Hands up if you get angry. I’ve done a few straw polls and most people’s hands go up. Keep them up if you think it’s okay to feel and express your anger? Hands go down.
Anger gets a bad press. Think about someone who’s angry and the picture that comes to mind is of a person with steam coming out of their ears, shouting or screaming, smashing things. Once the red mist descends, reason goes out of the window.
Our culture says we should be ashamed of our anger; it’s not how we’re supposed to be. We should be cool, calm and collected, always in control of our emotions. Particularly at work!
But anger is a perfectly normal, healthy emotion. It’s triggered when we feel threatened, giving us the impetus to fight back, to protect ourselves and those close to us, to catalyse change. Anger is a natural response to feeling physically or metaphorically pushed around, if we see or experience injustice.
Recent weeks make the point well. The anger of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign has felt palpable sometimes. I’ve seen it expressed in different ways including in the language and expressions of speakers at rallies and in the physicality of the tearing down of statues and moving around the streets.
There are consequences if we don’t express it. If, for whatever reason, we swallow it down again and again, or worse, pretend it doesn’t exist it can become toxic. Denying anger can go hand-in-hand with unpleasant passive aggression. Or it may lead to depression, the effort to control it leading to a psychological shut down. The resistance to expressing anger, to essentially say what’s okay or not okay for you, can also poison relationships, including those at work.
I can testify to the destructive effects of denying it. I remember the moment my daughter said it was like she had two mums; one she loved and one who unsettled her. This second one would just explode without warning. There’s no sense of security with a mother who can react like that.
For me, the worst moments came when we were heading somewhere as a family. Somehow, without fail, the others would always be five minutes late and I couldn’t tolerate it. I’d react, yelling at them to get a move on and they would just look at me like I was from Mars and tell me to stop over-reacting to something so trivial. At work, I could stop the explosion but people around me knew something was going on! I’m pretty sure it was sometimes extremely difficult to ask me questions and I suspect people steered clear.
In truth, the lateness was just the trigger. The red mist only descended because I spent so long pretending the sky was clear and blue. One of the underlying causes was a hidden feeling what I wanted and needed didn’t matter, that no one noticed. But I was an expert at not acknowledging it to myself so why would anyone else notice. My stock answer to almost anything and everything was ‘I’m fine’.
So, what’s changed.
I found somewhere safe to express my anger, to say what was not okay for me. I found a space where I was given the time to express myself and felt safe enough to do so. I felt heard, without judgement or condemnation.
Two things are different now. First, I don’t see anger as something to be controlled and locked away anymore. It’s giving me a message, telling me something is not okay for me and I need to act to change things. The result is, it doesn’t build up into explosive rage anymore.
Second, I’ve tuned into my anger. I notice when my physiological response suggests something’s up and I give irritation head space, asking myself what I’m really reacting to. I’m still very much a work in progress – I’m pretty sure that will always be the case – but I am getting better at expressing myself. |
Accepting and embracing my anger means, perhaps paradoxically, I’m calmer!
I host Space for You. Each Space for you is an online gathering for up to ten people. It’s a safe place where you can connect with others and offload some of life’s pressures. At the same time, there’s an opportunity to explore the obstacles to your wellbeing and discover strategies to help you boost your happiness. Get in touch if you want to express your anger at Space for You.