We were talking about anger the other night, a group of us; men and women. On the whole we concluded that anger is a tough emotion to know how to deal with.
P and I fall out about anger…often. My anger goes up like a firework, makes a lot of crackles and then fades just as quickly. I move on pretty quickly and apologise if I’ve got angry at the wrong person at the wrong time.
He hates it. He wants to get away from it or somehow stop and control it. Which of course often makes me angrier.
He stonewalls; goes silent, withdraws, gives out ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ vibes, but when I ask what’s the matter, he just says ‘I’m OK’. It drives me insane.
I know another couple with the same dynamic…she erupts, he freezes. We laugh that it’s because she and I have latin blood and P and him have celtic/viking genes. I wonder if there is a link?
- How do you do anger?
- How does your partner/friend/family do anger?
- What are your childhood messages about anger?
- Are they still true for you?
When I lived in Spain, I remember walking down a street and seeing a Romeo and Juliet scene going on…but for real and in reverse. A couple was have a major screaming row. She on the balcony hurling clothes, insults and soft furnishings at him. He on the street, gesticulating and arm waving up toward the balcony. I’ve never seen anything that public in the UK. To add the the drama, a crowd had gathered and formed a semi-circle around the man and were watching without shame or embarrassment, as if it really were a piece of theater.
This week 3 of us mums were sharing stories of incidents where people had behaved badly in front of our children and how, without thinking, our inner tigress reared up to protect our kids and ourselves. This kind of anger feels very clear and bright when it happens to me; a bit like a light sabre from star wars. I remember someone smacked Eldest Son when he was about 2. Someone I would never usually have dared be angry with as I would have been too scared. But in that instant I reared up and said very forcefully and clearly ‘do not smack my child. You have no right to smack him. I do not smack him. Don’t ever try to do that again’. I was stunned at myself..the anger came from nowhere, put in a boundary and then disappeared when it’s job was done.
Because that is one of the purposes of anger, to tell people to back off when they have overstepped the line, and very useful it is too.
- How do you react when someone over steps a boundary?
As we talked in our group, it also became apparent that there was another kind of anger, that comes from our inner 2 year old. For example the anger that we feel when we think other people are leaving us out, or treating us unfairly which triggers us back to how we felt when we were younger.
I get this 2 year old anger when I feel like my needs are not being considered. It happens when I haven’t considered my own needs but at the time I don’t see that and I get into some weird spiral of thinking that if I meet other people’s needs then at some stage they surely will consider mine. Of course it doesn’t work so I end up feeling angry at ‘them’ and also at myself for not putting my own needs in the picture.
This anger feels much darker and brooding when it comes up for me. Unlike the white light sabre of anger which comes up to protect a boundary, this anger has lots of rumination and thinking that goes with it and the more I do that, the angrier I get. This 2 year old anger lasts much longer…it is like a blood stain soaking silently into everything, waiting to be noticed. If no one notices it becomes volcanic.
- Do you ever get angry at yourself?
- What could you do differently?
Then there is the anger that comes when things don’t go right. So last night I felt very virtuous for cleaning the extractor fan grills but then the whole fan hood fell on me…grrrr. This anger is more rattly and doesn’t want anyone near it…it wants to throw things!
Was it Nelson Mandela who talked about righteous indignation? The justifiable anger we feel when we see wrong doing. When I worked in a school in Spain the pupils had a sit-in as they felt that one young man was being treated unfairly. They unified and peacefully sat in the corridors until the leadership team agreed to talk to them.
Anger also acts as the tough-guy mask for the more vulnerable feelings of sadness and fear. When I was doing my PhD research it became clear that a lot of the young men who got angry, were actually very, very sad and/ or scared, but didn’t feel safe to show it so let out the emotions through anger which seemed to act as a shield.
I know that when I am feeling really hurt and sore and vulnerable, I sometimes display anger.
- How do you react to another person’s anger?
- How does it make you feel?
- Think about the last time a close person expressed anger…what were they trying to tell you?
Anger, as with all emotions, is a messenger. It might be telling someone to step back away from our boundaries. It might also be telling us to pay attention to our own needs. It might be our energy to fight an injustice or it might be a shield that we need to disarm to listen to someone’s sadness.
Next time you feel angry, pay attention to how anger is serving you – what does it have to tell you