About Anger By Warren Bull
Writers often depict characters who lose control of their anger as well as characters who manage it well. So what is anger and how is it controlled? Read on.
Stuff ? Vent? Count to ten? Stuffing it is sometimes a good idea for the short term when expressing anger would be counterproductive. No matter what you’ve heard, venting does not dissipate the emotion unless there are changes in whatever caused the anger. Counting is the best choice if we count slowly and use the time to analyze the emotional situation. Let me explain.
Fear, sadness, happiness and anger (and possibly surprise and disgust) are called primary emotions. These emotions are instinctive and automatic, which means they happen to us before we can think about them.
It’s not hard to see how an automatic reaction would be a good thing for an early human. As an example, lets talk about fear, when confronted by a giant bear or a saber-tooth cat some stopped to ponder, “Hmm that beast looks hungry. Perhaps I should contemplate removing myself from the immediate surroundings. Yes I believe so. I shall depart.” Those people often became the predator’s lunch. Others reacted immediately and became our ancestors. Basic emotions are hard-wired into us.
Anger is very useful when it is the first emotion experienced. It’s a sign that something serious is happening. Anger can be described as a feeling of antagonism directed at someone we believe has wronged us deliberately and unjustly by taking something away from us. What is being taken is not necessarily an object. Accusations or humiliation may hurt our reputations or self-esteem.
However anger also occurs as a secondary emotion. When we experience a degree fear or sadness that leaves us feeling vulnerable, anger may pop up next. Anger is less painful than the primary emotion but it is seldom helpful in resolving the events or issues that caused the emotional response. In my experience, temper tantrums and screaming rarely persuade another person to adopt my point of view.
So, after taking a moment to identify which emotion is primary, I conclude that I am feeling scared and vulnerable. What can I do to reduce the risk? Can I ask for advice? Can I start over? Is this a situation where anyone would feel a bit out of control? Identifying the basic emotion allows me to take effective actions toward diminishing discomfort.
For example, the first time my wife and I visited a particular church we felt ignored during a social time after the service. I interpreted my growing annoyance as feeling like an outsider. I approached someone and introduced myself, which helped with the real concern and my anger quickly faded away.
What if anger is my primary feeling? I can run a quick check on what’s causing the anger. Am I actually being wronged? Is the other person behaving intentionally and unjustly? Am I at risk of losing something?
Another example, when I started a new job, I was instructed to meet with people throughout the organization to learn about all the different services available for clients. When I went to meet with one supervisor he kept me waiting for close to an hour in the waiting room. It gave me the chance to get really steamed up.
When the supervisor finally appeared, he apologized, saying he lost track of how long I had been waiting. He said he thought my having to meet with him was a waste of time for both of us since I would not be working in his program.
Was my anger justified? Yes. The other person had wronged me. He wasted my time. Did I get angry? Yes at first but I concluded that anger might be detrimental. By the time I saw him I had decided not to express anger.
It certainly helped that the supervisor immediately apologized, which served to acknowledge the validity of my anger. However, I would have been calm even if he had not. I wanted to stay on good terms with him. I also knew he would talk with my new boss. If I exploded in anger at the supervisor, my new boss would hear about it. As it turned out, later on the supervisor became my boss and we developed an excellent work relationship.
In a different job, I did express my anger. Without telling me, my supervisor decided to move me to a less desirable office. I worked there part-time and a new full-time person had been hired. So the move was absolutely justified. I did not get angry about the move. I got angry about how the move was done. I showed up for work and the new person was already in “my office.” From the new hire, I learned I had been moved. I went to the supervisor and said something along the lines of. “I’m really angry with you for not telling me I was being moved to a different office. I worked here the entire day yesterday so there was plenty of time for you to come to me and explain. Leaving the explanation up to the new person, I think, was unfair to her and to me too. It seems to me to be a rather cowardly way to act. That’s all I have to say.” Then I went to where I was assigned and started to work.
The supervisor did not respond. I didn’t need him to. I expressed my anger. I was satisfied. There were no negative consequences.
I expressed myself with “I” statements. I offered my opinion, not stating anything as a fact. I did not ask for an apology. (Apologies are mostly beneficial to the person who apologizes but that’s another article.) With a different supervisor, I might have chosen other words to describe of his behavior.
So that’s the twenty-five cent guided tour of anger. It is sometimes a very useful emotion. However, when it covers up the primary feeling, it can get in the way of recognizing the real underlying issue. Please feel free to let me know what you think and ask any question that occurs to you.