Photo by Andre Tan
Anybody can become angry–that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way–that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
Anger at yourself
You are the one closest to the anger that takes place within you that you might direct back toward yourself. But why would you be angry at yourself?
One reason is that you might have learned how to do this while growing up. Your parents might have often expressed anger toward you as you grew up. It might seem that whatever you did was wrong, and you always heard about it in an angry way. This might be an issue in your family which your parents inherited from their parents and which might date back for generations.
Your older brothers and sisters might have learned their angry manner from your parents. Then they treated you they way they were treated. You might carry on the family tradition in the way you treat your younger siblings and the way you treat yourself for that matter.
Your parents might have experienced traumatic events which they were not able to handle constructively. Perhaps the only way they knew to express their feelings about what happened was through their anger. In this case, your parents were not angry at you but rather at what happened to them. You just happened to be in the way.
Traumatic events might have befallen you as well. An accident, disease or loss of someone close to you might leave you injured physically or emotionally and possibly traumatized. If you have no good ways of handling such events, you might also be stuck with anger as your only outlet.
You may also blame yourself for what happened to you or to someone you loved in the past. Perhaps you could not find a way to protect yourself or a loved one from disaster. Yet you see it as your fault and turn your anger inward.
You might make major blunders and then wish you hadn’t. On a less serious level, you might handle a situation clumsily or react negatively to a minor incident even though you know better.
What happens when you start directing your anger toward yourself and make a habit of it? Gina Simmons lists some possibilities:
- Difficulty giving and receiving love from others–You might be so busy directing anger at yourself that you don’t notice the needs of those around you. You might also ignore your own needs and push away people who are trying to be kind to you.
- Lack of motivation to achieve–You might lose faith in yourself and your abilities. If you see yourself as such an awful person, how can you expect to achieve anything of significance?
- Inability to enjoy normal pleasures of life–Your anger toward yourself may prevent you from enjoying good things in your life. First, you might not notice good things happening around you. Second, you might convince yourself that you don’t deserve to enjoy any pleasure.
- Self destructive behavior–You might turn to physical harm as a way of punishing yourself, such as mutilating your body. The ultimate self-punishment is suicide. Of course, punishing yourself is not the only motivation for suicide. Some people turn in this direction as a last resort when they can find no other acceptable options to deal with physical or emotional pain. You might also wish to relieve others from having to put up with your worthless self.
Theodore Isaac Rubin, in his book Compassion and Self Hate, has this to say, “Self-hatred, the most damaging form of self-anger, occurs when we feel it’s impossible to act ideally, and we give up on the value of our real self.” This is in contrast with healthy self-esteem where you can still find value in yourself despite your faults. He suggests a number of techniques to start changing your totally negative view of you.
- If you have been ruminating on how awful a person you are, or what you have done, take a break from that kind of thinking. It might be difficult and need conscious effort, but you are worth it.
- Start looking at your life as it exists in the present. Regardless of what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future, consider what you can do right now to change the direction of your life.
- Set a goal. It will be easier to accomplish something if you can decide on how you would like to see yourself and your life in the future.
- Think of ways you can act differently to start moving toward the goal you have set. One exercise I have found helpful is to imagine I am now in the future, and I have accomplished my goal. Write a letter from your future self to your present self. Write about what steps you took to reach your goal and what the journey was like.
- All the planning and wishing in the world will not accomplish anything as long as it remains in your imagination and nowhere else. You can spend the rest of your life revising your plan without taking the first step toward it. Get going!
Stop punishing yourself
In her book, How to Stop Punishing Yourself, Danielle Grossman shares her thoughts on how to accomplish it. The first step is to realize that you are not getting anywhere while you are stuck in a pattern of punishing yourself. Perhaps you are not the only one with a negative view of yourself. As we have discussed, your family may have shared this view of you as you grew up. Other people you have encountered might have reinforced this opinion. You might also agree that you are the problem.
Beating up on yourself will not change anything that has happened to you in the past or anything you did in the past. Even if you have reason to berate yourself for what happened, dwelling on it will only make you feel worse.
