I sat on the phone with my new business coach at 8pm on a Wednesday. He is a professional teacher of Doing Things, and a certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming expert. This means he is skilled in the art of using language to affect mental and cognitive processes, a skill I hope spurs me forth out of my current mental soup. He asks me how I feel on a day-to-day basis as we discuss my plans for All We Cannot Say, my current career as a copywriter, and general sense of purpose and achievement. I want to answer with all manner of positive assertions, but I don’t want to lie to him. We have a tacit contract of truth and authenticity. What would it serve to plant a lie in the middle of this conversation?
I answer with a bunch of negative superlatives: Cantankerous. Exhausted. Angry. Resentful. Thoroughly fed up.
During our conversation, I am hyper aware that it is well past dinnertime. Perhaps he is too. I’m not just angry – I am hungry, a physical state which sees me turning into an objective garbage person.
But my causes of anger are down to more than a craving for Pad Thai. Right now, I’m in the centre of what I feel is a low period defined by aggression and malaise, and I’m grateful for the empty space in my bed. A partner would truly bare the brunt of my bad moods, becoming a human punching bag that I’d beat down until the threads of our relationships would fray and break. It’s true that my anger manifests itself in ugly ways that stings the people around me.
Last year someone threatened to sue me because my ego got in the way of decent consideration and respect.
It’s also true that anger fuels vast amounts of my energy and output. I used to work very hard to quell that emotion, and to shun that descriptor. I want to be a Cool and Chill Person as much as the next person. But it’s true – I’m angry. And I often display my anger in violent outbursts that take on the form of vomit texts, tears, and dissociation into my phone.
I am angry a lot of the time, and like many, it’s common to speak about our anger as an external manifestation. I am angry because that person is a jerk. I am angry because my train is late. I am angry because my partner forgot about dinner and it’s going cold on the stove.
We know that we are angry, but we don’t know what we’re angry about.
And in today’s self-centred landscape, it’s ironic that we’re so wont to examine our internal landscapes when they might reveal something so prickly, so unexpected and so hard to reconcile, as anger.
But here is another truth. Anger serves a purpose, and it’s taken me 29 years to figure this out. 29 years of fighting and beating my partners down with verbal violence. 29 years of articulating my needs by throwing staplers out windows and yelling at the cat.
What are the causes of anger?
Last year when I ended my long-term relationship, I left a searing question mark on his mind when I refused to give him a reason for our split. The refusal wasn’t bound up in an attitude of stubbornness, I just felt silenced by my own lack of self-knowledge.
It pains me to say I spent the majority of that relationship feeling angry and directing that rage outward, blaming him for everything that displeased me in my life.
One time, in a restaurant, I told him to go suck his own dick as onlookers stared in disbelief. I can’t recall why I felt so vicious in that moment. I just remember wanting to blame someone for the rising heat in my chest.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, as I hated everything back then. Being the closest person to me, it became easier to point the finger in his direction. Being the kind-hearted person he was who loved me too much, he took it. I’m angry now that I didn’t see that.
And yet, here’s the great thing about being entirely miserable: retrospect gives you the opportunity to self-examine because your mood has lifted. And through the clarity of past reflection, I have learned that anger serves a purpose.
I sound like a pious twit. Forgive me – I am not the Feelings Police. But I have read a lot of Marshall Rosenberg and his framework for NonViolent Communication. And as this master of giraffe puppets asserts, anger is the result of not getting our emotional needs met, and of not possessing the emotional tool kit to express this. Anger is a tool. Communication is a tool. And if we don’t have one tool, we’ll reach for the next best thing.
When we feel a seething rage begin to rear its head, it’s our boundaries we’re trying to protect. With our anger, we can express our displeasure with a variety of scenarious.
You were unkind to me.
I don’t want to miss that important meeting.
I feel like you don’t love me.
We express that anger, then our anger recedes, and our boundaries are re-established. Life goes on.
But what if your anger is damaging the relationships around you? What if unhealthy anger turns into a break-up? Or into violence?
I need to make a disclaimer here: I will defend anyone’s right to be angry. And I don’t believe there’s such a thing as over-reacting – there are only reactions.
It’s obvious that I’m not one for the pantomime of politeness, given the context of course. But I’m not one for waking up every day with your fists beating your pillow. But I am one for adding to your emotional tool box so that you can express that anger effectively, and in a way that is conducive to growth.
Living as a slave to anger drags you and those around you through the mud. It’s energetically exhausting and dirty to express or repress your anger.
Learn the skills to identify where your anger stems from, and your relationships with others and yourself will deepen and flourish.