Tag Archives: anger

Tips for angry arguments

Politics doesn’t bring out the best in people, and angry political exchanges can put strains on otherwise viable friendships. What to do if someone you thought was ok starts spewing hate, insults and what looks to you like madness?

  • Don’t respond in kind. You’ll just cause them to dig in and may confirm their prejudices.
  • If they respond to facts and evidence with insults and unfounded belief, you won’t shift them by hitting them with facts. Instead, ask for their facts and evidence. Ask for the underlying philosophy of their stance. The odds are they are regurgitating unconsidered propaganda. By asking them politely to explain it, you force them to look at it, and this can be rather effective.
  • People project. If greed and self interest are their major motivators, they may be unable to imagine that anyone else has other motivations. Thus it is normal for anyone defending the welfare state to be told that they, personally want a handout and that’s their only motivation. It is worth saying if you are secure and altruistic, but don’t expect them to believe you! Try asking how they picture their old age, how they feel about their own health care prospects, how confident they are that their families can pay the bills for them in an emergency. Keep it focused on them if that seems to be all they can think about.
  • Don’t rise to the insults, and don’t reply in kind. Insults can be undermined as conversation weapons by agreeing with them – I’ve told many an antifeminist that yes, he’s right, I am fat and ugly and that doesn’t bother me at all. When recently told I lived in a swamp I enthused at length about how fantastic swamps are for water management and wildlife. You get the idea. Laugh at the insult and say you’ve heard it before and they need to try for something more original if they want to cause offence. Give them points out of ten for creativity. Treat it like a joke. If they cross the line into hate speech, report them, but otherwise laugh until they lose the will to abuse you. This includes being called stupid, naive, gullible etc – don’t defend your politics to them, it doesn’t work. ‘I’m sure it comforts you to believe that’ is more effective.
  • Sometimes on social media you’ll meet someone who is working from a script. They may be a hired troll. They may be part of a group with unpleasant intentions. Their main aim may be to suck up your time, energy and hope. Unless you know them personally, I advise stepping away because they’re a waste of your time. Here’s some signs to take into account – no discussion, only insults. Incoherence – dropping things like ‘ah, the sweet taste of liberal tears’ in where it makes no sense, referencing irrelevant things (still banging on about Hillary Clinton for example) responding to all questions by calling you butt hurt…. if there’s no real exchange, there’s not much point and they may not be a real person anyway.

It is always ok to walk away from people. Even people you know in real life if they become unbearable to deal with. We are not obliged to try and save other people from themselves. There are some big, social conversations that need to be won, but we don’t win those by echoing the behaviour of angry trolls, or by getting lured under their bridges to play their games.

The Energy of Anger

Anger gets things done. It gives us the drive to rise up, making noise and change. If someone can tap into our anger, we can be persuaded to act in all kinds of unsavoury ways, feeling justified by the force of our emotions. As we live in a culture where anger itself is seen as a reason for violence, if we get angry, any physical or psychological violence we undertake as a consequence can seem justified. We may even be proud of it, our anger having told us that we have the moral high ground, and that the ends justify the means.

I think it’s always worth being wary about what we can be manipulated into doing. So much of what is nasty in politics right now comes from feeding the anger of people who feel squeezed and then telling them who to blame. And so the anger that should more rightly have been directed towards power and money is instead used to hate the poor, refugees and other powerless, vulnerable people who make easy targets.

The energy of anger feels powerful, but the trouble is that on its own, all we can use it for is to knock down. Sometimes a bit of knocking down is necessary, but it’s never a whole solution. If all we have to work with was anger then we are not prepared for dealing with the aftermath – again modern politics is littered with unfortunate examples. We go to war, we have no idea how to build peace.

In the short term, the rush of anger energy may seem productive, but it tends to emotionally exhaust people. It won’t feed or inspire you, and to stay angry you have to deliberately keep stoking the fires of hate, and this seldom does anyone much good. Groups whose unity depends on anger have to keep finding new things to hate in order to keep moving. When anger is your energy there has to be a bad guy, an enemy, and something to fight against. You can’t make anything better when your whole way of being relies on having someone to fight. You can’t smash patriarchy, you have to build an alternative.

It’s really important not to get caught up in anger, but instead to keep an eye on what we are fighting for. What’s the real goal? What are we building? How are we going to make things better? Anger used alongside this, for short term necessary bursts of action, can serve a cause well. Anger on its own can only lock us into more fighting and destruction.

