touched so much, that I miss him......as I am sure those who knew him do as well. Reply

Anonymous August 5, 2004

I'm deeply grateful that you wrote about this, and that you wrote with such explicitness.

Reply

krasniqi london, uk April 9, 2004

a good way to be positive! Reply

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