Anger is Complicated
Anger is so much more than just being mad.
***This post is part of the “Beliefs and Anger” Series. Some parts of this series may make you uncomfortable. However, we are unable to truly change if our thoughts, beliefs, values, and decisions are never questioned. I know the topics of beliefs and anger are momentous, so each post is designed to help break down our anger emotions and what may be beneath our anger (i.e. beliefs), so we can collectively move forward. Each post may be read individually; however, reading all of them will give you greater insight into yourself and society. If you chose to read them in order, read them in the order they were posted (Congratulations America, We Have an Anger Epidemic is the first post).
Staying in the safe status quo is damaging to society and to you in the long term. Do you really want to stay where we are currently are, anyways?***
According to the British dictionary on dictionary.com, the definition of Anger is: “a feeling of great annoyance or antagonism as the result of some real or supposed grievance; rage; wrath.”
I chose this definition because it was more robust than some of the other definitions, but it is still lacking in all that anger is and can be.
Anger and hate are different. For this series, I will be intentionally only focusing on anger. I have dedicated a whole chapter in my book to the subject of hate and how to transform it. However, I do plan on revisiting the topic of hate here, at a later date.
For this post I wanted to illustrate how complex and complicated anger can be, so it can aid as a reference for futures posts in this series. It can also be utilized as a quick guide for those trying to sort out messy balls of anger in their own life. I intentionally kept each item listed below brief, although any item could warrant an individual piece. In addition, I listed each item individually to help illustrate how diverse anger can be, but anger becomes even more complex when multiple items are involved. This is by no means an exhaustive list; however, it should be adequate for this series.
Anger at social injustice
When a law or policy is enacted to the detriment of a group of people, people become angered, about the law or policy. This anger should be directed at the law or policy instead of the person or people responsible for enacting the law or creating the policy. It takes much more self control to keep personal attacks out of this type of anger, but it is more effective in the long run to do so. People are more willing to compromise when they personally do not feel attacked.
Anger at ineptitude
People have certain expectations about how something should be handled. When a person is inept at handling their responsibilities, it angers and frustrates others. In true form this anger is only directed at the ineptitude and is not a personal attack on the whole person. They could be a lovely person, but unable to perform their job duties.
Anger at an action or behavior
If someone breaks the law, other people can be angered by the disregard of something society has deemed legally wrong.
Immoral or unethical
Individuals, families, communities, and societies all have their own sets of beliefs about what is immoral or unethical. Anger happens when someone does something that someone else perceives to be immoral or unethical, even if the person doing the action does not perceive it as wrong.
Anger in Relation to People
Anger at other (someone known to us)
The people closest to us can often feel the wrath of our anger the most. The stakes are usually higher as well: we both have something to lose if our anger destroys our relationship.
Anger at other (someone unknown to us personally)
In some ways this type of anger is easier for us. Since the person is unknown to us, our anger can be more straightforward. We can be angry at them without potential consequences to a relationship.
Anger at group
Being angry at a group of people is the easiest and safest way to feel validated. It is also the easiest way others can make you turn to “their side.” When people rally around this type of anger there is often a fear element involved to help keep building the anger momentum.
Here is an example:
All the Purple People Eaters are going to destroy all of our neighborhoods.
Bob, the Purple People Eater down the block, is going to destroy our neighborhood.
Bob as a single individual might cause some people to feel angry. But more people will unconsciously automatically make a group of Purple People Eaters a bigger threat, which will create greater fear and cause more angry reactions.
Anger at self
Sometimes when we feel anger at someone else or a group, there is a part of us that is actually angry at ourselves. This is mostly unconscious anger and usually has other feelings wrapped into it. This means it can be more complex to unravel. However, even though it can be more complex and uncomfortable to unravel, we gain the biggest insights into ourselves when we take responsibility for how our reaction(s) to a person or situation have affected us personally.
Anger in grief
In the most common descriptions of the stages of grief, one of the stages is anger. For various reasons, you can feel anger at the person who died. You can also feel angry at people who were suppose to “protect,” “care,” or “save” your loved one. You might be angry at yourself for things left unsaid. You could be angry at God: “Why did you take my loved one away?”
Anger in guilt
When we do something deemed as wrong, we may feel guilty, but we may also be trying to justify our actions to others or to ourselves.
My partner made me cheat; it was their fault.
Anger in shame
Shame can be complicated. Shame and guilt can be interwoven; however, shame can be felt even if the person did nothing wrong.
How dare you dress like that, you have brought shame to this family.
In the above statement, both the recipient of the statement and the person who said the statement would likely feel anger and shame, although for different reasons.
Types of Anger (what you may be thinking or feeling)
Below are some examples of what you may be unconsciously feeling when you are angry at someone. To make more of an impact and to start helping you understand how your own anger is created, the examples below are “I” statements. Most of the time when we are angry at someone we unable to process what lies beneath our anger. However, when we are able to start looking deeper, we gain valuable insight into ourselves and can begin to approach things differently.
Anger on behalf of someone else
How dare you insult the one I love.
Anger because you don’t listen
I am actually hurt because you don’t see me or hear me, or need me.
Self-righteous anger (I am right, so you must be wrong)
I AM RIGHT! I am ONLY going to recall and create incidences to help me solidify my own belief and make sure your belief is wrong. You might as well give up now.
White-Hot Anger (from any other emotion to rage in a split second)
There is NO WAY I am letting you see how much you just injured me, so I am going to be incredibly rageful instead. A physical sword wound would have taken me longer to process than the emotional injury you just inflicted on me.
Suppression of Anger
People dislike to be around angry people or they like to invalidate other people’s anger, so a lot of times we swallow our anger. This would be okay if we then let our anger out in a more appropriate setting or time. However, more commonly we try to pretend our anger doesn’t exist. It really wasn’t that bad. This can lead to our anger coming out in ways we are unable to control.
When we bury our anger, over time, layers are added to the anger felt at an initial incident. Anger arising from a more recent incident may appear on the surface to have nothing to do with the initial incident. However, our reaction carries with it pieces of the anger and other feelings that have built up over time from the initial incident. To illustrate how this can happen, here is a simple example:
1st Incident: Parent yells and punishes the child Casey for drawing on the walls; Casey might feel: unloved
2nd Incident: Teen Casey has fight with a friend; Casey might feel: unloved and misunderstood
3rd Incident: Young adult Casey has a fight with a partner; Casey might feel: unloved, misunderstood and unseen
4th Incident: Adult Casey gets cut off in traffic and erupts into Road Rage; HOW DID YOU NOT F*CKING SEE ME; I WAS RIGHT THERE!
The person involved in the road rage incident was at fault for cutting Casey off, but Casey had unconsciously tied all of those past anger events together, and they finally got the best of Casey.
This type of anger can play out in many different forms, and sometimes the person receiving the brunt of the anger is an intimate partner.
This type of anger is often the most dangerous. If you or someone you know is escalating quickly to anger over smaller and smaller incidents, there are some resources below. It takes courage to admit anger is problem, but who or what will you lose if you continue to avoid taking responsibility?
I occasionally work with clients on anger issues, however, my emphasis with this series is to educate people on how our beliefs, values, and decisions can influence our anger.
Now is the time to step up and persist.
(Full disclosure: I have not used any of these resources personally or professionally. Use them if they resonate with you.)
Mayo Clinic has tips on anger management
PsychCentral has good information and a list of some National Hotlines:
Recovery-World has a comprehensive list of National Hotlines:
Most large companies have some sort of an employee assistance program, which can be a good resource as well.
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/anger (The British Dictionary definition of anger)