Anger is a powerful emotion, full of action, importance and validation. This power and control and gives you righteous might when you were so recently lost, trapped or otherwise in a position of impotence.
In this context, it is not surprising that so many people develop problems with anger. It, much like its cousin Blame, serve a purpose that is hard to replicate using emotion-invalidating tactics like Understanding, Compromise, and Avoidance (cooling off). But, and yes there is always a big but, what if Anger has played you a fool and given you false promises of validation to keep you bound to it while it takes away your higher values: Connection, Trust, Safety and even Family.
So many of us have been lured into the anger trap that it is seen as normal by many. Mess up my order at Taco Bell and Angry Righteousness spews forward about the importance of your Pico De Gallo instead of cheese; you get your food replaced and all is right again. You may leave feeling validated, heard, and maybe a bit more important. But did you fairly evaluate the cost of your accusations of border malfeasance? Were your children watching or your spouse next to you in the car? Did it increase your chances of using Anger in more costly situations?
Common sense tells us that our anger needs to be released, acted upon or validated. It is an emotion and emotions are valid right?
The problem comes when people develop a relationship with anger that causes them to use it to get validation and feelings of control. Once this connection has been established, we will continue using it for validation and control, even when that means we hurt people, damage our own self-image and possibly have massive impacts to our personal and professional life.
Once we have developed this addictive relationship with anger, it will be hard to break the habit. We will resort to anger when faced with frustration, incompetence, disappointments and sadness.
This is why angry people are often frustrated people. We don't get what we want directly, instead having to use anger to fulfill our emotional needs. I want my kids to listen to me and clean up their room. The emotion isn't Anger that I want, it's probably not even compliance. It's probably comfort or calmness from seeing the room cleaner and the kids responding to me. If I get control and validation through anger, I'm now trying to get to calmness by asking anger to help me get there. Welcome to Frustrationville.
If we don't recognize the emotion we're going after and find a better way, we will continue to think that Anger is the only way. Pretty soon we'll have friends suggesting I punch pillows and go skeet shooting to "get out" my anger.
The problem with this pattern is that I'm not getting anything out, I'm only strengthening my belief that Anger is the way to validate my feelings.
So, Anger isn't a primary feeling, it's a secondary feeling or response when our primary feelings aren't validated. I feel hurt that my friends went to a show last night without texting me. Anger says that it's easier to say, "You are a bunch of ignorant asshats," than, "That really hurts my feelings to be left out because I really like you guys and don't have a lot of other friends." Which response do you think is going to increase the chances of you getting the text next Friday?
Disentangling Anger from validation and control is a tough job. The people that interact with an Angry person often have developed a belief that the person is mean, "bitchy," an "asshole," nasty, or just plain ol' no fun. Others expect the "angry person" to respond with anger and may wait or ignite it so they can prove themselves right or get the upper hand. We have to work at addressing the primary emotion quickly and actively, before Anger tries to convince us that it will do a better job of soothing us.
But don't expect your first or fifth try to be the one that lets you feel heard, accepted and okay with the world. There will be many false starts and many roadblocks along the way. Your anger may hide many layers of un-discovered primary emotions underneath it. Some people fear rejection and protect themselves against being rejected by acting with anger first. Others find that people only stop what they are doing and listen when they get Angry. There are many dynamics that go into arresting this addictive tactic. But it's a tactic that, much like cotton candy, hits sweet and strong but goes away quickly, often leaving sticky fingers and upset stomachs.
If you're interested in finding out more about your relationship with Anger, give me a call, stop by and yell at me or fill out this form to give me an idea about what your personal relationship with anger looks like.