Not Getting On With People

We’re all peace and love and light, yes? The idea that we are, and that we should be, causes no end of trouble and I think sometimes adds to conflict. The reality is that there are many people in this world who do not get on with each other. It need not mean that either party is a terrible person (some people do terrible things though, this is a real issue). Sometimes, some of us rub each other up the wrong way. Sometimes we’re too similar to find each other bearable. Sometimes we bring out the worst in each other.

If we don’t feel obliged to be all peace, love and light, it’s possible to just acknowledge the problem and step away from each other. Distance is a great cure for friction. It doesn’t even take much distance – a little facebook unfriending, a little staying away from each other’s blogs, a little physical distance in other situations.

I spent years struggling with the mad belief that I should be so lovely, so infinitely flexible, accommodating, helpful, patient etc etc that everyone would like me. Everyone.  Never mind how inherently nauseating that would be if I managed to pull it off – the human equivalent of a beige carpet with the inevitable stains covered up by equally beige rugs. The day I realised it was fine if people didn’t like me, my life got a good deal easer. I don’t have to please and appease everyone. I may be a people-pleaser by nature, but I can choose how and where to do that.

Giving myself permission not to like everyone has been liberating. I do not give myself permission to hassle, troll or otherwise give people a hard time though – with the exception of politicians and other people in places of real power who may need calling to account now and then. Other flawed, messy people doing their own things might not be to my liking. I allow myself to move away from them. The endlessly dull people, the mean spirited, the controlling, the self-important, the uncooperative and so on and so forth.

I have learned to walk away and try to make as little fuss as possible. When the focus of my irritation responds to me in the same way, its fine. We might even be able to grudgingly respect each other from a safe distance. If they stay out of my face, they can expect I will do the same, because conflict is exhausting and I don’t enjoy it in the slightest. I would rather have a quieter life.

Of course it’s not always that simple. Some people enjoy a fight, and the frisson of conflict. Some people get a kick out of drama, and the scope for being centre stage. Some people need others in their lives to act out specific roles for them so that their stories continue to function. Being cast as someone else’s villain, someone’s oppressor and abuser is awkward if you really don’t want to play. Refusing to put any energy into a conflict is often the most productive way, because the person who feeds on drama and needs a fight doesn’t get much out of the person who isn’t really doing that.

Would that I were an ocean of smooth calm, unsusceptible to waves, but of course I’m not. I have buttons to push, I can be wound up, harassed to the point of losing my temper. If I feel I’ve been treated unfairly, I don’t always manage to go with the conflict-reduction methods. I know from bitter experience that simply removing energy from a situation can mean setting up someone else to be the next victim of the same process, and I don’t always feel at ease with that. Sometimes I get cross, because anger is a necessary part of holding boundaries.

Getting angry with a situation allows us all to hold a sense of self intact and place the problem squarely outside of us. It can be a vital survival skill. Holding the edges is a good thing, but it’s so easy to let defending the boundary turn into attacking the (perhaps imagined) aggressor, and from there it isn’t such a huge leap to doing unto others before they can do unto you, and becoming the problem.

It is ok not to like each other. Another person’s dislike does not invalidate any of us as people. It’s what we do with the dislike that counts.

Coping With Fear

In the aftermath of Brexit, I see a lot of people frightened for the future. The feelings of uncertainty, the not knowing what could be lost or how they might be affected. Then there’s the grief compounding it – grief for the loss of the idea of Europe. I admit that what happened with Greece had already left me questioning my idea of Europe. The loss of a dream is always a painful thing.
I’ve been coping with anxiety for years, and I’m finding all the things I have to do in other aspects of my life are just as relevant here, and so perhaps worth sharing.

You have to manage your thoughts. This means noticing what you are thinking in the first place and not letting thoughts run wild and cause distress. It is important to make time for whatever emotions are coming up – fear, anger, resentment, disillusionment – whatever you’ve got. But the trick is to give those feelings time without letting them take over. Perhaps the best way to do this is to watch out for and avoid the idea that how you feel justifies certain actions. I am afraid so I can run away. I am angry so I can lash out etc. Not only does this cause trouble out there in the rest of the world, but it gives power to your feelings. Run away because you were scared, and you’ll stay scared.

There are physical situations that need running away from to stay safe, but that’s about changing your relationship with the rest of the world. If the problem is your own emotions, running away doesn’t work.

Denial doesn’t work, either. Complex mental loops that allow everything to be for your higher good can leave you unable to process, or handle, your actual life experiences and their actual emotional impact on you. Self honesty is best, but self honesty doesn’t have to get so involved with itself that it becomes dysfunctional.

