What’s Anger Got to Do With it?

Last week’s blog opened up some very compelling conversations about anger.


Anger is one of those things that few of us have learned to admit to, let alone address. Since most of us made our decisions about anger before we were 7 years old, when it comes to bringing it up again as adults, we can find ourselves stuck inside a childhood decision.


Sometimes that decision works for us. Sometimes it doesn’t.


What’s helped me deal with the news from Washington this past week is to remember that not all those who govern us got the benefit of upgrading their childhood decisions about anger. As a result, they’re still at an impasse that affects our country, and, depending on how long it progresses, possibly the world.


When faced with an impasse, the question I always invite my clients to consider—the one I’m always asking myself—is “where’s your power right now?” No matter what situation we face, this is a great question to lead with, since it’s the only one that leads to conscious action.


Then I asked it of myself in the current situation we face as a nation. Although it looked as though there were few places where I have the power to make any difference right now, I realized I still have the power to open my mouth and share what I know about anger, and the power of taking action in the face of obstacles, that might be useful to you.


So here goes.


Since this is a big conversation that begs to be simplified, let’s just break it down into three easy pieces, to handle a blog at a time:


    1. What’s anger got to do with it?
    2. Dancing vs. Anger—Really?
    3. How to Dance with Anger


What’s Anger Got to Do With It?


Anger is one of those emotions that is rarely a socially accepted behavior, especially for women in our culture. Given that we made our decision about anger before we were 7 years old, most of us don’t know what to do with it when we feel it or it happens around us. Many of us who succumb to expressing our anger are often so sorry about our results afterwards that we’d rather not go there again. Until we do.


Few of us have been told that feeling anger simply means that we don’t like what’s happening. It’s like the physical expression of “NO!!”


The only reason I know this is because I was trained to understand and deal with anger when I was in my 30s and began my work as a substance abuse counselor. First I had to face and address my own experience of anger before I was safe to interact successfully with my angry clients and their angry family members. (That Navy training reminded me a lot of my experience in firefighting school. Just like the flames of anger, you have to get very conscious of fire and exactly how it works in order to safely put it out.)


So if anger simply means that you don’t like something, what’s the big deal? Why can’t we just say so and be done with it?


Great question—it’s exactly the one I asked in substance abuse counselor school—and the answer surprised me.


It turns out that the biggest danger we face with unaddressed anger is that we’ve made this thing we don’t like mean something—often about us. As a result, we’ve collapsed two things together: it’s not just that we don’t like something (the comment made, the person, the situation), now we’ve put a new, typically incendiary, meaning into what happened that fuels our anger even further.


Here’s where it really gets interesting: instead of acting to change what we don’t like, we spend our energy in feeling our anger—or attempting to squash our feelings of anger.  And that’s how we get stuck: stuck in our feelings, stuck in blaming others, stuck in lashing out. The more we simply feel our anger, the bigger the conflagration it becomes. It’s the flames of anger that scare us so badly; we don’t even realize that we’re the ones building the fire.


It’s no wonder that the negative impact of our unexamined feelings of anger causes us problems we’d rather avoid.


That’s what reminded me of Firefighting School when I learned it. Just like there are at least three different kinds of fires, and different ways to put each one out, there are at least three different kinds of anger:


    1. Simple anger: I don’t like this and I’m going to do something about it.

    3. Unexamined, and therefore uncontrolled, anger: I don’t like this because it reminds me of all of the other things that make me feel less than all the time; or it reminds me of all the reasons that I find YOU less than all the time. Now I’m either gonna FIGHT (let you have it)—or FLY (avoid confrontation and swallow my feelings).

    5. Sarcasm: I don’t like this, and I can’t handle what will happen if I come right out and say or do something about it, so I’ll just cloak my feelings in humor with a knife underneath it. It gets my point across and makes me feel better—and less powerless.


Learning about three different kinds of fire in firefighting school—flammable materials, electrical or fuel—helped me to determine exactly what it would take to put out any kind of fire, since the wrong choice would actually feed it. Learning about these three kinds of anger in my counselor training changed my life.  It opened the door to discovering exactly how I could address the second two kinds of anger and left me willing to dance with the first one.


This week, I invite you to simply take a look at what kind of anger shows up in your life—just making that distinction can help you to address it. As an added benefit, you’ll actually feel an increase in your power.


Meanwhile, let’s continue to keep in touch with our Representatives and Senators. Let them know we don’t like this impasse and we’re in action about it.

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