Posted by: Amy Hanson | April 16, 2012

Understanding Anger

Anger has been given a bad rap. Women have been traditionally misled to
believe that if they are angry they are bad people, out of control, not
co-operative, too emotional or, quite frankly, bitches. For men, anger
has been equated with being strong, firm, a leader. Although times are
changing and gender roles are not so absolute, the fact is that most of
us have never had functional anger mentored for us.

What is healthy anger? The first thing we need to do is to define the
difference between healthy anger and unhealthy anger; the difference
being key to understanding this complex emotion.

Unhealthy anger can be explosive, misdirected, stuck, blaming, out of
control, suppressed for a long time, a child-like tantrum, reactive,
disproportionate or completely inappropriate to the situation and often
things are said that we later regret.

Healthy anger, on the other hand, is ignited by having boundaries
crossed in the present moment. It serves us to move forward
purposefully from whatever entanglement we are in. When we are in
functional anger we are in control, it is appropriate for the
situation, we take 100% responsibility for the emotional angst we are
feeling and express what needs to change to make things better for
ourselves. Anger does not have the power to transform the other person.
Functional anger is expressing our truth in a way to create change
without emotionally damaging another person. They may not like the
change we are advocating, they may even resist the change but they
cannot deny what is our truth.

A while ago, I was working with a team of people on a project. We were
new to each other and were meeting by telephone conference. After
introductions, a couple of ideas were suggested. One of the team
members stopped the entire process. He had specific ideas and made it
very clear that we were not to waste his time and that everything would
be done the way he said or he would withdraw from the team. His voice
was sharp and underlying currents of anger hung in the air. As he was
the most experienced member of the team he had tremendous credibility.
A part of me collapsed in the face of his criticism: my throat
contracted, my stomach knotted and my knees shook. I stayed mostly
silent through to the end of the call and hung up.

My first reaction was suppressed anger. My thoughts (…well many of them
cannot be shared here), began raging. “He is so rude! How could he
treat me this way? I am feeling so insignificant and unheard, I never
want to see or speak to this person again. I am withdrawing from this
project.”

However, it was really important for me to be a part of this team and I
was motivated to find a way to continue. Why was I reacting so
strongly? What could possibly be going on that would make my body feel
as distressed as it was? Why could I not say anything the moment this
man stated his boundaries?

And then I realized… when I was a child, my father was a very angry
man. (Our relationship today is much different). When he became angry
there was no opportunity to speak. Even if I had something important to
say, if I tried to speak, his anger would escalate. I learned to be
very afraid of anger and that keeping quiet was the safest thing to do.

Working with this man in the present had triggered my little frightened
girl from the past. My body was reacting the way I did when I was a
child. There was a direct connection to my past.

For me, suppressed anger such as this does not just go away with a
logical explanation. It took a week of self-care to dissipate what had
been locked inside me. A tremendous amount of movement and directed
release brought me back to presence.

How could I now respond to this situation with healthy anger? In this
case I was very blessed. The man I was working with realized there was
something wrong and came to me. “Is there something I have done to
offend you?” he asked. “Yes,” I responded. “The other day on the phone,
I felt my ideas for the project were really stopped short by how you
approached the situation. I know I have a lot to contribute here and
need the opportunity to speak more fully.” The conversation continued
and we moved into healthy debate, brain storming and sharing. He
acknowledged his impatience and became more open to hearing what I had
to say.

Anger has enormous potential as a resource for change when understood,
and a forceful weapon of destruction when misused. Building
relationship with our own anger is a powerful form of healing.

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