When and why a person becomes angry is incredibly revealing, as is what they feel entitled to do, and to whom, once anger has taken hold. It’s a very exposed emotion, often defensive in nature and as likely to make apparent a vulnerability as to protect.
It’s not unusual for anger to confer a sense of entitlement. The experience of the emotion justifies lashing out, with words, or physically. How responsible the whipping post was, can vary greatly but I often observe angry people taking it out on whoever is nearest, shooting the messenger, or picking an easier, less threatening target than the source of the problem. Domestic violence increases around sporting events as (usually) men feel moved to beat up their women because their team lost.
If we say ‘they made me angry’ and act on that, we’ve lost a degree of self determination, lost power over ourselves. Someone else can provoke us into acting in ways we do not wish to act. Rather than seeing it as a justification, we might equally see being made to do something by an angry response as a loss of power and identity.
Most of my anger has been going inwards. I’ve started watching for this, seeing how I collude with anyone else who is angry with me, and take that inside. I blame myself and judge harshly for shortcomings and I allow the loss of control into rage to be an excuse for violence towards myself. This is a pattern I am trying to break. I’m trying to notice when anger begins in me, and to see what triggers it, and there’s an interesting list.
My own powerlessness is certainly an issue. I get angry in the face of authority. Good leadership is fine, and welcome, but when someone tries to force their authority onto me to make me do things their way or submit to their worldview, I get angry. Until recently there was just a tiny window of perhaps a few minutes when I’d be capable of feeling anger with the other person but then I would rapidly start to collude, accepting their right to push me around, tell me off, put me down or whatever else it turned out to be. I’d ingest the bile until it made me ill.
I’m learning how to hang on to that initial anger, and to hold it as gently as I can inside me so that I can see what it is and where it comes from. I get angry about double standards, and being asked to do impossible things. I get angry when people are careless with my time, energy and other resources. I get angry when people are unkind, unreasonable, unfair. As a list, it seems a reasonably fair set of things to get cross about. I should be as entitled to that as anyone else is. What I have to disconnect from that process, is the idea that how I am treated is a fair measure of what I deserve. I have to recognise that not everyone gets angry fairly, and that it is not proof of wrongdoing or failure on my part. I do not have to default to taking it inside.
Some people get angry because they feel vulnerable. They take something personally that was not personal. They are too aware of their own shortcomings and trying to mask them. They need to be big and important and taken seriously and failure to do so elicits a really vulnerable kind of rage. They have poor boundaries, a lack of perspective, no self control, and a hundred other things that are wounds in their sense of self, bleeding out as anger into a world that probably isn’t as kind as they would like it to be.
Not my circus. Not my monkeys. I can be sympathetic, but I don’t have to be responsible.
Perhaps if I can learn to not take these situations personally, not assuming guilt and responsibility, I can do something better for myself. I think I can learn to hold my own boundaries and not get so damaged by other people’s anger. It is my hope, that by stepping back and holding these experiences in a different way, I can also be something that does not co-operate with other people’s stories about why they need to be so angry and why they are so entitled to express that in unpleasant ways. It’s worth a try, at any rate.