Processing Anger

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Anger is a pervasive feeling. It hits the young and old alike. The rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the enlightened and the unenlightened share the emotion. Wouldn’t it be smart if we were taught a method of managing and purging our anger at a young age and continued and supported as part of our culture?

I’m thinking a bit about the fire principle we teach young children. We say that if they find their clothing is on fire, they should stop, drop and roll. Isn’t our tendency to run? That only fuels the fire. The process of stopping a fire is almost counter-intuitive.

There was a time that psychologists told patients to punch a pillow in their room to let out their anger. I’m no psychologist, but I’m pretty sure I’ve read that the theory of violent expression (even on a substitute object) no longer is considered good therapy. So what do we do?

There are some things that we, quite honestly, need to intellectualize. What if the best strategic move is to think and consider the situation and to make a plan for best action? Perhaps withdrawing for thoughtful consideration and cooling off is the smartest choice.

When my oldest daughter was seven, I divorced her father. I remember her violently thrashing her arms and legs and screaming with disbelief that all she knew and loved had been changed in an instant. She felt totally out of control. I remember feeling helpless. Over time, I’ve learned to help her manage her anger and confusion about things she can’t control. It has been a learning curve for us both.

I consider myself a reasonably well-balanced person. When attacked unjustly, I would like to come back with words of criticism to settle the score. Many times, a retreat is the smartest choice. Not saying words that bubble up is the smartest choice. Hurtful words let loose can never be retracted. Consider the context of the situation. Consider the good works or good heart of the other person and the credit they have in the bank of mutual respect. Settling a score in the heat of the moment would be counter-productive to all that is good.

The cultural acceptance of rudeness, bullying and angry rhetoric on the political front underscores this angry mentality of getting even. Young children need to be told that it is an unacceptable, not to be imitated means of communication.

To begin to tackle the violence we see in the world today, we need to manage our personal anger, teach our children better ways of coping, create opportunities for people to have valuable work and compensation, support mental health programs, and find ways for people to validate themselves without destroying others in their path.