Tag Archives: rage

Working with anger

(With thanks to Dolly, who has given me some excellent blog prompts lately, do keep them coming!)

Anger is not an emotion that women, and female presenting people such as myself are often allowed to express without censure. Men are allowed to be angry, and tragically it’s often the only emotion men are allowed to show. It is however part of who we all are, and something we need to make space for.

All too often, anger is used as a justification for physical violence and verbal attacks. Where this comes up in a domestic abuse or workplace bullying context, what evidence we have suggests that the angry aggressors know what they’re doing. They aren’t out of control. Many aggressors will deliberately work themselves into a state of rage that they think justifies what follows. I can’t recall details of the study but I remember more than a decade ago reading work about male prisoners, who admitted that they often fabricated the appearance of rage to justify and get away with attacking their partners. Clearly this is inexcusable.

Rage does have good uses, though. The feeling of rage shows us when our boundaries have been violated, and can help us hold those boundaries firmly in face of threats. Anger is a good and natural response to cruelty and injustice. The trick is channelling those feelings into something productive. That might mean protest and campaigning, and using rage to fuel other kinds of practical actions that push for change.

I used to channel anger into cutting wood, many years ago. As a teen it used to mostly go into drumming, and into thrashing out Beethoven’s angry chords on the piano. Rage can translate into art in all sorts of ways, and that in turn can both help re-assert violated boundaries, and to protect them. Rage transformed into creativity can bring solutions to injustice. Too much fighting against something is exhausting and demoralising, but well handled rage can turn into the emotional strength not merely to react, but to fight for something. When we’re focusing on what we value, it is easier to sustain the work we need to do, be that around protest, resisting oppression or making radical change.

I do write in anger, sometimes. I’ve written a fair few blog posts because there were things that filled me with a fury I had no other way of processing. Most of the time I try to turn that anger into something that can help make change, rather than just flailing about impotently. But, I’m human, I don’t always manage things as well as I’d like to. So be it. 

There is power in anger. Used well, it can get a lot done. I’m not ashamed of my anger, and a lot of the time I’m actively proud of where it takes me and what I’ve done with it. Anger turned inwards is always a messy, problematic thing, but when I’ve taken my rage and worked it into something productive, I’ve managed to do some powerful things. What starts as fury doesn’t always show up that way, so it may not always be obvious to people watching, whether I or anyone else has started out doing something because they were cross. Joining OBOD all those years ago was driven in part by anger, in part by distress. Rage led me to something really good there – as it often will when given the space.

No emotion is ever wrong. It’s what we choose to do with it that matters most.

On the inside – fiction

Don’t be so vain, they said. Your pretty face is skin deep, it means nothing. The accident of good bones, good skin, inherited from your ancestors and just luck. Just because other people praise other girls for the accident of their face, don’t you expect anything. 

It’s what you have on the inside that really counts.

Try harder, they said. Be faster. Why don’t you know this already? And don’t say it’s because no one taught you or showed you. You must be 100% all the time, and better than all the others at everything. You must be perfect, but you must also be modest. Don’t seek attention, don’t make a fuss, don’t you dare think for a moment that what you do makes you special or important.

But what does she have on the inside? 

Rage. All the rage that has no way into the world. All the frustration of endless striving only to find that she has never reached the goal, never proved good enough fast enough. She is not perfectly perfect and superior to all others, she is only a small girl, full of anger that she is not allowed to show because that would be making a fuss and being a nuisance.

It’s what you have on the inside that really counts.

She is surprised when it emerges, but also relieved. Tearing through what was only ever skin deep. Not so pretty now. Tearing through the people who tried to control her. Not so biddable now. And when she stops tearing at herself with these many hands made of rage, she realises that she is bigger than she knew, and more dangerous than she feared, and she is done with their shit. And no one, no one is going to tell her again who she is supposed to be.

