The ‘F’ Word and How to be Angry, yet Do No Harm

I love the one about the guy who spits, ‘My anger management course really pisses me off!’

I have been thinking about anger lately. For a few years really. I’m no ‘anger-management specialist’, so the following musings are merely those of a layman who gets angry quite a lot…

1. Don’t get even; get mad

See what I did there? The old Hollywood tagline is cute and clever, but that’s all it is. For some, the saying, ‘don’t get mad, get even’ is a call to get up and do somethng about the source of their anger, rather than brood on it; and, yes, doing something can sometimes be exactly the right thing (more about this in a minute), but it brushes over the fact that getting ‘even’ is nonsense – either impossible or unsatisfying. We love to watch people in movies ‘getting even’, but it is just a fantasy that makes us feel better for a while.

We are hard-wired to get angry in certain circumstances which means it can be a natural and healthy thing and it is good to accept the fact of anger and learn how to be angry without being destructive; rather than to put the feelings on ice while we serve up the cold dish of vengeance. Which leads me to…

2. If you are angry…be angry.

I’m from Anglo-Australian stock. You know, stiff upper lip; don’t display your emotions, and all that. I envy those families of Mediterranean and Eastern European extraction who seem adept at the noisy, messy art of expressing emotion with each other, including anger, without unduly stressing relationships. It is an acquired art, I’m sure, so when I say, ‘Be angry,’ I do not mean ‘rant and rave and wreak havoc on easy targets close to you’. Getting it out might make you feel better temporarily, but then it will dawn on you that the wreckage you are standing in is of your own making.

So what is to be done with it? Anger doesn’t magically evaporate when ignored, and, worse, it is folly to turn it inward and bury it deep in the hope that it will die from lack of oxygen. I hardly ever express anger, but that is not because I am never angry! It is because I’m not sure how to be angry, so I turn powerful feelings in on myself to be dealt with, or not, later. And everyone loses.

So, be angry. Don’t be afraid to admit it to yourself! Now, that is sorted, what to do with it?…

3. Ask yourself, “What am I angry about and why?”

This probably won’t be tricky; but, if it is, if you simply can’t put your finger on what the source of your anger is, perhaps now is the time to bring someone else into the conversation…if you haven’t already. Someone you trust. Someone who trusts you. Talk through the possibilities and it will probably become clear. Name the source of the anger and be as specific as you can.

If I am cruising a carpark and encounter someone without a sticker, hogging the disabled parking space, anger spurts in me. I now say outloud, ‘I am angry that that person has parked there. I am angry because it is unfair. It makes a difference to me and my boy to be able to park near the entrance and we have a right to be treated fairly.’ A couple of things happen immediately. I hear my own voice and almost hear it as if it was someone else speaking. I understand the frustration and can be gentle on myself without recrimination – just like I would understand it if someone else was saying it. Also, I am suddenly considering perspective. ‘OK. This is not fair, but let’s face it. I need energy to deal with far more difficult and complicated things than this. I’m not going to expend too much of that precious limited energy on this relatively minor, and not uncommon infraction.’ I then park somewhere else, as I was always going to have to do, but I don’t get out of the car quite so steamed.

4. Then ask yourself, “What am I really angry about and why?”

Sometimes I have been so angry about some relatively minor thing that I have had to ask myself, ‘Where is that coming from? This is not such a big deal. Why am I so angry?’ I may have been burying or dodging grievances or frustrations or disappointments and unwittingly building up a head of steam that blasts out of me unexpectedly at the slightest opening. After you identify what it is you are angry about, it might be worth asking that person you trust to help you delve a little deeper to find out if there is a resevoir of pressure beneath the surface that is just waiting for the next small crack to open up so that it can blast its way out. Maybe something that seems too difficult to confront is lurking under the surface and the latest feelings of anger are evidence of it. Now try to name the underlying anger. Again, do it out loud and be specific.

5. Now, ask, “What am I going to do about it?”

Do I want to be alone? Do I want my loved ones to view me with fear or suspicion? Do I want to have my limited energy reserves diverted to fruitless grievances rather than the pressing issues I am responsible to meet? Do I want unresolved hostility festering away deep inside me? If not, then I need to be angry in a healthy, harmless manner. And that’s before I can even contemplate the ‘f’ word – forgiveness!

I need to express anger in a ‘safe’ way. I don’t need to teach everyone a lesson, or control fate or make everything perfect. I do need to be around for the long haul for my family, and especially for my son who literally cannot lift a finger to help himself.

Anger is fine. It sometimes motivates me to press on when I would rather give up. It focusses my mind on urgent or important matters. It is part of being human. Now if only I never had to deal with it!


~ by Garry on February 21, 2012.

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