When we’re angry, the majority of us don’t hurt strangers, we go home and hurt the people we care most about. All of us have a lot to learn about anger and too many don’t bother to figure it out. My definition of grown-up love is being able to figure out what it takes to be a better person. That’s the work of love. Love is a willingness to work, it’s not the stuff of Disney or romance movies. We seem to crave easy or magical. Many people want to repeat those lovely simple beginnings of love over and over and over.
Most people are familiar with the ugly side of anger because we go from silent stockpiling to feeling entitled to a splashy, mean dump. It’s the risk of honest dialogue we’re all avoiding. “I don’t want to hurt the person I love so I’ll keep quiet” is gutless and leads to resentments. It’s just delayed anger that will return like acid reflux.
So what’s the cure? THINK about what’s underneath the feeling of anger.
#1. Go write two letters that say what your anger is about. Do a dump letter first, if your feelings are so strong that you can’t think, then shred it. Write a thoughtful second letter that incorporates the other person’s point of view as well as your own. Consider giving it to the other person if you’ve written about the hurts and wants that are buried below the anger. Risk the uncertainty and most importantly the vulnerability of describing your hurts and wants. Anger is a way to cover up your vulnerability. It’s why we love all those superheroes and dread Superman’s encounter with kryptonite. We love the idea of invincible strength. I believe that a real definition of strength includes risking vulnerability. It’s a brave thing to walk into a therapist’s office but our culture still defines it as “you must be crazy”. Heroes are those who can be honest and say “I don’t know”, “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry about______”.
#2. Take a piece of paper and divide it down the middle. On the first half write I am angry______ and fill in the blank as many times as you can. Then on the other half explore what the wants and hurts might be for each angry statement.
#3. Recognize that anger is often very manipulative. Anger that screams “I want my way and I don’t care about your point of view” is lopsided and most likely unfair. Anger between adults that demands love me no matter what is a path taken by those with mental illness.
#4. When feeling angry, pop a tic tac. This technique is recommended in Anger Management for Dummies by W Doyle Gentry. I took a workshop with him a few months ago and he was very persuasive about the effectiveness if you suck and don’t chew. It slows down the feelings so thinking can begin.
#5. Decide to figure out your anger and read a book.
For Men: Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Your Life by Thomas Harbin
For Women: The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner
Anger matters because it gives voice to something important. Anger does not have to be aimed at somebody else. Anger does not have to have the level of ugliness teens reach because developmentally they are impulsive. Anger never has to be verbally, physically or emotionally abusive.