(Art by Dr Abbey)

Let me tell you what you’re really like

If we seek out a professional person, the probability is that we want them to tell us how they think things really are. That will include measurements of ourselves. We may also turn to friends, family and colleagues for feedback on how we’re doing. We might invite criticism. We’re allowed to do that. We’re also allowed to speak plainly if someone asks us to.

Misjudge, and an unsolicited compliment can be creepy, patronising, or even a put down. I’ve blogged about that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/swimming-metaphorically-with-the-social-jellyfish/

However, what’s interesting to me at the moment is what happens when people feel the need to give unsolicited criticism. ‘Let me tell you what you’re really like’ is seldom the prelude to a compliment.

Shit happens. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. Most of us are dealing with this kind of thing in small ways on a daily basis. It’s important to identify what went wrong, it may be relevant to identify who was responsible or what could be changed to improve things.  When we’re focused on action, choices, behaviour even, we’re talking about things that can change. It’s not terrible to be told that something needs to be better or could be worked on. We’re all flawed and human and we all need to be able to talk to each other about these things.

However, it’s a very different business when we want to tell the other person who they are. You are this, you are that… It’s not a big problem with compliments – you are lovely, you are kind, you are considerate, you are generous, you are brilliant – most people don’t object to hearing things like this. You are useless, you are horrible, you are stupid, you are creepy – no one wants to hear this.  I’m not convinced it’s a helpful thing to do, either.

Firstly it makes the problem intrinsic, it doesn’t invite change or tell the person much about how they could change. ‘When you do this I find it difficult’ is more useful. ‘When you say X I feel Y’ can be a place to start a process. But when we say ‘you are’ in critical ways, it comes across as judgement and rejection. If you are terrible, how can there be scope for change?

If we talk about how we experience each other, there’s room to talk about why. Projection and historical baggage can so easily be part of the mix. We may use words in different ways, or have triggers or anxieties. If we can share what we experience, we can negotiate with each other, and learn to co-operate more effectively.

‘You are’ statements can be a form of power over. The person speaking has given themselves a status, an entitlement to label and categories the other person, to judge them, and to say what is going on. It puts all the responsibility for the situation onto the other person. It denies even the possibility of a problem being collective, not individual.

It’s not something I often do, but it is something I’ve done in states of rage on a few occasions. For me, it marks the end of a dialogue. It’s something that doesn’t come up often in my life, but that I’d like to handle more effectively. On the whole I think the only ‘you are’ statement I want to use henceforth in a critical way should go ‘you are not someone I can continue interacting with’ – give or take.

The desire to make someone understand an uncomfortable truth can, at the time, come from a place of wanting justice, recognition, or fair treatment. But in practice, when I’ve got to this point with someone, it’s because those things were entirely absent. There’s nothing I can say that will change anything. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in dropping a truth-bomb like this before walking away, but how much good that really does anyone – myself included – I am uncertain.

Angry Druid

For me, the journey of recent years has involved claiming my own anger and letting myself feel entitled to it. Anger is not a socially accepted emotion – especially not in women and many of us learn that we are to be quiet, grateful, biddable and co-operative and that we must never, ever cause offence by being furious. Never mind what’s done to us to provoke the fury.

I’m also only too aware that there are a second set of people who feel entitled to anger over anything that displeases them or makes them uncomfortable. There are a small number of people for whom the experience of anger is understood as an excuse for violence, as though to be angry is to have no choice but to lash out.

Getting the balance of needful, healthy, protective anger without falling into the anger that is deaf to all negative feedback, is tricky. It’s not what we feel that’s in issue here, it’s what we choose to do with it. How and when we express anger, is a choice. This is very much a work in progress for me, and as ever, alternative stories and perspectives are exceedingly welcome.

