A few years ago my son went to return a pair of shoes when they began to fall apart after only a few weeks of wearing. When the manager refused to refund him he called me to tell me what had happened and I immediately felt a rage bubbling up inside me. Unfairness really makes my blood boil. An hour later we were leaving the shop having secured the refund, but only after the manager had told me I was being “intimidating”. It’s been a long lesson but I’ve learned to use the energy in anger productively rather than destructively. (The shop manager would probably disagree)
As a child I remember a regular volley of harsh words being hurled between my mother and father, fizzing over my head and, on occasion, striking me right between the eyes. Like the night my mother shouted at my father that she was going to leave. I imagine it was solely for his benefit but I was caught in the crossfire. Dealing with anger which is swirling in a space separate from us is completely different from using the anger that emerges from within us.
Lots of people are frightened of their anger. They fear what they are capable of doing when it comes and they fear the destruction which is a likely consequence.
Anger so often creates a feeling of shame and inadequacy. Many of us can’t see its purpose and so we try and hide it or swallow it down. But anger frequently gets an unfair and ill informed reputation.
Anger is something we all experience but it is one which is always fuelled by another emotion. Sometimes we’re angry because we’re frustrated, sometimes because we are afraid and sometimes because we are hurt. When anger obscures the underlying emotion it’s easy to see it as wholly destructive.
Anger is uncomfortable, so it makes sense that we would want to get rid of it. But some things which are uncomfortable are still positive and productive. If you’ve ever had a hard workout at the gym or been given some constructive criticism that set you on the right path you’ll know that not everything good feels warm and cozy.
The most valuable lesson I learned about my own anger was that it’s necessary to show people what fuels it so that they can understand you. It’s not always possible to do it in the moment but clarity, even after the event, can have a dramatic impact. So many clients tell me that when they explode they go away into a corner and wait until the feeling subsides. But what of the damage done in the interim? What is done to fix that?
Anger is an emotion which makes you bigger. Nobody can ignore an angry person. This is why it’s a “go to” emotion when you feel hurt or frightened. Admitting to someone close to you that your underlying feeling was something much softer and more vulnerable when you were hurling abuse is hard, but it can heal rifts in relationships faster than you can possibly imagine. Try it and see what happens.
As for exposure to other peoples anger the ability to understand our own helps there too. It improves our awareness of what’s really going on. But most importantly of all, if we are familiar with our own uncomfortable emotion it becomes much easier to create a boundary against feelings that do not belong to us. Self awareness and acceptance creates a stronger sense of where we end and the rest of the world, however uncomfortable, begins.