Anger seems to surround us these days. Living in our country these days can mean risking your life just by stepping out in public. We hear daily reports of adults and even teens attacking and killing others, sometimes strangers and sometimes those well known to them. They seem to blame others for their lives not being the way they would like them to be. On the surface there is no simple explanation for this pattern and the attacks seem almost random. Anger consumes the lives of these destructive people. They are angry about having their lives disrupted and about the world not being the way they think it should be.
Have you heard or read of any relaxed, happy murderers? I didn’t think so. On the surface, anger as an explanation seems obvious. Yet truly understanding anger and knowing what to do about it are complex issues. In this series of posts, we will look at the nature of anger, sources of anger, types of anger, how you respond to anger, and alternatives to anger. We will also look at narcissistic rage and constructive anger on opposite poles of acceptability. You may wonder how it is that I have anything useful to say on the topic. First I will share a little of my family history. I will also share what I have been doing professionally as it relates to anger.
About family anger
I don’t see myself as an angry person nor does anyone else see me that way as far as I know. Most families have their own tone with regard to anger. My extended family showed two distinctly different tones. I grew up with both as models on which to base life.
My father’s family
My father’s family was quick to anger and liked to argue about everything. A normal conversation could escalate into a shouting match in a matter of seconds. I especially remember holiday gatherings. My grandfather, father, and uncles were embroiled in one argument or another in the living room. The kitchen was quiet for a while. Then emerged the sound of screams from the kitchen which turned out to be an argument about whether the turkey was done.
Despite the arguments, my father’s family was not uncaring. They were all generous with their money and time. They were available in a crisis and ready to jump in whenever an emergency arose. More often than not, my aunts were very nice to me but could easily be incited to angry outbursts toward each other. Most of my uncles were quick to anger toward their children and their nephews and nieces. My father’s oldest brother was a priest and was always the voice of reason in the midst of family arguments. He was also adept at diffusing arguments with his humor. His mother, my grandmother, was dour and in my opinion preoccupied with the trials of her diabetes. I don’t recall her being angry but remember her rigidity in enforcing her Germanic family rules.
My mother’s family
My mother’s family was the direct opposite of my father’s. I lived with my mother and grandparents for the first few years of my life while my father was away in the navy during World War II. I never remember hearing a harsh word being spoken among any of them. Humor and joy were the focus of all their interactions as they recounted stories of relatives from the past.
At a party after my grandfather’s funeral, the topic turned to whether he ever showed any anger. Someone recalled an occasion when two of my uncles as young boys chased each other through the house after my grandfather told them to stop. He got up to chase them and then realized he could never catch them and sat back down with a chuckle.
Life with my parents
I grew up in the midst of angry as well as harmonious ways to live as a family. My father brought with him to my immediate family his tendency toward anger, learned from his family. In contrast, my mother was the calmest and most reasonable and caring person I have ever known. Fortunately, my three brothers, my sister and I all followed the example of my mother and her family. I have always been grateful for this.
My father was not always angry. If he was, I don’t think my mother would have married him. I recall the early days of our family and don’t remember him as being an angry person when I was young. When I was eight, we moved to the suburbs. Around that time, I remember him becoming increasingly impatient and angry. I never did find out why and no one else in my family offered an explanation which made sense to me.
He stayed that way for most of his life. I don’t know what made my father’s family angry or what provoked my father to become an angrier person in mid-life after a relatively peaceful period. I have talked with relatives and friends of our family who did not see him as angry. Maybe he saved it for home. Shortly before he died, he developed Alzheimer’s disease and returned to the gentler person he must have once been. I was happy to have time with his quieter and more peaceful self in his final days and opportunity to cherish these last memories I have of him.
My psychology practice
I graduated from the University of Illinois with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. During my career, I worked at a college counseling center, a school for delinquent boys, two mental health centers and in private practice. I was trained in Client Centered Therapy, approaching clients with empathy, respect and genuineness aimed at helping them understand their thoughts and feelings and work toward more positive interactions with others. I continued using this approach in general but added marriage counseling, cognitive behavioral approaches and hypnosis, mostly for work with sexually abused clients. I learned that Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), developed by Albert Ellis, Ph.D., was the most straightforward and effective approach to helping people deal with their anger. We will take a closer look at this method in a later post.
My goal for this series
I hope to gain further insight into anger, where it comes from and what it does to people as I walk with you through this book. I also hope to have a better personal insight into anger as we proceed. You are welcome to join me in this journey. Perhaps you will also gain a better understanding of how anger has affected your life and what you can do about it. Maybe you will also gain a better understanding of how you can help build a more peaceful and productive community and nation. Think about what you wish to gain.