Grossman suggests starting with understanding of self-punishment as “so deeply entrenched that no amount of telling ourselves to be nice to ourselves is going to make much difference.” It’s not simply a matter of letting go of self-punishment and suddenly liking yourself again, if you ever did.
The second step is to move beyond self-esteem. It would seem that having better self-esteem would cancel out self-blame, but there is more to it than that. She suggests that the key is to step outside yourself and your own resources. To get your life into a positive perspective, it is important to find others who see your positive side and rely on them to guide you toward better feelings about yourself.
The problem with this approach is that the worse you feel about yourself, the more you are likely to isolate yourself from others or find others who constantly put you down. As a result, it will be difficult to find anyone in your circle to rely on to help you move in the right direction. If this is the case, it might be wise to seek professional help from a person who might not know you intimately but is familiar with the process of isolation and how to develop friends who can help you find your emotional balance.
Anger in relationships
You might think that expressing anger in relationships might be less likely than being angry with strangers. Yet the opposite is true. People supposedly close to you tend to be to the focus of your anger more than those you see less often and care less about.
How does this happen? No one plans for it. Part of the marriage ceremony includes taking each other for better or worse. I would dare say that the same goes for the beginning of any other type of relationship as well. If you thought the relationship was doomed from the start, you would be unlikely to even begin it. You might jump into a destructive reationship if you feel desperate to have another person in your life regardless of the trouble it might cause you.
Although you might have good intentions at the beginning of a relationship, you are very likely to annoy the other person sooner or later. You might not do it on purpose, but everyone likes to have things go their way. When they don’t go that way, it is annoying.
A pattern of unwanted behavior might develop. You and the other person in your relationship might find it hard to change your ways. You might insist on doing things your own way rather than the way the other person wants them done. Annoyance can escalate to anger and perhaps even to rage if the underlying conflicts remain unresolved.
Steven Stosny sees lack of compassion as the main contributor to anger in marriages and, by extension, other close relationships. He describes compassion in this way, “Compassion is sympathy for the hurt or distress of another. At heart, it is a simple appreciation of the basic human frailty we all share, which is why the experience of compassion makes you feel more humane and less isolated.” In his view, compassion is the basis on which we form our relationships and emotional bonds.
Through compassion with another, you come to appreciate the other person’s struggles, challenges, frustration and resulting anger. Compassion actually goes beyond this. Empathy is a broader term which includes understanding the desires, wishes and delights of the other person as well as his or her challenges and frustrations.
What distances you from each other is the sense one or both of you have that your feelings, joys and concerns are not understood or respected by the other. This perceived lack of caring can begin to feel like emotional abuse. Without sensing an emotional bond, you don’t have much incentive to share your feelings with each other. You tend to gradually draw away from the relationship and increase your resentment about not being cared for in what used to be a caring relationship. This trend helps us understand the great number of marriages that end in divorce when people stop listening to each other.
***Stosny sees this strain as ultimately reaching the point of contempt for each other, a sense of betrayal of the bond you once had. It becomes easy to blame your partner for the distance and lack of caring. Blame may be directed toward you by your partner as well. He also mentions that compassion and contempt are both contagious. The more you feel and express either of these feelings, the more likely they are to be seen in your partner as well. Compassion or contempt is also likely to fuel your own feelings and actions for better or worse.
The more you focus on your partner’s betrayal of you, the more your partner will also feel betrayed by you. Without some change in this process, the days of your relationship are numbered. It won’t be long until one or both of you conclude that the relationship is no longer viable and decide to separate or divorce if your are married. In other relationships you might drift away from each other, or one of you might call an end to what you had together. As you might suspect, such a conclusion almost invariably raises the level of anger and resentment toward each other in the process.
Returning to a sense of compassion for each other’s feelings seems to be the only viable solution. Yet in the throes of anger and resentment, it will be difficult for either of you to let down your guard and work toward resolution of your conflict. Sometimes a dramatic life event can bring one or both of you to your senses. A woman close to me told me of the strain between her and her stepmother, which reached a breaking point when her father died. Years later, her stepmother’s son died.
