The Trouble with Anger
We learn through modelled behaviour.
We learn through the words our parents use to teach us about social niceties and our cultural norms.
Anger is not one of them.
We learn through the power of social discourses, the ideas that permeate our society, the unsaid and unquestioned ideas we just somehow know.
And Anger is not deemed acceptable.
We know that raising your voice means a certain thing and we know whether that is acceptable or not.
We know what kinds of behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable.
Anger generally is not.
We learn through judgment.
We learn through shame.
……… very often, not even through words, but through the non-verbal stuff of things and social interactions.
A look, a glance, a snigger, a frown, a turning-away-from
So before we are barely grown, we have taken on the social practices of our culture.
This is the incredible thing about how cultures grow, develop, thrive and survive. However, the flip side of the same coin, is the fact that we also carry with us redundant parts of our culture, social discourse that are no longer useful and no longer fitting to a world that has changed. Our understanding of the world, people, individuals, families, gender and growth changes with new research and insights. Perhaps our ideas of Anger need to be reviewed?
Should we not be engaging with this attribute more? Why do we all experience it? How does it arise?
The trouble with Anger is not for the raw nature of itself, but for the way we always speak about Anger, describe Anger, avoid and fear Anger.
Anger in and of itself is indeed, an attribute, and we have been gifted with such a quality for a number of reasons. Anger has the interesting proclivity in our social stories, of not being a quality that is encouraged or nurtured. Indeed, that sounds strange just writing it!
Who nurtures Anger?
Yet, think about it…. It is through Anger that groups of people, throughout history, have been propelled to demand social change! Without Anger, status quos would remain. Anger enlivens us and calls us to take up the fight against social ills.
Another attribute of Anger is related to boundaries. When we feel that a personal boundary has been overstepped, Anger alerts us to this discomfort and propels us to respond in a way that clearly informs the other of the infringement. Think of the toddler who is so bold in expressing her Anger when her focus on something is thwarted….. kicking and screaming she vents her Anger unabated to let us know she is not happy with what has just happened. The key here is, how do we, as the care-giver, and society at large, mediate this for the toddler? What do we say about her behaviour? Here are some common themes I hear:
“I was told it was not lady-like to show Anger”
“I was not allowed to raise my voice”
“My parent would not talk to me until I had calmed down”
“Never show your Anger, always be in control”
“I had to keep the peace”
“I was told I was irrational and made no sense when I shouted”
“Only common girls scream and shout”
You know…. The fishwife.
And just generally that Anger is really not acceptable. It has connotations of being out-of-control, common, uneducated, crass, overly-emotional, irrational, violent, aggressive.
How could things be different if we had a better understanding of why we feel Anger? How could it be different if we allowed our children, and others, to be ok with experiencing and owning their Anger? Would it reduce Anger’s energy? Instead of telling the toddler that “your behaviour is unacceptable” , ignoring, ostracizing or judging, what if we told her rather “ I can see you are angry and I get it, its ok feel angry about something but not ok to scream and shout at me like that….” What if we allowed ourselves to acknowledge and engage with the Anger and what it informs us about the situation?
The damaging part of this story of Anger is not Anger itself. The damaging part of it is – that Anger, along with all the many emotions and expressions within all of us, becomes suppressed.
Anger suppressed causes dis-ease and discomfort.
There is no doubt that Anger unchecked can be damaging to the self, to others and to relationships. So too can Fear, Anxiety, Exuberance (too much of that perhaps means too little focus), Optimism (resulting in avoiding reality), to name but a few other aspects of ourselves. The point is that everything in balance is ok. All parts need to be integrated and acceptable as part of ourselves. Each serves a purpose. Anger unmitigated is damaging and dangerous. Acceptance unmitigated is damaging and dangerous. When Acceptance is the driving force within, it can drive you to accept intolerable situations, abuse, or exploitation.
The troublesome thing about Anger is we are taught to avoid, suppress and ignore, despite the fact that we all experience Anger at some time in our lives. When we are constantly shying away from the felt sensation or unable to express Anger, it doesn’t just go away. It lurks. It grows. It seethes. It eventually reaches out, needing to be seen, heard and felt. When it is not, it will explode out in ugly uncontrolled and damaging ways. It will be expressed violently and cause harm to ourselves and to others.
Turn around, look at Anger.
It is there to tell you something about yourself.
Ask: If you could speak what would you tell me?
Ask: Why have you shown up now at this time in my life, or at this time of the day?
Engage. Be interested. What is Anger trying to tell you? Perhaps something about your life, your context, your relationship.
Listen closely. Don’t be scared. It is far scarier to try and keep a lid on the Anger and anxiously await for its appearance than to gently, safely pry open the lid and enquire…..
What are you here to teach me…