While looking at how you are feeling, it is important not to escalate things. Those of us with more darkly creative minds can see a thousand and one ways to go to hell in a handcart. There’s a technical term for this in mental health, it’s called ‘catastrophising’. If you take how you were feeling and imagine the worst possible ways it could play out, you will feel much, much worse about things. The emotions you were feeling will grow to unmanageable proportions and you’ll make yourself ill. It is possible to control your own thoughts, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it is very necessary indeed.
If you can stay in control of your own thoughts, it’s a lot easy to work out what you need to be thinking about. What, realistically can you do? What might be a useful investment against more likely troubles? When your head isn’t full of imagined disaster, it’s easy to get on with reducing the scope for actual disaster.

There’s a fairy tale about a bird who is so afraid the sky will fall on their head, that they aren’t paying attention to other things and end up eaten by a fox. Hold that thought. The sky probably isn’t going to fall, but there are plenty of hungry predators to avoid.

Contemplating violence

No one starts by killing someone.

There is a process of escalation, increasing levels of violence, or a psyching up to the attack. When we are going to be violent, we feed it, deliberately. We dehumanise the enemy, we hold our rage close and tell ourselves why the rage is justified, and why we are entitled to act on it. We feed our own fear, of what ‘they’ will do to us if we don’t act first. We attribute to ‘them’ the reasons for all the hate and fear we’re experiencing. ‘They’ did this to us. We’re just protecting ourselves.

Whether we’re talking about someone who beats their spouse, verbally abuses others online, murders, or we’re talking about violent action between communities, or countries going to war, there is a process of feeding the hate and fear first. I know of people who have been physically assaulted by other people who were screaming ‘you are abusing me’ even as they did the damage. The attacker is often invested in their own victimhood.

Not so long ago, I was witness to a person psyching up, but not alert enough to see what was happening until afterwards. They spoke at length about how they had been a victim, how everyone thought the aggressor lovely, but really the aggressor was nasty. It went on for some time, at the end of which the ‘victim’ went off in a state of carefully crafted rage to challenge the ‘bully’ over a matter of coffee. Shouting ensued, as the ‘victim’ hurled abuse at the ‘bully’. At the end the ‘victim’ stomped off, still shouting about how badly they had been treated, while the ‘bully’ still silent, stood shaking and tearful, shocked by what had happened over a mistake involving coffee. The ‘victim’ then later told us it’s a well known fact that the victim leaves the fight first. This is rubbish.

Stood outside of the situation, I saw one person invest enormously in becoming angry and feeling hard done by in order to feel justified in launching an intimidating verbal assault on someone who, at worst, might have been guilty of a trivial error of judgement.

When we act on anger, it’s because we feel justified. Verbal aggression online is common, and watching it, I notice that very few people are just having fun. Many are afraid, and see the ‘other’ as a threat and a menace. You will bring down society. You will destroy this country. You will make everything worse. You will let some even more fearful third party do even more terrible things. Go on the offensive in response to their terrible accusations, and all their fear and rage seems justified, to the person who will then consider themselves your victim.

Of course our anger is reasonable, well placed and appropriate. We’re acting for the best possible reasons, and on the other side there are narrow-minded idiots who cannot see how dangerous their ideas are, and what kind of trouble they are causing. They cannot see how wrong they are and it is our job to shout some sense into them. Scream it into their faces. Knock it into them. Beat them into submission.

And of course the easiest answer to this problematic, toxic expression of anger, is to rage at other people for expressing it. If we can’t get at them, we can lash out at those who were to hand, but made a bad call about the coffee, or other such infringements. Other people should not be angry. It’s all their fault. How can this change if we don’t face our own anger?

There is a relationship between verbal violence and physical violence. Mostly we start with words, with accusations and justifications, and we ramp it up from there. Perhaps if we want genuine solutions to matters of fear, hatred and violence, we’re going to need to start with non-violent language.

Matters of exclusion

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to identify two kinds of exclusion. One is a genuine issue, where people are not able to participate because their needs are not met – usually by something inherent in the location that assumes everyone can leap off buses, bound up flights of stairs, squeeze into small toilets and so forth. Or because there’s prejudice against them in some way – gender, race, sexuality etc. Exclusion based on not considering what some potential participants might need, is a bit shit, through to a lot shit, depending on how big and professional an outfit you are supposed to be. Exclusion based on prejudice is abhorrent.