The woman realized that she did not want to go through the rest of her life with this resentment between them. She arranged a lunch and the two of were able to put their differences aside and resume a healthy relationship. Helpful friends can assist both of you in being more objective about each other. Yet friends also have their biased perceptions and might take one side or the other. At the extreme, professional counseling might the best way to try unraveling the web in which both of you are caught.
Anger with Friends
Just as differences can arise among relationship partners, friends can and usually do have disagreements from time to time. You might be a very patient person who tolerates a fair amount of conflict and tend not to become overly upset about it. You might be tightly wound and have what others see as thin skin although you might not agree with either of these ways of seeing you.
In any case, you are likely to feel anger directed toward your friends for any number of reasons ranging from slightly to severely aggravating actions toward you or for their actions which you assume they do to upset you. There are constructive options for responding to anger directed at friends, which we have discussed before.
Cherie Burbach suggests being aware of your reactions to your anger. She also lists things not to do when you are angry at a friend. Let’s consider them:
- Pretend that you are not angry. If you could let go of the anger immediately or fairly soon, this might be a possibility. If you hang onto the anger and pretend you don’t, you set up false expectations for yourself and for your friend as well as leading you toward further conflict. If you stay angry, the incident which led to your anger was obviously important to you and might sit on the back burner waiting for you to add other dissatisfactions to the simmering pot. At some point the pot is likely to overflow, and you explode in rage. In addition, if you don’t express your anger to your friends, they will continue acting as though nothing is wrong, which there isn’t in their minds.
- Blurt out exactly what you feel. We talked earlier about reacting immediately without thinking. In this case, you are liable to blast your friends out of proportion to anything they said or did. In this case you are likely blaming your friends rather than attempting to convey your feelings in a way which might allow you to arrive at a mutually acceptable understanding and solution.
- Start “unfriending.” This approach might be familiar to you from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It means your posts will no longer be automatically sent to them and theirs will not appear on your site.Although you might not blast your friends, you are unilaterally severing at least part of your relationship. They may well react with anger or hurt feelings. In any case, without an explanation, they have no way of knowing about your feelings, what is behind your actions or how they might be able to resolve the issue with you.
- Call up every other friend you have just to vent. If you are still in junior high school, this might seem like a valid response to anger although it will not get you anywhere, no matter how old you. In this case too, you leave little chance of resolving anything. You also run the risk of your other friends seeing you as a hothead. They might keep their distance from you so they can avoid becoming the object of your scorn as well.
- Post about your fight even if you think you’re being sly. This is going beyond unfriending and takes your conflict into public view so the whole world can see your troubles. Once your conflict is a public matter, what do you suppose the chance is of repairing your relationship? Also, consider the possible effect on your reputation and other relationships.
- Live your anger. This is about your worst possible choice for you and for your friendships in general. We talked about the negative effects of letting your anger take over your life. How many of your friends will look forward to being with you under these circumstances? How many new friends do you think you will make if you constantly present yourself as an angry person? You might attract other angry people. How satisfying do you think that will be in the long run?
You are probably aware of the saying that you choose your friends but not your family. There is a little more to it than that. Although you have some choice about your friends, how you act has an effect on whether others want to be friends with you, as we have just seen.
Friendly and not so friendly neighbors
What about neighbors? You don’t have control of who your neighbors are unless you own all the houses and apartments in your neighborhood. But that’s not likely. You do have a choice of which neighbors you would like to have as friends. Some people prefer to live in isolation from neighbors and limit their interactions to a wave or brief hello or just ignore their neighbors. You can’t make neighbors want to be your friends, but how you treat them certainly affects your chances one way or another.
How good a neighbor are you? That might be the best place to start. Think of what qualities you imagine others would like to see in you as a neighbor. Is your house quiet and peaceful without excessive noise to perturb neighbors? Do you treat your property with respect and make it a credit to your neighborhood? If you walk your pet, do you clean up after its business on others’ lawns? Do you act as a law-abiding citizen? Are you helpful in the face of a neighbor’s crisis?
