Anger is in the news a lot these days. People are feeling it. Politicians are using it as a recruiting tool. News channels are using it for ratings.
I’ve written about it myself, discussing how often, anger is a secondary emotion masking something underneath, like pain or shame.
We don’t want to deal with the underneath because it’s painful and uncomfortable. Angry is easy. Unfortunately, the consequences are often unpleasant.
I was born with a bad temper I like to blame on my red-headed, Irish grandmother. Anger is in my genes. Luckily, I got genetic guilt too; it helps me hold myself somewhat in check, keeps me from being outwardly destructive despite my urges. Mostly.
When I was twelve, I got into a fight with my brother. We fought hard and often. We hurt each other significantly at times. I still regret, deeply, the relationship we had and the way I treated him. But on this occasion, he was pushing my buttons, and pushing them, and my rage kept rising and finally, I exploded. I grabbed a hammer and threw it as hard as I could at his head. Which could have been bad. Luckily, he ducked and all that was left was a hole in the drywall and a sister begging him not to tell.
But I scared myself and that was the last time I let my temper snap.
Of course, determinedly suppressing anger isn’t the way to go either. That’s not dealing with it, it’s pretending it doesn’t exist. But it does and it needs to be dealt with. Unaddressed anger turns back on the holder. We do things we shouldn’t, we harm ourselves, we hurt others.
My eating disorder was fueled and sustained in part by anger turned inward. But a path that leads you to harm yourself in some way is not a productive or wise choice.
How then, can you deal with anger? How do you avoid it? How do you let it go?
As it turns out, you can do any number of a variety of things. It is an extensively researched subject. A not in any way conclusive list would include the following:
To avoid: be aware of your triggers; be aware of what lights you up; scale back on social media; remember other people can’t make you do or feel anything.
To let go: take a moment; take a breath; clear the fog from your brain; count to ten; go for a walk; think about what you’re really feeling and react to that instead of blowing up, feel the emotions you’re suppressing, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
For instance, in the “what are you really feeling” category:
A friend of mine is having trouble with her adult daughter. The daughter is all about the blame game. Everything wrong in her life, all the consequences from the choices she made are somehow her mother’s fault. She tells my friend that incessantly – or did until my friend made contact conditional on some mother-daughter couples counselling having had enough abuse.
Following that conversation, the daughter sent a twelve-page letter detailing all of my friend’s faults. A hit list of all the ways she had failed as a mother and human being. My friend called me after receiving it, enraged. She wanted to call her daughter and yell. She wanted to write a character assassination of her own. She wanted to share the one her daughter sent with commentary on social media. She asked me what I thought.
“You must have been so hurt,” I said. “That would have left me in tears.”
We can respond to the anger we feel. We can let it drive us. It rarely ends well but we can still choose to go down that path. We don’t have to deal with what lies underneath. We can throw things. We can seek revenge. We can choose to stay lit.
Angry is easy. Dealing with the underneath stuff, dealing with hurt and pain and sorrow and grief and underlying complicated issues is hard. You feel bad. You feel awful. You feel uncomfortable and miserable and powerless and you want the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts to stop. Anger feels better. It feels proactive. It feels powerful.
Most of the time, however, those feeling are a lie.
Sometimes people think anger is necessary. Much is said about the value of “constructive anger” in driving social change. I suspect that kind of anger is complicated. It’s not the same as the snap response we feel when we think we’ve been wounded.
And that’s the real kicker – “when we think we’ve been wounded.” Because most of the time, we aren’t, not really. We are only as wounded and harmed as we choose to be. In the end, what other people do and say has nothing to do with us. It cannot affect us if we choose not to let it.
Which is so very much easier to say than do. After all, I still keep heavy objects at a distance when I’m raging.
*I’ve probably written about the hammer story before. Apologies if it’s redundant. Thirty-some years on and it’s still on my mind. It may be time to work on letting it go. But it’s about being angry and I’ve been thinking about anger a lot. It’s everywhere it seems, humming underneath. It’s quite uncomfortable and not, I think, a good omen.