Anger management

There are two ways of getting anger wrong that I want to ponder today. One is the explosion of unhelpful, destructive or inappropriate rage. The other is the crushing of anger in the face of injustice, cruelty and the like. The more I think about it, the more certain I become that these two problematic responses to anger have similar underpinnings.

When anger comes as a sudden and disproportionate response, we didn’t get there all in one go. No one goes from calm to blind fury in a heartbeat because the loo seat was left up, or a small mistake made. Equally, no sane person ignores manifestations of tyranny, abuse, or mistreatment. Most of us may do one or the other, many of us do both. Consider our eco-suicide, toxic politics and the obscene wealth of the 1% and I suggest most of us spend a lot of time not getting angry about the right things.

The right things to be angry about are huge, terrifying, overwhelming. Little wonder if for some of us the process we prefer is to redirect all that fear and frustration into shouting at an employee, harassing a checkout operative, yelling at our partners and using bullying strategies when driving.

Other mechanisms are also available, and I think the most important ones are to do with the meanings we ascribe. We all tend to infer meanings from the words and actions of others. Most often what we’re looking to do is translate a situation so that we understand what it means for us. What do they think of us? Are they friendly, or hostile? Do they reinforce my sense of self or challenge my fragile ego? Is their world view comfortable? We can personalise our interpretations to a degree that really makes them wrong.

For example… imagine that my partner leaves the toilet seat up, and I don’t like it up. I have said so and he still does it. This is proof that he is ignoring me, does not care about what I think, need or feel. Every time I see the raised seat I treat it like a personal attack. It’s a slap in the face, a reminder that he doesn’t really care and feels he can treat me any way he likes. He’s just taking me for granted. And so each time I see the seat raised, I’ll get myself a bit more hurt and angry until eventually I explode. It may just be that he’s absent minded, and that when I explode over something he thought was no big deal, he will think I have had enough of him and am just looking for excuses to break up with him. (This is not my life, it is just a story.)

We can build towards explosive anger by telling ourselves stories about what situations mean. We can also go the other way. Here’s another illustrative story (also not Tom), also to involve toilets.

I’m the only one who cleans the toilet, and he leaves it in a terrible state. I have to clean it most days because there’s urine down the back of it and it’s covered in crap. He never flushes. Sometimes when there are guests he does this and I have to keep checking, cleaning, worrying. If I challenge him at all he gets really upset and tells me he’s ill and it’s not his fault or that I’m picking on him. I feel guilty about saying anything, and so each time I just clean up, and I feel a bit smaller, like my own worth has been chipped away at. Eventually I stop mentioning it. I stop asking him to change. He takes to pissing in the hand basin.

In both cases, what informs whether or not we get angry is the story we create for ourselves about what this whole situation says about us. The point at which you explode, or crumble, is not really the point to try and do any work with this. The trick is spotting the stories as you are creating them. Noticing the way you rack up offences and infer slights. Or notice the way you learn to roll with the blows and not make a fuss. Time taken to think about how we respond and why can help break the cycles of habitual thinking and behaviour that can make us needlessly angry, or powerless in our inability to express needful anger.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Anger management

  • joannavanderhoeven

    Indeed, if you tell someone that something that they have done (leaving the toilet in a state, calling you a name, telling you you’re the one who is always wrong) upsets you, and they continue to ignore it and your feelings, it is always best to move on. With respect. Leaving a pair of rubber gloves and a brush by the loo.

    I would hesitate to use the term needful anger, for I’m not sure anger is a good reason to do anything. Yes, we are angered at what people are doing to this planet. But the trick is to work to better the planet not in anger, but in peace.

    Coming to any situation in anger can be seen as aggression, which will immediately close down barriers and lessen communication and understanding. We need to talk to politicians and world leaders, not yell at them. We can hate their policies, but if we approach with the intention of understanding then I think we can then respond in the most appropriate manner.

    Understanding can transform that anger into peace. We need “needful peace”. 🙂

    • Nimue Brown

      I think from my own experience that anger can be a great motivator and a way of breaking through, and that can be good, but coming to things in rage is much less productive. Catching anger when it is a small, sharp thing can give you powerful tools.

      • joannavanderhoeven

        Yes indeed, anger can get us off our butts and into action. In that act, done with awareness, we transform our anger into action. It is at that point that I leave anger behind, but not motivation, if you get my drift. If I continue to work with anger, I will close myself off to the other person and by doing so, not see the bigger picture, not working with fulll awareness of the situation – does that make any sense? Or am I rambling now? 🙂

      • Nimue Brown

        That makes sense. I suspect the point of usefully letting it go is something that will vary for each of us, and ultimately, as with all things we have to be able to put them down or we are entirely consumed…

  • Kate doig

    Thanks Nimue
    Food for thought at a time when I need to understand anger. Not mine but dealing with someone elses anger. It is always so easy to ignore the story behind the anger. If you start to understand the story behind it, it helps you to know how to react and so not feed the anger.

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s a very good point, and best of luck with the coping. It is important to also hold awareness that someone ‘being made angry’ and then acting out as a consequence is not anyone else’s responsibility – all too easy to blame others for what is done in anger, which can make for dangerous situations.

  • Aurora J Stone

    How very true, the spiral of hurt>upset>frustration>anger>explosion is one of steps and degrees. And it is often misplaced/displaced because the real place is too painful to go there. But shifting around the placement is not going to solve anything, really. That said it is often very hard to look at the real root of what is causing lashing out behaviour. This is especially so when it is yourself that is really the problem not the other person.

    On a larger scale with matters huge and overwhelming on a global framework it often seems impossible to see what can be done. Here a sense and often the reality powerlessness to make a difference can trigger inappropriate responses. Or at self anger because some people are willing or able to do more than you can.

    Letting go of anger is hard. There can be a real sense of self-righteousness in maintaining an angry stance. ‘See, I really care. I’m angry about whatever issue.’ That’s not healthy or useful either.

    Once you get past pretending that the hurt, upset, frustration and anger are not there or that they are justified in any given situation then you can begin the process of freeing yourself from their hold and there is a chance to move on constructively and not wallow in a destructive place.

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