Updated: May 23
'Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.' - Aristotle
I too have struggled to manage my feelings of anger. Specifically, the length of time between me experiencing anger and deciding what to do can be short. Flashes of anger followed by flashes of behaviour. My behaviour has been words that seem to come from deep down or symbolic actions. All my decisions but those words and actions have often been contrary to what I want to do when I am not angry. I am sorry for my mistakes, grateful for the opportunity to learn from them and to prevent their repetition.
I know, sometimes, I want to strongly communicate my anger. To rid myself of it. To push the anger out of me and onto something else. I know at these times part of me wants to act in dramatic ways. To impact on other people, get a reaction and feel alive.
My emotions while writing this blog included anger at feeling I have to write this blog. When actually I am choosing to do so. Sadness about losing control, relief at admitting it and happiness about having more control in the future. These feelings communicate how important this issue is for me. So my motivation to change how I deal with my anger is strong. A need that, with effort, could be transformed into an asset.
What makes me angry?
"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” - Joe Klaas
I experience anger when I believe other people are not taking responsibility. I know I can't force other people to take responsibility but perhaps I would like to or imagine I would feel better if I did. My anger is also a distraction from the parts of my life where I am not taking all my personal responsibility. A problem, in me and others, I have written about elsewhere.
Another anger trigger for me is when I feel pushed into a corner. It might be when I am repeatedly challenged about the same issue or feel ignored. When I perceive I have been discriminated against and/or excessively punished. If these experiences keep repeating I can start to feel that I do not exist (or that only I exist.) Becoming jealous of those apparently not in my predicament. Both those possibilities scare me. They might mean that my relationships with other people are not real. That I am alone and helpless.
At these times I can focus on, explanations for my feelings that suggest, an injustice. The resulting anger appears to provide me with the energy to push away the possibility of my helpless solitude through interaction. So regaining a sense of control in the face of this existential enormity. As if I would not be doing so by naming my experience, its strength, my part in it and recognising the commonality of these experiences. The fact that we share experiences of helpless solitude.
Finally, I can feel excessively angry when my losses, sadness and/or vulnerability are not recognised. Forgotten by others and/or me. My anger attempts to communicate that part of me that needs recognition but it can also push away the very people I want recognition from. What then could be more constructive uses for anger?
Constructive uses for anger
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” - Maya Angelou
Anger can be a source of information about the situation we find ourselves in. In particular what is important to us in it. In this way anger can become a motivation to act and change. For example, to develop the skill of expressing anger in little bits. Assertiveness in other words.
A tutor once told me, in therapy we mainly help people who are feeling 'too' sad to feel more angry. Alternatively, helping people who feel 'too' angry to feel more sad. The premise being that an excess of either emotion, in the absence of the other, is unhealthy.
So another use of feeling angry could be to remind us to experience the loss of each situation too. We could also develop healthy physical expressions of anger. Remembering the crucial difference between play fighting and real fighting. The lower chance of people being badly hurt. This may help because, I wonder if, part of the function of anger is to deal with physical tension.
Anger could also become a prompt for me to make a decision. I could choose to act, using the energy anger provides. Act to change the internal and/or the external environment that prompted the anger in the first place. Finding out how things really are. Then grieving the loss of my imagined control and engaging with the responsibility of that which I have.
“Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” - Malcolm X
All these different uses of anger could reduce my level of distress when feeling angry. What then can we conclude about healthier ways to respond to anger?
Anger : an emotion like any other
“Anger is just anger. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It's like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice." - Jim Butcher, White Night
I know I have been part of a wider problem of destructive responses to anger. I have often struggled to use my anger constructively. I know some of what makes me angry and the choices I have when feeling like that. In fact my angry feelings don't have to be destructive to me or anyone else. Remembering that there are no 'negative', 'bad', immoral or unethical emotions. Emotions are only physiological experiences. So anger could become an emotion like any other. An asset that can be used constructively for my and other people’s benefit. Thanks for reading about my experience and I wonder about yours?
Buerk, M., (2019). The morality of anger, Radio 4 programme the moral maze, retrieved : https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0008wpr
Perry, A., (2020) My experience of personal responsibility