I’ve identified two different anger inducing situations for me. The first is impersonal – a response to sexism, casual or deliberate, to things that enable rape culture, racism, pedalling misinformation, hypocrisy and the such. The vast majority of anything said by anyone from UKIP and quite a lot of other political stuff too, in fact. I wade in and I comment. I make a point of being as polite as I can with this, because feeling entitled to be rude is a lot of what enables the other side in these fights. I’m not doing it with any hope of winning, but some possibility that others, getting to compare me being polite and rational with the hateful raving, might decide they don’t want to support the haters. It’s worth a try. While the clashes I get into are often wearing, I know what I’m doing and why and I feel fairly confident about it.

The personal stuff is a lot harder. I don’t feel confident about my entitlement to personal anger. If someone seems rude, unkind or aggressive in their treatment of me, my default is still to step back, and the urge is still to apologise and assume blame and responsibility. That’s been a big problem for me historically and has left me vulnerable, so I’m trying not to do it. Where possible, what I do is step away to explore my responses without the source of emotion present. If I can get a second opinion, I will. A wider context can help establish what is fair, reasonable, normal, etc. That enables me to make more informed judgements about how I’m handling things. I will talk to people I trust to see if it looks likely that I’m in the wrong. If it is necessary to go back and say anything, it will be calm and considered.

I’ve never said anything in anger that I didn’t mean and later had to retract. I have a great deal of difficulty with people who use ‘I was angry’ to excuse this. If honour is central to Druidry, then your word is everything, and if you speak carelessly, or say things in rage that are not meant, where does that leave your honour? I find I’m more comfortable with people who own what they do in anger, who meant what they said and are not ashamed to own it in hindsight. That’s a good deal easier to respect, even if I do choose to step away from them, than the person who lashes out, and in a desire to seem nice, later puts the lie to their own words.

I am convinced that it is possible to feel, express and honour anger- our own and other people’s – without falling into a shouty, aggressive, dysfunctional and dishonourable state.

The consequences of anger

Plenty of religions (and Yoda) discourage anger, but we don’t talk much beyond vague ‘bad karma’ and ‘god doesn’t like it’ ideas about the consequences of anger. There are times when rage is a good and needful thing, enabling us to change perceptions, change our lives and so forth. There are times when dramatic upheavals and huge responses are called for. The trouble is that the anger lingers on long after the moment has passed. The echoes of historical injustice, the memory of pain, can keep us trapped in a moment that has actually gone. I know because I’ve done it. Then there are the smaller things that people let themselves get angry about, and can still be bringing up years after they happened. I don’t think I do that much, but I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and yes, that makes me angry. It’s so easy to get angry with someone else’s anger, too, and escalate the thing up into something truly hideous.

I feel anger as a physical tension in my body, and there’s a definite relationship between it, and anxiety. A lot of my anxiety has to do with the things I am also angry about. I don’t want them to happen to me again. I don’t want to be a victim. I’m angry because I am afraid, and afraid because I am angry and round it goes. Live there and it will make you very, very ill. My experience of angry people suggests that a significant number (but not all) are angry defensively, trying to protect themselves from wrongs and threats, real and imagined. When the threats are real, the anger can be useful. When the threats are imagined, the anger is as dangerous to the person holding it as to anyone else. Someone who has got into the habit of feeling afraid may no longer be able to tell the difference. There are people who are determined to cast themselves in the victim role so as to justify lashing out in anger against others as well.

There are people who seem to enjoy being angry. It can, after all, feel powerful. And yes, the righteous anger that throws off the chains of slaves and brings down tyrannies is a good kind of power, but that can get addictive. Of course when we are angry we want to believe that we have the moral high ground and are entitled to hit out, with words or fists. We want to feel good about manifesting our rage. Movies are full of examples of ‘heroes’ who do just this, reinforcing our beliefs about how good it is to crush the opposition. Only it isn’t good. It leads to retaliation and feuds. It leads to broken relationships that cannot be fixed. As soon as you get into win/lose scenarios, everyone loses.
It’s not easy stepping away from what you firmly believe to be righteous indignation. That hunger for justice, that need to have your pain recognised, the desire that other people should do something about it… I’ve seen what it does. I’ve yet to see someone come out of the angry place actually happy with the outcome. It’s not about the winning, it’s about what the being angry does to you. It robs you of peace. It keeps you revisiting all the things that hurt. There comes a time to put it behind you, learn what you can and move on. Where that place is will vary depending on person and circumstance of course, it’s not for anyone else to dictate who should be ‘over it’ by now.

