When I was a kid, I loved the Ghostbusters’ films; that bumbling team of misfits on a mission to destroy the toxic slime surging through the city’s sewers.
The slime (a thick pink sludge) reacted to anger and negative emotions. The angrier people became, the faster the slime grew, until in the end it was bursting through drains, threatening to sweep away the whole city in one angry, sludgy slime-slide.
Because that’s what anger does.
We all get angry. Life’s circumstances can overwhelm us, we can be cheated on, stolen from or sometimes, we’re angry because of the thing that didn’t happen. Didn’t get the job. Didn’t get the man. Didn’t get the thing we thought we deserved.
Sometimes, anger is a fairly normal reaction to the stuff that life throws at us. But when we stay angry, the anger becomes part of our identity. The angrier we feel, the more toxic we become and in time, the toxicity can sweep away relationships and everything we’ve ever known or loved.
Signs your anger might have gone toxic.
You avoid people who are content.
You can’t bear to be around people who appear to have their lives in order. Something about being around content/happy people, makes the rage inside bubble up. Why do THEY have the thing I want?? It’s NOT fair.
All your friends are angry too.
As the saying goes, misery loves company, so you’re naturally drawn to people who are equally peed off at the world. You get together for drinks, you rehash the things that make you mad, you tell each other that you’re just ‘being real’, and you get energised by the collective sharing of misery. But then later, you mostly just feel empty.
Happy news brings out the worst in you.
Other people share great news; they got the job, the house, the partner, the baby. You’re able (for the sake of friendship) to smile and offer congratulations, but if your real thoughts could be projected onto the wall, you’d probably lose those friends pretty sharpish. You don’t want other people to be happy.
You jump on the bandwagon.
You hitch yourself to every angry bandwagon/campaign/petition out there. To be fair, there’s a huge amount of injustice in the world and it’s important to speak out and sometimes campaigns/petitions/marches are totally necessary. But when your anger has turned toxic, you start to lose sight of what the campaign is actually about, it’s just about the shared anger, the collective rage. And even if the injustice is tackled and dealt with, it doesn’t really make you happy. You’re still angry.
It all starts to get a bit irrational.
You’re angry at inanimate objects (you regularly scream at a broken photocopiers or kick tires/walls, anything you can get your hands on. Or you’re angry at God for a thing he did or didn’t do, so to get him back, you avoid all the stuff that (deep down), you know is good for you; church, Bible, prayer, other Christians. Maybe even reading a post about anger (written by someone you probably don’t even know) makes you feel irrationally angry.
Reading this back, it all sounds pretty harsh, but it’s only because at different points in my life, I’ve walked through some of these feelings too. I’ve been in situations where my anger has so clouded my vision, that I’ve nearly walked away from things that were really, really good for me. But while anger can be a legitimate reaction to injustice, if we want to be healthy, it’s got to be something we walk through, not live in.
I was once given some great advice; It’s ok to be angry. Just don’t stay that way.
I’m a fan of Ephesians 4:26-27: In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.
That last part, do not give the devil a foothold, is the crucial bit for me. In other words, don’t allow anger to become so toxic that you end up destroying yourself.
When we make a conscious, deliberate decision to not feed anger, to stop it from growing into toxic sludge, we’re set free. It can take time, perseverance and real courage. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Because really, toxic anger is self-destructive. Just like the Ghostbusters’ imaginary slime, the more you feed it, the more it grows. And the more it grows, the closer you come to destroying yourself.