It can be loud and aggressive or silent and murderous and sometimes we don’t even realise we’re feeling it, but we all experience anger and tend to have a default way of expressing it too. Perhaps something along the lines of one of these angry modus operandi…
THE ‘NO CONTROL’ ANGER: just pure, immediate reaction, lashing out verbally or even physically.
SELF-DESTRUCTIVE: when the feeling gets turned inwards on yourself.
MISPLACED: the anger that comes out sideways, and may well be directed at completely the wrong person or situation.
THE ‘DON’T DO ANGER’ ANGER: it’s not part of your emotional vocabulary. Often identified as frustration.
THE ‘WON’T GO THERE’ ANGER: because it makes you feel out of control.
UNRESOLVED: sits under the surface most of the time, and flares up at the slightest provocation.
THE ENDURING SIMMER: lasts for hours, weeks, months or even years.
But however it manifests, anger remains a complicated and often-challenging companion and, generally, we’re never really taught to understand it – or ourselves.
TO RAGE OR NOT TO RAGE
We start learning about it from the role models in our lives – usually parents – who show us whether anger is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, depending on how they do it and how they respond to you getting angry as a child. Then, as adults, we go it alone, trying to make the best of what is often seen as a bad thing.
For men however, it’s often billed as one of the ‘acceptable’ emotions, better than feeling scared, lonely or vulnerable, which are often judged as not ‘manly enough’. However, in the name of being a ‘good man’ sometimes even anger gets bottled up too, or stifled or ignored. And yet, whether it’s being suppressed or expressed unreservedly, your anger has a story that’s worth listening to.
WHY DO WE GET ANGRY?
The idea that anger is the noise that covers up a different emotion makes a lot of sense to me. Taking the time to look objectively at the situation that triggered it will help you identify that emotion and understand what’s really going on. Then you can decide on the most appropriate (rather than reactive) course of action.
One way of looking at anger is to see it as the response to the violation of a value that we hold dear, for example respect, honesty or empathy. So if you value respect highly and feel someone is being disrespectful, it’s an attack on your fundamental sense of right and wrong. And that’s a big deal. (Although it’s worth remembering that what constitutes respect is likely to be different for someone else.)
You might also find the cause of your anger in the re-running of an old story. Although the situation that prompted the flare up may be new to you and perhaps a relatively minor incident, it might well have tapped into a programme you’ve been running for a while, an old wound. For example, that rage may be directed at someone who pushes the same buttons as a parent or sibling – or who simply looks or sounds like them.
In certain circles of spiritual thinking, it’s suggested that the only two real emotions are love and fear. By that token, anger is just a response to fear.
For example, parents will get angry with a child for running off, but what’s really playing out is a fear that their child will be lost or injured. Or we may get angry with a partner for spending too much time with someone else – anger that stems from the fear that our relationship is under threat. Own that vulnerability. Yes, it can be frightening, but it’s the only way you can have a real conversation about what’s going on – and the chance of a real resolution.
It’s an interesting and perhaps challenging idea to explore.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR STUFF
Blaming someone else for ‘making us angry’ is so much easier because then we don’t have to take responsibility for it – but the fact is, anger is a big mirror to our issues, our fears, our insecurities, our ‘stuff’.
By understanding what your anger is really all about, you gain the opportunity to look at it more objectively, slow down, calm down and respond from a more mature adult perspective, with presence and self-awareness.
five TIPS FOR ANGER MANAGEMENT
“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
For the sake of our own health and happiness, processing anger, learning from it and letting it go is the best thing we can do. If it prompts action, let that action be considered, balanced, fair and from a place of compassion, for ourselves and others. Festering rage is corrosive, robbing us of energy and focusing the mind in a negative, destructive, unhealthy direction.
You might like to try one or more of the following as a place to start…
If you’re a word person, get scribbling. Writing down what you’re feeling can help tease out the different issues at play, taking away the heat and offering you clarity and making it easier to find a solution.
Give those pent-up feelings expression by running them out at the gym or giving them a focus through a martial art.
Deep breathing or meditation can help transform the anger, allowing the emotion behind the anger to emerge gently.
I can vouch for the merits of tennis rackets/cricket bats/carpet beaters etc hit hard against a mattress or cushion as a constructive alternative to punching walls.
Gen up on Non-violent Communication: a compassionate technique that places your needs and those of the other person at the heart of the conversation and seeks out the win-win.
However, while, talking your feelings out calmly with the person involved can dissolve the problem, given that anger is about your stuff, you’ll find that in spite of talking to the hapless individual who talks like your mother, the buck still stops with you. You can’t change them.
THE DARK CLOUDS WITH A SILVER LINING
Channelled positively, anger can be transformed into a force to be reckoned with. As a response to violence, injustice or the violation of our fundamental rights or those of others, it’s a powerful agent of change; motivating and inspiring courageous actions and world-altering initiatives.
Equally, the anger that fires up when our loved ones are at risk means we’ll find the reserves we need to protect and care for them.
And above all, anger is a sign that we’re alive and kicking, with a fire in the belly and passion and energy that’s ripe and ready to make an impact. By listening to the story that accompanies your anger, you can make that impact a great one.
Image: Josep Castells