Type two exclusion, is when a space is offered as particularly for one set of people – that tends to be about gender and lgbt spaces, ethnicity, and disability, sometimes it can be about religion. The logic behind this kind of space is that it allows people to talk about their specific experiences. Bringing together fellow travellers to talk about issues is an opening move to getting things done, often. I think these are good spaces to have. The trouble is, that this kind of group pretty much always excludes young, straight, cis-gendered, moderately affluent, able bodied white boys, and this really, really winds some of them up.

These are the chaps who, if you talk about domestic abuse will say ‘men are victims too’ – not because they have been, but to derail the conversation. These are the men’s rights activists, who think hashtags like #nohymennodiamond are a good thing. Because female virginity is a male rights issue, obviously. If a group is about an ethnic minority, it’s racist for excluding them, women’s groups are sexist for excluding them, and so on and so forth. They’re very present on twitter and very easy to spot, and they are angry, and they feel left out, marginalised and unfairly treated.

Most sane people treat them as a bit of a joke. As they are the kind of joke that sends death and rape threats to women who dare to speak about sexism in the gaming industry, to take an obvious example, I think it is worth considering their issues. Why are they so angry? Why are they so bothered about not having a place in groups that manifestly have nothing to offer them anyway? It’s easy to make them choose to go away. Say you want to talk about the agonising details of childbirth or the mechanics of menstruation, and you won’t see them for dust. Say ‘no men’ and they take offence. You might instead get some friendly chaps at your talking about blood group who would like to be better informed, and you might decide you can make the time to inform them, and if you can’t, they may feel a bit sad, but are unlikely to tell you to go and kill yourself.

I’ve done a bit of an informal study, because twitter makes that easy. Who are these angry young men? Well, based on their tweets, they aren’t terribly articulate, nor do they have much to say when they aren’t hating on someone. Most have a handful of followers, so they aren’t popular and don’t have many friends or fans. Most show no signs of having much going for them – they don’t talk about personal achievement, they don’t have anything to show. If their profile pictures are indicative, none are especially well dressed, fit or good looking by conventional standards. These are guys you would pass in the street without a second glance.

I suspect they’ve grown up well enough off to feel entitled, but not so well off as to be safe forever, but they don’t have much going for them, so making their own way in the world will be hard. They have neither the money nor the looks, nor the personalities to attract women, and are painfully ignorant on the subject of relationships. With no emotional literacy worth mentioning, they have little hope of sustaining relationships, as their lack of online friends often indicates. Take away their young white male straight cis-gendered privileges, and all they have left is being barely able to string a sentence together, a spotty face, a bad wardrobe, and a dead end job. Of course they’re angry. Rather than deal with their own shortcomings, they project that anger outwards.

I think the problem is that, having nothing going for them and no prospects, they do feel marginalised. All the spaces for marginalised people have no room for them, because they look like young white straight male privilege. Desperate for attention, desperate to make a mark, they strike out because they do not think they are capable of doing anything better, and they resent anyone who in face of having nothing going for them, by their standards (being female, ethnic, gay etc) are trying to do something.

It must be a whole world of pain. So if you run into one acting out (usually on Twitter, but no doubt they lurk in other places, too), pity them. They belong to that most marginalised of groups – the privileged white guy who expects it all handed to him on a plate but isn’t seeing any action. They can’t admit to feeling marginalised because that would mean admitting to being failures by their own standards. So they envy those whose reasons for feeling marginalised aren’t shameful, and who are supporting each other. It hurts them every time someone else gets up. It hurts them every time no one is impressed by them being white boys. They belong in a different century. Pat them gently on the head and tell them that they can have a sandwich, the trick is to take their sorry ass out the kitchen and make it all by themselves.

Honourable relationship and conflict

The idea of honourable relationship as a key part of being a Druid is something that I came to through the Druid Network. It’s a tricky concept, because honour is by its very nature a personal thing, so where honour systems do not match up, it can be difficult to work out how to engage with each other. For me, clear communication, respecting difference and the right of other people to self determine, recognising as best I can where there might be issues of power imbalance, or privilege is the starting point.

When dealing with another well meaning, honourable person, even when things go wrong or someone messes up, it’s possible to find ways forward without aggression, point scoring or anything else toxic and misery inducing. However, there are times (especially online) when the other person is so offensive that gentle negotiation isn’t possible, and emotional responses to the offense are challenging to manage.

We all have our own rage-triggers, some of them more easily set off than others. Other people’s reasons for taking offence can seem unreasonable, ludicrous even. Our own are, of course, perfectly natural and the only thing a decent human being could be expected to feel in the circumstances. This of course doesn’t help in the slightest.