If you want good neighbors, it might be best to make sure you are one and are seen that way by others who live near you. Your neighborliness will attract like-minded people in the neighborhood and give you the potential for worthwhile and mutually satisfying relationships with your neighbors.
We have established that you most likely have little control of who your neighbors are once you move in. There are some things you can do before this time. You can walk or drive around the neighborhood you are considering and try to meet some of the local residents. You can introduce yourself and tell people you are considering living in the neighborhood. Ask them what it is like to live there and what they think of their neighbors.
You can also see for yourself how people treat their property. This might be an indicator of how they might react to you as a neighbor. Some people like to be close to their neighbors while others are more comfortable with less interaction. If you meet some people who live there and share what living in that neighborhood is like for them, you are likely to get some sense of the neighborhood structure, which may or may not meet your needs and wishes.
Some issues you might with wish to address with potential neighbors are noisy people, especially late at night, very fussy people, slobs, people who don’t pick up after their pets and people involved in drugs or are generally antisocial. Informal conversations with people who already live in the neighborhood might give you some clues. If you have a particular house in mind, you might introduce yourself to the nearby neighbors and try to get a sense of what it would be like to live near or next to them.
Sometimes unsavory neighbors might move in after you are already established in your house. You might find them annoying at first and find yourself moving toward increasing levels of anger. In the mean time, they go on as if they are acting normally. In fact, they might think they are normal.
The problem might be with your level of tolerance. If they don’t know about your feelings, they are not likely to change anything. If you get angry without seeking a tactful solution, things can only get worse.
You have options. You can try to ignore it. This is at best a temporary solution. You can try talking with them in a reasonable way. If you don’t get anywhere with that approach, you can involve the police or community government, depending on the type of annoyance. You can also move to a different home. These are all courses you can take short of reaching a violent outcome. We will look at these in more detail in the chapters on responding to anger.
Anger at work
Three aspects of work might annoy you, even to the point of anger and the consequences following its expression. Avery Augustine describes three areas of conflict at work. These include problems with your coworkers, with your boss and with your work assignments.
The only sure way to avoid these problems entirely is to work alone and not have coworkers or a boss. It is up to you to decide your own type of work and how to approach it. Although you avoid the traditional work conflicts, you still might need to handle conflicts with suppliers, subcontractors and customers.
You have several options for handling work difficulties. The first is to ignore them. This is easier said than done. We will look at this approach in depth in the next chapter. For most people, ignoring conflicts and dissatisfactions often build and lead to an escalation of anger and the likelihood or at least the possibility of outbursts.
Unless your coworkers can read your mind, they may not know of your annoyance until you say something unless it becomes obvious by your actions. Before driving yourself crazy, gently let your coworkers know what they are doing that bothers you and why their behavior upsets you. It would also help to make a suggestion about how the situation could be better.
Bosses can be just as annoying. Confronting them might be more delicate. After all, the boss has the upper hand. The best way is to own the problem by saying you have a hard time completing or concentrating on your work when your boss acts in certain ways. As with coworkers, making a suggestion for how things could be better is usually acceptable. I have found from my experience that bosses don’t like to have problems dumped in their laps. Including a solution with your view of the problem is more likely to be heard and accepted than a mere statement of the problem.
Sometimes the annoyance is related to your work and not the people with whom you interact. Your work duties might be conflicting or unclear. If you are the only one doing this job, don’t expect anyone else to understand your difficulty or to even notice it. As with the other annoyances just mentioned, relating your confusion or feeling of conflicting expectations is not likely to be seen from your point of view unless you are clear about your confusion. You can suggest changes which will help you do a better job to the benefit of the company as well as to your peace of mind.
Making fun of the government is a well-established American pastime, unless you happen to be a government worker and are the object of the anger. There have always been people angry at government. With so many different viewpoints, political persuasions, religious convictions and personal priorities, anger is not surprising.
More recently, anger has become almost a universal reaction, no matter which side of any particular issue appeals to you. We seem to have forgotten how to compromise. Not only do we all want things our way, we want to win and perhaps destroy or discredit those who do not agree with us. Many have come to see America as “my country” rather than “our country.”
