Now that the government is no longer shut down and things are back to some semblance of “normal” the conversation about anger might seem irrelevant.
After all, it’s almost Halloween and the holidays are fast approaching. Who wants to think about anger at a time like this?
Gazing at the natural autumn beauty right outside my office window as I write, anger seems like the very farthest thing from my life right now. Yet it was pretty amazing having conversations I was having over the past several weeks when so many people were struggling with their own—and other people’s—anger. What made the conversations so rich was their uneasiness about anger in general. They simply had no distinctions for how it could be useful to anyone.
So here are three distinctions that you might find useful should the topic of anger arise in the future for you.
- Anger is a wholesome emotion that, when accepted and felt, can move us in powerful ways that have a hugely positive impact. Our country was built upon the actions taken by citizens who were angry about their current circumstances and were willing to focus their actions to do something about it. Feeling your anger and exploring it for the information it holds about what you want and don’t want can be a very powerful act.
- Spewing your anger over someone who has agreed to hold the space for you when you spew (much like only someone who really loves you will hold your hair back when you’re sick and spewing something else into a basin) can be an act of grace and understanding under the right circumstances. Sometimes you just need to get your anger OUT. It helps very much to have the support of someone who loves you and won’t take your emotion personally, so you can sort through your anger and discover what’s underneath it.
- Spewing your anger over anyone else under any other circumstances is a form of abuse. Although that word “abuse” has taken on some legal connotations that prevent it from being used freely in anything other than a legal fashion, let’s just say that spewing your anger on anyone who isn’t holding the space for you to do it is completely inappropriate and damaging to any relationship. It’s the one kind of anger you have no business throwing around.
Knowing three more things about anger have helped me and my clients deal with our own in powerful and productive ways:
- Anger that’s never explored becomes “historical anger” and grows in size and depth just like a snowball rolling down the Alps. Some small little thing from the past becomes so huge it consumes you–and you might not even know why. Some little something can remind you of that past situation and instead of just getting a little mad, you get furious. That’s because your little bit of anger never got addressed and just got bigger and bigger with time. Handling your anger in the moment can keep you from developing any more of this kind of anger.
- The biggest trap that anger provides is when we make anything that happens to us “mean something” about us—or someone else. When we add meaning to our feelings—instead of just feeling them—then we set up a situation that’s the emotional equivalent of throwing gasoline into a campfire. A little flame becomes a conflagration—and now you’ve got an instant disaster.
- When you’re unaware of the things that make you angry and have no structure for handling that emotion, it can feel like your anger is something to be afraid of. When some person or situation “sets you off” you are no longer in control of your experience. Getting comfortable with anger in general, and your own anger in particular, can completely transform your experience of it and give you a powerful tool for building something extraordinary.
Like the United States of America.