Anger is one of the most overused terms, and equally has a lot of other adjectives associated with it. Blowing your top, losing it, schichzing out, exploding, losing the plot, tantrum, meltdown, negative connotations for what is a difficulty in regulating emotion. A difficulty expressing what is a normal emotion. And yet as healthy an emotion, anger can be very toxic, cause incredible damage and leave physical and deep emotional scars.
Medical News Today describes anger as, “A natural emotion. Mild forms of anger include displeasure, irritation or dislike. Anger can come as a reaction to criticism, threat, or frustration. This is usually a healthy response. Anger maybe a secondary response to feeling sad, lonely or frightened.”
When we get angry, our heart rate increases, our muscles tense, breathing becomes rapid. Our body goes into a state of fight or flight which is a natural human reaction to perceived threat. Once upon a time this was a survival mechanism from when dinosaurs roamed the earth and helped keep us safe from extinction. Of course these days our responses are not so readily needed as frequently. In many ways since civilisation these genetic imperatives lie dormant in most as we amble along supermarket aisles.
Dormant does not mean dead however, it means sleeping. As a human being we still need to find outlets for our anger, however our environment on the whole is vastly sanitised. We do not fear the T. rex or the saber tooth tiger anymore. So our natural healthy emotion (anger) still rears it’s head and instead reacts to perceived threats, not to our survival, but to our ego, our self esteem, or our skewed sense of identity. The anger of another football team beating our beloved home team, of being laughed at when we stumble, trip or fall over. The anger of when feel ‘shown up’ or embarrassed by our children in front of others. Their behaviour supersedes our authority and so we angrily belittle them in front of people as the mist depends and the struggle to regain the feeling of control.
The main ‘issue’ of clients that I seem to see is depression, anxiety and anger. The main issue of male clients seems to be related to anger. “I’ve got anger issues” “I can’t control my anger”
Often we explore the anger, we find threads back to childhood experiences, issues around being controlled by domineering adults, or of expectations that could never be reached, in later life there are examples of domineering behaviour, and frustrations, as clients try to gain some form of self-esteem and surpass the expectations they could never achieve as a child.
Often clients talk about frustration, of something happening that they have little or no control over. A comment said that cuts to the quick, challenges to their ability or ableness, a slur on their character. Many of these comments impact their very self, and hurt that little child that was once hit, domineered or ridiculed. Intertwined with an adults urge to not be that controlled child, to not be hurt again.
It reminds me of a saying I once heard, “hurt people, hurt people.”
Anger permeates in the most subtle of ways. It can sit within a person, slowly simmering and boiling inside. Until, freed from its cage and unleashed upon sometimes, the innocent victim.
We talk of emotional regulation in regard to anger. It is not an anger problem, it is a difficulty regulating the emotion. The emotion usually stirred by an attack on the ego, of the inner child controlled in the past, what might once have been seen as a tantrum when young, is magnified now by time when in the hands of an adult.
Not all anger is negative, not all anger leads to violence. Anger can be a great motivator to change. The anger that is felt around injustice can move people to act, protest and bring forth change. This anger, this passion is different. It is not always a reaction to a hurt inner child, it is more a response to something that it clearly wrong. Although it is also a defence mechanism. It might be that the righteous anger is fuelled by the memory of our inner child. Campaigning for the rights of diverse minorities that prick a memory of the rights that were denied me as a child. Campaigning against bullying to protect the child I was when I was bullied.
Yet the risk to our health, to our relationships is worrying, rising blood pressure, racing heart is a risk when anger reins unchecked. Untempered anger misdirected on the innocent is a failure to recognised unresolved issues, quite often rooted in our childhood experiences.
By talking through and hearing the voice of that child, by allowing that hurt child a voice, a healing process can begin that can help reduce the incredible surge of magnified hurt and suffering that simmers, bubbles and burst. Like the pan of boiling water, the lid firmly in place, the pressure builds up until it is squeezed out sideways in outbursts. A physical scream. When we remove the lid and allow the hurt child it’s voice at the injustice, the cruelty and the suffering, we can begin to learn to regulate.
By learning to regulate our anger, we can hopefully learn those early trigger points that we feel, and find another way to release the pressure before it begins to build up. Sometimes acceptance is the key. Accepting that we are powerless over what someone says. We can not control other people’s words. However, we can learn new ways to cope with other people’s words. We can with practice learn to not allows people’s comments, judgments or criticisms hurt us or that inner child, that ego that doesn’t want to be hurt anymore.
A Thirsk Counsellor