We have all allowed ourselves to become angry at one time or another. Anyone who feels they have never gotten angry needs to look at themselves long and hard! It is an emotion than can serve us well, when managed properly. Why do we feel the emotion of anger and what makes us exhibit it to others in the ways that we do?
Most of the ways we display anger are learned, culturally through the environment we have been surrounded. At times in our life, we may have not had much control over our environment. One very important thing I want to say right up front is this:
There is nothing wrong with getting angry! Let me repeat that. “THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH GETTING ANGRY.” It is almost always the WAY in which we display our anger that’s causes an issue for ourselves or others. I will get back to that in a minute.
Anger is NOT a primary emotion, but a SECONDARY emotion. It usually bubbles up in us when we are afraid. Fear is a PRIMARY emotion. “FEAR”; that other four letter word…. The one few people want to admit having, especially we males. When we are afraid or frightened, surprised by something that has scared us, or embarrassed us, all the flavors of fear well up in us and instead of admitting we were scared, we mask it by getting angry. It is an emotion we all understand, and although we don’t want to admit it; anger is an emotion more readily accepted in society than is fear.
We think of solders in combat who have exhibited great courage and bravery in saving the lives of friends and others in harms’ way. While what they did may have indeed saved lives and was a brave act, most likely the situation they found themselves in was frightening. The fear turned to anger at the situation, and they did whatever they could to stop the situation, to stop the fear… not to be thought of as brave. The fear, turned into anger, providing the fuel they needed to find a way to end the fear.
Let’s get back to how we display anger. Let me also add that fear is not the only primary emotion that can turn to anger, embarrassment works just as well. I’m going to use a far-fetched example to make my point.
Let’s say a friend and I meet for lunch and I am wearing my favorite shirt. My friend greets me and as we say hi, I notice he is staring at my shirt. When I ask him if something is wrong, he responds,”Richard, I can’t believe you wore that silly looking shirt out in public. It is the dumbest looking shirt I have even seen in my life, especially on a grown man.”
Well needless to say, when I heard my friends’ comments about my wonderful, beautiful shirt a shirt that I picked out to wear especially for this important occasion, I was crushed. I was surprised and hurt to the point of being offended as well as embarrassed.
Before I responded to his comments, I processed his words and my feelings regarding them, all in the blink of an eye and I decided to respond. I decided to respond through the filter of anger. One reason I may have gotten angry is that my friends comment, brought me all the way back to being six years old, when I dressed to go out to play and my father saw my shirt. He yelled and threatened me with being grounded if I did not go back to my room and change my shirt. He was not going to let me go outside in a shirt he thought would bring embarrassment to the family. (Luckily, that never really happened.) My friend’s comment stirred up a sad, scary, and embarrassing memory, which brought up the feeling of fear, which I tried to mask with anger.
To respond to any situation with anger is a choice. To respond in a specific way because we are angry is yet another choice. In the shirt scenario, I could just look at my friend and shrugged his comment off. I could think of it as his way of making a joke, or him having a bad day. However if my feelings of anger go unchecked and I decide to act in anger, all in a few nano-seconds, the results could go sour very quickly. I could get up and leave, make a disgusted face, make a comment about how much weight he has gained or how his hair is thinning or pour my ice tea in his lap or over his head.
Or, I could have wondered to myself,”What is it about what he just said, that hit me in such a way that I decided to get angry about it as a result? I then have to decide which would be the most productive way to respond, if at all, all in a blink of an eye.
Anger is a useful emotion, if handled maturely and with everyone’s best interest at heart. It can be a signal to us that we need to look at something with-in ourselves that may need further work. It may be a sign to us, if anger continues to be the first emotion we seem to act on, that we need to change our view of the world. We can do this by looking at or environment with new eyes or change it to a more peaceful one that is more congruent to our values, beliefs and serves our highest good rather than our ego.
We will discuss some tips for better exhibiting our feelings when angry at another time. Until then… Be safe and be well!