There is a school of thought that taking offence is meaningless and that a person who is offended has no right to expect anyone to do differently just to appease them. Stephen Fry has famously commented to this effect. There is a school of thought that the only good response to things that make us cross is to be patient and compassionate with the offending person. There are schools of thought that say we are only angry with other people when we see bits of ourselves that we do not like reflected in what they do or say. And you know, there are things about these arguments that make me really, really angry.

I pride myself on being a fairly tolerant person, but the ‘fairly’ aspect of that is becoming more important to me all the time. An it harm none, do what you will. It’s none of my business. The more harm you do, or support, the more entitled I think I am to take issue with that. So I’m not going to tolerate bullying behaviour. I’m also not going to tolerate lies and misinformation, manipulation, wilful cruelty, those who ‘have’ bashing those who do not have. I will not tolerate victim blaming, slut shaming, prejudice, bigotry and fundamentalism. I will not stand by quietly, or necessarily be very polite towards someone who is acting out, throwing their weight around, hurting something else or otherwise acting in a way I find totally unacceptable.

Where possible, I try to respond to things that make me angry with calm, clear, non-aggressive expressions of why there is a problem. When someone is determined to hate because they enjoy hating, when people use personal attacks and won’t talk in reasoned ways, I will not be tolerant. When the ideas involved have people’s lives at stake (racial hatred, fundamentalism, austerity) then I will set out to be an enemy to whoever is perpetrating that. Words are my weapons. I will use reason, and satire, and if needs be I will be rude and challenging if I think that might get a point across rather than entrenching the position.

When there are genuinely evil ideas in the mix, when there are lives at stake, when real people are really suffering, or real creatures, or ecosystems, then to be tolerant is to be complicit. It is not enough to be a well meaning person with a live and let live attitude. We have to look at what we tolerate, and why, and if we are angry, what we think that anger entitles us to do, and why. There’s a lot we need to be angry about right now, but to make anger part of the honourable response, part of how you function as a Druid, takes thought and attention.

The revealing powers of anger

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.

Sitting with anger

My normal response to anger is to crush it down, denying the feelings and giving them no space. If it does manifest, depression, or the more immediate tears of frustration are likely. I’ve lived in spaces where everything was dependably my fault, and also learned how to work that out for myself – it saved a lot of time and stress, where expressing anger would lead to a lengthy, miserable browbeating and the same sorry outcome.

Other people work differently with anger. I have been on the receiving end of anger as justification for action. I’ve been shouted at because I had ‘made people angry’ and I’ve been hit in that context, too. I’ve felt physically very threatened by other people’s anger. What happens here is that the feeling of anger is identified as being caused by the other person, which justifies anything you do to them in response. I never want to do that, so what does that leave me in terms of handling rage when it erupts within me?

I’ve been trying a thing. I get myself some space as quickly as I can, while the anger is still boiling and fresh. I sit with it, and I listen to where it’s coming from, and I ask questions. Why, exactly, am I angry? The mostly likely answer is that I feel threatened and vulnerable, my anger an attempt at defence. I may feel ignored, put upon or mildly mistreated. I might be reacting to injustice. It’s entirely possible that someone has pushed an old button for me, and done so in all innocence. Like a small child, I keep asking why. Why does that hurt? Why does that threaten me? Why am I offended?

By this means, if I am trying to defend wounded pride or justify being in the wrong, I eventually face up to this without savaging anyone else, first. If I am dealing with a triggering of history, I spot it, and do not swipe back at someone who, from their perspective, really wasn’t intending any harm. Last but by no means least, if my careful reflection identifies someone who really was taking the piss, I firm up my boundaries and calmly work out exactly how best to deal with it. On the whole this is getting me results I am happy with.

Anger denied and anger not permitted makes a person vulnerable. If you can’t fend off what isn’t welcome, you are settling into a victim role and are easily mistreated. It’s not a way to live. Anger denied has, for me, largely transformed into self hatred, and I’ve carried destructive levels of self-loathing for a long time. Maybe I don’t have to be that person any more. When I let myself get angry for the right reasons, think it through and take non-violent and productive action, I feel better in myself. I feel stronger, safer, more capable. With time I think I could stop carrying this internalised violence towards myself that has come from swallowing other people’s aggression. Worth a shot at any rate.

(Previous ponders of anger are here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/anger-management/ and here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/angry-druid/ )

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.