Anger: the passionate intruder
Anger! This is one emotion that really stands out with its sometimes terrifying ferocity. In our verbal world, we have more words and ways of describing it than any other emotional sense. Anger is one of the passions in our lexicon of emotions.
Sometimes it scares us, the power of our own temper, it can be coerced into existence in the presence of crowds, the violence of the mob with safety in numbers.
We attempt to take care of it, as we do not wish it to define us. "I am not that person!" And yet it has been with us since birth, largely ignored or put down as children. It is no wonder that we have not learnt how to live with this powerful force within us.
We have little modelling to follow, anger is rarely seen in public, or in the cultural arts, movies, theatre etc. This primal force is immediate and powerful (the Incredible Hulk is correct when he warns people that "you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!").
Personally, I see anger as a possible emotional dance partner in this journey through life, if we can dance with our feelings and understand their message/motives then we are no longer beholden to our hidden selves.
Anger - a quick sketch map
I often liken anger to a thunderstorm, brewing with ominous clouds or appearing out of nowhere. Like a storm, the lightning charge must go somewhere. Anger needs to find a home.
Herein lie the issues. It is not safe to express anger in most social situations, or in a workplace hierarchy. The old saying, “I got the hump about this,” is slang for unexpressed anger. We will repress our anger until we cannot carry it anymore. Then when an opportunity arises the red mist will descend, and so we take it home and act snappy with someone else.
The anger drama shows how it is we take out our most powerful emotions on those closest to us. Surely, they can withstand the waves, and forgive us when we simmer down. This enactment though is then followed with shame and guilt as we have been taught by parents, school etc that we should not be angry (curiously, this societal rule seems to apply generally more to women than men).
Lastly, I am reminded that a hair-trigger person loses their angry power quickly, they are dismissed easily as grumpy, ill-tempered etc. The real power of this emotional expression has always lain within the unexpected outburst. What is this emotion?
I am drawn to the useful metaphor that our anger is the dragon in the basement protecting a valuable casket. This casket contains our previous hurts, our sense of unfairness, our vulnerabilities in total.
This anger dragon will effectively drive people away, leaving us foolish but safe. If anything, anger tries to guarantee that we get heard. That we are hurt and need to protect ourselves from others (no matter how well-meaning they might be).
However, that parental message (reinforced later by school and society) tells us "Be strong, do not be angry, other people will not like it." And so, we go out and kick dustbins instead!
When anger has no way out, because it might be dangerous or just that we have become angry with ourselves (why didn’t I see that parking warden?) we internalise the feelings.
Sometimes this finds relief in revenge fantasy, a replaying of events until we get it right. In this fantasy, there is a safe place to rail against the unfairness or sheer stupidity of the actions of others. This home for anger, as a fantasy restoration is ok enough, unless we get stuck there it passes and rehomes the angry feeling.
When this does not work, we now have an unwelcome companion in our unconscious life. It can become a deep part of our shadow, unknowingly transported in our interior life, and projected onto others.
Else we continue to carry it around, adding it to an already gathered set of unspoken grievances, this often leads to ‘stacking’; each small thing gets attached to the growing pile, until eventually it just topples over in a moment of release, sometimes over a trivial thing, an overreaction to a broken cup maybe.
Counselling can help here. Often, we do things, in this case, explode, with no real understanding of why we are doing it with such emotional intensity. The emotional hijack of anger (sometimes called a fit of anger) feels like a loss of self-control. The aftermath contains guilt, shame and even remorse. “I shouldn’t have got that angry”, “I just saw red”.
The problem is we often listen to reply, rather than to understand what the point of the message was. We already know (probably) the common triggers, the sense of unfairness, the unfeeling actions of others, our own shortcomings, the need to defend ourselves in relationship conflict, or just to attempt to stand up for ourselves and not be pushed around like an unfeeling robot.
On the opposite side of the emotional coin, anger can be a useful friend, as the Sex Pistols said ‘anger is an energy’ sometimes funding art and our ability to push through barriers.
In a counselling space, safe and in confidence, it is possible to explore this powerful force in our lives.
What does it mean in our emotional space? Is the anger dragon protecting previous hurts and fears? It is said that the thing we fear the most is that which has already hurt us.
Counselling allows the opportunity to see the hidden meaning and the usefulness (or not) of this emotional reaction. What is brought to our conscious awareness no longer controls us. We can control it. We can learn to respond rather than react to situations. We can also come to an understanding of ourselves and forgive our own shortcomings.
The contours of this map
We all have anger as an emotional guest, we were all once angry babies, children etc., how we learnt to be angry then we carry into our adult lives. If we grew up in an angry household, being angry in our own relationships will seem normal. If you ignored or were punished for anger it stills seems an undiscovered country. It is part of us and needs to see the light of day to be a useful friend rather than hidden away and brooded upon.
If you recognise yourself in this brief map of feeling, and anger has become too much for you to hold onto, try counselling and find yourself liberated.
Peace and good fortune
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