I’m alert to signs that people are angry because they are afraid. Sometimes those can be eased with a gentler, more careful approach. I’m not going to be angry with someone because they need me to be more careful with them – that would be pointless, and would entrench the fear. I’ve had people get angry with me on those terms, it achieves nothing good, and creates more misery. If I think someone just enjoys being angry, I’ve learned not to argue because there’s no point, it just makes them worse. Better to walk away and come back if they calm down. I’m not interested in being a whipping post.

My own anger, I am trying to turn into something else. I’m not prepared to let it keep me in an afraid place. Anger can also feed courage. It can be the motivation to stand up and say or do what is necessary – not to strike back, not to lash out or to hurt but to calmly face down and try to fix. The kind of anger that would enable me to calmly support other people who need help, and calmly not escalate things when other people are being bloody stupid. It’s not about supressing the feelings, or not experiencing anger, it’s not letting it run on and not wilfully feeding it to get to some dramatic shouty place, and not enabling the people around me to go their either. Not that I live with anyone shouty anymore, but there’s a whole world out there…

The great toad massacre

It’s exactly what happened last year. In the autumn, frogs and/ or toads move about. I suspect they do it at night, and I’m not sure which sort of amphibian it is. All I see are the splattered corpses on the road. There’s a horrible irony to finding them on the last few miles down to the famous wildfowl and wetland centre. The odds are some have been killed by people who came out to see the wildlife.
The trouble with cars, is that doing fifty miles an hour down a darkened lane, you aren’t going to see a frog crossing the road, much less have time to avoid it. That’s assuming you’d care to bother in the first place. Our amphibian populations are in decline. If the number of corpses I’ve seen in the last week are anything to go by, road deaths must be a contributing factor.
Of course there’s a thirty mile and hour limit on this road, but a lot of people don’t respect it. Especially not on the pub run at night. There are always horses, joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and children in the lanes round here, even after dark and there are always stupid, mindless idiots who drive at full tilt. And there are also always corpses. Birds, small mammals, larger mammals, pet cats, I found a grass snake once, it’s head crushed by a passing vehicle. One of the things about being a cyclist is that you get to see the carnage. We stop for anything and everything. I’ve rescued frogs from the road, worms, caterpillars, beetles. I have accidentally killed a couple of snails, I admit, but the death toll created by cycling is fairly low. Up on the main road, someone did get a horse a couple of years ago, the poor animal so badly wounded that it had to be put down, while the distraught child rider had to be taken away in an ambulance.
All for the sake of getting there a bit sooner, or for the dubious pleasure of speed.
We kill a lot of people this way too, pedestrians, cyclists, children.
There is a widely held idea that guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Cars don’t kill people and wildlife. People driving cars kill people, and wildlife. I’d like universal recognition that cars are bloody dangerous things that can and do kill people every day. And that kill birds, mammals, amphibians and insects in horrendous numbers. Speed makes it worse. Speed gives you less time to notice, less time to avoid, it gives the creature itself less time to get out of the way, human creatures included. The higher your speed, the more damage you are likely to do when you hit. And when you hit something of flesh and blood, that damage is immediate, painful, and quite possibly lethal. Cars are killing machines. They need treating like dangerous killing machines, not like toys.
I don’t drive. I simply could not face the responsibility of directing something so phenomenally dangerous. But killing things with cars is normal, and people just shrug it off. The toads, on the other hand, have no shrugging options at all. They aren’t going anywhere.