The purpose of a democracy is to provide all of our citizens a chance to live a fulfilling life, have a chance at opportunities which our country holds out and live together in harmony. At times we have come closer to these ideals than at others. Even at the beginning of our country, liberty and justice for all included all white males but not necessarily women or people of different racial or cultural backgrounds.
Certainly we have made progress toward including everyone over the years. Women have earned the right to vote and hold office as well as achieving prominence in the worlds of government and business. We have passed laws to protect the rights of all citizens, at least on paper.
Despite this, animosity on the part of groups with relatively greater power, economic resources, and social standing has remained as part of the social fabric of our nation. People with less power, economic resources and social standing have felt angry about being left behind and not being taken seriously.
I have been thinking lately about why there is so much dissatisfaction these days. In my opinion, many people have developed an exaggerated sense of entitlement. They feel that they deserve to be well off and to have everything then want. This sense is fueled by the advertising industry, especially in TV ads.
The message is that you deserve everything you want, and it is someone’s fault if you don’t get it. If you don’t have what you deserve, becoming angry has come to seem appropriate. In the 2016 election cycle, anger and rage have been fueled by the inflammatory statements of Donald Trump as well as other candidates and their supporters. While he was wily in tapping into potential voter anger, time will tell whether he has an interest in actually addressing the needs of those he whipped into a frenzy.
So what is citizen and voter anger about? The BBC journalist Vanessa Barford, in her article, Why are Americans So Angry?, suggested five reasons she sees for American voter anger. Let’s take a look at them.
- The first reason she lists is the economy. She quotes William Galston as saying, “The failure of the economy to deliver real progress to middle-class and working-class Americans over the past 15 years is the most fundamental source of public anger and disaffection in the US.” Some workers are frustrated because there has been little growth in average household income. Other workers are angry because jobs have dwindled or disappeared, There also does not seem to be the opportunity to find better paying jobs than in the past.
- The second reason is immigration. The demographics of immigrants have changed. In the past, most of the immigrants were white. Recently, a greater percentage of immigrants were not white and the trend is toward a larger percentage of Hispanics than before. The fact that many of these immigrants are undocumented has also increased the fury.
- The third reason has to do with Washington and the federal bureaucracy. Many Democrat and Republican citizens have little trust in the federal government, which they feel is the top problem in the United States because of representatives’ power. They tend to see elected congressmen and congresswomen as ineffective and unresponsive to the needs of their constituents and merely focused on their own power.
- The fourth reason is America’s place in the world. The United States is seen as losing international respect compared to the way it was viewed in the past. We are not seen as being very effective in combating or negotiating with forces opposed to our view of how the world should be.
- The fifth reason is that we are a divided, polarized nation. The two major parties in the United States are more polarized than they have ever been in the past. Republicans are becoming more conservative and Democrats more liberal. Finding common ground has become rarer and more difficult. Both parties have come to view each other with more suspicion and the likelihood of their compromising has decreased.
In my mind, this does not necessarily mean that we are all at each other’s throats all the time. Many people have tired of the stand-off and have disaffiliated with both major parties, labeling themselves as independents. Sadly, more people stayed away from the polls in 2016 than in other recent elections. The election was decided by less than half the eligible voters and even then several million more people voted against the president-elect than for him.
Many of the people who did not vote saw neither major candidate as qualified to lead our country and saw both major parties as incapable of finding a suitable candidate. Others viewed the whole political process as flawed and not serving the interests of our citizens.
Instead of a democracy, we now seem to be leaning toward an oligarchy in which a few wealthy individuals determine the course of our country’s future. It seems a sad state of affairs when the chief accomplishments of a president are his apparent fortune and his ability to conduct a successful presidential campaign as a television “reality show” star.
It seems we have allowed ourselves to become enthralled with television shows rather than the reality facing us on a daily basis. The environment, the plight of immigrants, the rage of our citizens and the pattern of violence televised on a daily basis all remind us that we have a job to do focusing on rediscovering how to listen to each other and once again work together for the common good.