Anger: Tool of Control
Anger is an emotion that people experience when they want something that is hurting them to change. We tend to feel it in response to something that upsets us. If, for instance, someone hurts me, I know I’d like to make them stop. Feeling hurt is unpleasant and unwanted, and I want it to go away. In response to this hurt, anger is the feeling that comes over me that motivates, or empowers me to do something about the underlying hurt feelings, to seek to restore some sense of safety and balance. The more unsafe I feel, the more control I want. Anger is often used as a tool of control.
Maybe something feels unjust, or hurts, or is frustrating for me. Sometimes, I may decide to accept the painful feelings I’m experiencing, and work through them without being angry. Other times, I might not.
Anger is the emotion which energizes and focuses me to pursue the change I believe I want or need, when I can’t accept it as it is.
In a perfect world, anger would be what motivates and energizes me to communicate clearly about the underlying painful emotions I’m experiencing. If, for instance, you’ve said something that hurt me, my anger about that should drive me to tell you that I feel hurt. It’s entirely possible you were unaware that what you said felt hurtful to me. If I assume you can’t read my mind, and I want you to stop saying things that hurt me, then if I tell you it hurt, and assuming you care, you’re more likely to stop. Problem solved.
In the real and imperfect world, however, we don’t always understand what we’re really feeling.
Coping with underlying painful feelings can be overwhelming and even scary. In that case, expressing our anger becomes a substitute for expressing what hurts and how we really feel. We tend to mistakenly believe that if I express the anger I’m feeling, then the other person will somehow understand the pain that is going on underneath it. The problem with it is that we’re really treating hurt with hurt. Real and positive change isn’t going to happen, because the underlying issues just don’t get resolved.
When we use anger to mask our real feelings then other people have no idea what we really need or want. Assuming others can read our minds is a huge mistake I see people make all the time. We seem to be fearful of sharing what we are feeling, especially if it involves any painful emotions. Many people I work with learned to suppress their feelings when they were growing up. If the people around you are uncomfortable with feelings, then as you’re growing up you’re going to be uncomfortable with them too. It is a very deep and basic need we all have to experience our feelings and then express them.
People who have chronic anger problems struggle to relate to either their own feelings, and especially those of others.
If it doesn’t feel safe to express certain emotions, then we soon realize it doesn’t help to experience them either. As such, sometimes we lose the ability to even have certain emotions. We bury them deep down inside where they can’t be as threatening to us as they once felt. However, because anger is an emotion that we can use for the purpose of increasing our sense of control, then it feels safer for us to express anger than other , and more confusing and stressful, underlying emotions.
The problem is that when we use anger to resolve our conflicts, we tend not to resolve anything. Since our anger tends to come out in a controlling fashion, the other party just feels controlled. Feeling controlled by someone else doesn’t tend to be very pleasant, but in fact, it can be very frightening.
When we feel scarred or anxious we tend to want more control. So, we in turn become angry and controlling. It’s a vicious cycle. The only way to break this cycle is to work at expressing the underlying pain in a less angry and more non-controlling fashion.
In other blog-posts we’ll talk about how to do that safely, and about some of the brain-science behind anger and emotions. We’ll also discuss how the concept of empathy works to enable healthy conflict resolution, and how people can be better connected to one another with less conflict.