Where does it come from? How do you deal with it?
If you are anything like me, you were never taught how to deal with anger. It wasn’t acknowledged as a legitimate feeling and there was no guidance on how to express it.
I remember my childhood envy of our dogs. I was fascinated by the way they would growl or nip without hesitation if you overstepped the mark with them, only to be basking lazily in the sun seconds later - minds cleared.
In stressed and over-stretched modern lives, an outburst of anger can be the last straw, the point of no return. Chronic anger can be a symptom of untreated trauma, though once recognised it can be swiftly dealt with.
But underlying all anger - whether one-off healthy outbursts or chronic angry behaviour - is a sense of threat to your survival, when an emotional need is compromised, threatened or unfulfilled. A deeply engrained human instinct.
I remember one woman who landed herself in jail for attacking a police-officer when he stopped her car for speeding. She was a warm, fun-loving responsible mother with a creative business of her own.
Another man - kind and intelligent too, with an amazing spatial awareness that made him so good at his job as a telephone engineer - was shunned by colleagues for his defensive belligerence. He was always looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, moving jobs every year because the current co-workers had turned out to be idiots yet again.
I have worked with countless children whose rage stops them from being able to focus their attention. Their school results suffer and more painfully for them, they are not on the class party list. No one wants to play with them.
Look for the pattern in the weave of your life
What does it take then, to be more like our dogs?
How do we create the circumstances to retain the presence of mind for an effective and appropriate expression of anger?
By highlighting the feeling preceding the attack you start pulling at the thread of the unhelpful pattern. When have you felt it before? What does it remind you of?
Ask yourself what that feeling is when you don’t like someone.
The young woman realised she had a very particular hate of policemen. The mere thought of them brought up an enraged sense of injustice and powerlessness linked back to judicial corruption and injustice she had personally experienced in her childhood in a dictatorship.
The man realised that his childhood dyslexia had made him the but of jokes and that he had been dismissed as stupid by his mother and his teachers, derided by classmates. He suffered with a very low self-esteem and felt unsafe around others.
Children’s aggression can be very misleading. The anger in creative children is often closely connected to anxiety and chronic worry. They do not feel at home at school; they feel confused by what they perceive as meaningless tasks that don’t appear to link up with the bigger world around them; they feel stunted in their desire to learn through exploration and movement and their hyper-awareness of everything at once puts them in a constant state of overwhelm….
The courage to be vulnerable
To sum up then how to deal with your anger -
Once you see that the pattern is no more than a thread of vulnerability in a bigger tapestry - a repeated sense of a need not met - you can see that it need not define you.
You are not that anger and you can become skillful at communicating your feelings and passions in less emotional ways, by turning down the pain - your own that is! - first.
Take time out to make a heartfelt connection with your particular vulnerability.
Allow it to be there, however much it hurts and go back to it from time to time if you still fly off the handle too often.
For some people it helps to get out a photo of themselves as a child and be reminded of that youthful innocence; to connect with it, be moved by it - just as though it were your own child.
So let’s shelve the focus on our misguided parents or elders. Those refrains do reach a sell-by date.
But it is never too late to make room for your own pain, to acknowledge it and experience how, by allowing it that little bit of space, you take the sting out of the it too.
A better balance
And of course no amount of willpower or acknowledgement of pain works, if you don’t respect the rhythm of life and create a balance for yourself and your children.
Creative people need exercise, more sleep, drifting time and regular amounts of physical and mental space to maintain their equilibrium!
Stop just paying lip service to common sense.
Actually create time to honour your needs.
I love hearing your thoughts in the comments and others learn from what you have to share. So let me know, how do you feel about anger - and what do you do about it?