Tuesday, February 17, 2004

One of the things I realized at UYO was just how few tools I have to deal with anger. Other feelings – fear, love, sadness, joy, pride, affection, disappointment, self-pity, depression, loneliness, guilt – I can deal with pretty well once I acknowledge that it’s there. But anger . . . even when I acknowledge that it’s there, I still don’t know what to do with it.

I’ve rarely seen people who are role models for dealing constructively with anger. Most people either swallow their anger and try to avoid it, or they take out their anger on everyone around them, destroying their relationships. Isn’t there a third way?

Usually, I’m able to acknowledge to myself that I’m angry, and I try to talk myself through it, figuring out: what is bothering me exactly, and how can I solve the problem? But I get stuck in the feeling of it, and have a hard time climbing out of the quicksand of my anger or rage. I may not be yelling – thank God, I’ve learned to maintain an outward appearance of calm, to give myself time to think over what I really want to do – but inside I’m suffering.

Tonight I’m thinking that anger is a tool, and how destructive it is depends on how you use it.

I remember learning in an NCSY session a long, long time ago that anger is a form of selfishness, because it comes from a feeling that “my needs and my ego are more important than any other consideration.” That’s why some people, when they get angry, yell at others. They are forgetting other people’s needs and egos in the process of defending their own.

It’s also probably why some people try to swallow their anger, or push it aside. If deep down they feel that their own needs are meaningless and unimportant, then they tell themselves that their anger is unjustified, they are wrong to feel it, and if they can just stop feeling it, everything will be OK.

But I think that really, anger is a warning bell. It’s basically the mind’s way of saying “Beep! Beep! Someone’s trampling on my dignity! Someone’s forgetting my needs! Someone is hurting my ego!” Sometimes, it’s possible to manually override the system by telling oneself “yes, my needs are not being met, but this time it’s OK. I’ll get the need met some other way, or live without it, because there’s some other goal I’m reaching for that is more important.” That goal might be being considerate of a loved one, or keeping peace in the home, or keeping one’s job, or not making a scene at a fancy cocktail party.

The problem with that solution is that it means that one’s needs still aren’t being met. It takes someone on a really high level of emotional maturity to consistently deal with one’s anger that way. Often, people who try to deal with it that way all the time are ignoring the warning bells in dangerous ways, and eventually they “blow up,” or start doing passive-aggressive things to express how they really feel. (I say “they,” but of course I include myself in this.)

So sometimes, it’s better to heed the bell. When one’s ego is saying “hellooooo out there! I’m here! What about me?!?” it’s not always a matter of selfishness to protect oneself. Self-fulness, but not selfishness.

If you had a child who was being insulted, you’d have a few words with whomever was hurting your child, right? You’d stick up for them. Maybe, anger is the cry of one’s inner child, a way of the little kid – the ego?—in each of us to say “I need you to stick up for me now.”

“What about me?”

Tomorrow, I’m going to be talking to someone who has made me very angry (see the previous posting about this below). I’m going to stick up for myself.

But I’m worried that my self-fulness will turn to selfishness. It’s a fine line. I’m worried that I’ll get so wrapped up in defending my ego and my needs, that I’ll forget about the other person’s ego and needs.

I’d really welcome comments about this, as I’m feeling sort of lonely about it. How do you deal with anger? Or, if you don’t deal with it well, to what extent does that fact bother you? How are you trying to deal with it?

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