Anger is a basic human emotion that is experienced by all people. Typically triggered by an emotional hurt, anger is usually experienced as an unpleasant feeling that occurs when we think we have been injured, mistreated, opposed in our long-held views, or when we are faced with obstacles that keep us from attaining personal goals.
I grew up in a household where anger was characterized by constant physical and mental abuse. It was a time when corporal punishment was acceptable, but in my case went too far. The psychological impact was considerable and took years of counseling to repair and heal the unhealthy beliefs, low self-esteem and scars that had formed. My personal response to anger was to avoid it at all costs, conflict avoidance. Anger scared me, along with the concern that I would let my own anger get out of control as it did with my father. I had learned to stuff my anger, which only works short term. Anger is an energy that will find its way out, often in what is sideways anger, or anger that is expressed towards targets other than the person I am angry with. Fortunately, I had learned how to manage my anger in healthy ways, with the power of self-awareness and mindfulness. I will come back to this later…
First, I want to share some aspects of anger that make it so challenging. I recall a workshop I attended many years ago, titled, The Caveman Within. I learned how anger is largely instinctual and was a survival mechanism which meant the difference between eating or being eaten. What was most profound was realizing that this instinct still lays deep within our psyche, and can quickly rise to the surface when we feel threatened. It is a strong emotion, with the ability to override logic and we focus instead on the fight or flight response. Is it any wonder that there is so much violence out there today?
I recall the many lessons I had with anger during my youth. There was the teacher who decided it was time to give me a lesson on leaning my chair against the wall. He bashed my head against the wall several times, and then reported this to my father who added his own lesson. There was the nun who in Sunday school used the ruler on my hand when I gave the wrong answer. There was the bully who pushed me around and beat me on a regular basis. Fortunately, we live in a society today that is beginning to understand the impact of bullying and abuse, and placing greater consequences for acting anger out in unhealthy ways. But there are too many stories we continue to hear today, where these situations are allowed to continue. We are in need for greater levels of awareness of the impact anger can have, particularly when left unattended. We are in need for more role models who can demonstrate how to manage anger in healthy ways. We are in need for others to reach out and be there for those who are experiencing anger.
It is the last point that I want to expand on. It was during a recent bout of anger I had related to a relationship ending that I realized the challenges an individual faces who is experiencing this powerful emotion. Even with all the awareness I had related to the emotional responses to change, I found myself all alone with my anger. I used my support network to call and talk about these feelings, but it was not long before my phone stopped ringing. Who wants to be around anger?
We are expected to manage this on our own for the most part. We stuff these emotions when going to work or in social situations so not to get in trouble. If you do not have the tools to manage these situations, it is easy to understand why people turn to violence with others or self inflicted harm. It is easy to understand why our youth turns to groups or gangs that can provide an outlet for this anger. It is easy to understand why people experience health issues related to stuffed anger.
The saving grace is that there are tools that can help an individual deal with their anger in healthy ways. I love the topics of Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness and wish that these were required training in our educational system. With enough practice I am able now to feel that tightness in my chest or churn in my stomach. Simply acknowledging that I am feeling anger is awareness enough to provide me with the choice (logic mind) to deal with it before the anger (emotional mind) gets out of control. I have come to realize my patterns for stuffing anger and how they tend to come out sideways (e.g. getting pissed at someone cutting me off while driving). I recall the techniques I had learned in counseling where I would hold up a pillow over my mouth as I screamed. Do they still sell Nerf bats? That was another great way of getting some of this energy out.
Anger and Depression are powerful emotions that are a natural part of our human experience. They are incredibly challenging for many of us. It is still a very instinctual response, and therefore has to be recognized and dealt with early on.
So when you see the signs of anger in others, do them a favor and reach out to them, acknowledge the anger if there, and suggest that they seek help if they feel that it is getting out of control. It is not easy to do, since we do not like to be around anger. This does not mean that you have to agree with their situation or feelings, nor have to listen to it, but simply show that you care enough to acknowledge how they are feeling. Remember, that someday you will be in their shoes and will want this type of support. We are all a part of anger management by helping ourselves and others during these difficult times.