Now that I have your attention…
Anger has been given a bad rap. Women have been traditionally misled to believe that if they are angry they are bad people, out of control, not co-operative, too emotional or, quite frankly, bitches. For men, anger has been equated with being strong, firm, a leader. Although times are changing and gender roles are not so absolute, the fact is that most of us have never had functional anger mentored for us.
What is healthy anger? The first thing we need to do is to define the difference between healthy anger and unhealthy anger; the difference being key to understanding this complex emotion.
Unhealthy anger can be explosive, misdirected, stuck, blaming, out of control, suppressed for a long time, a child-like tantrum, reactive, disproportionate or completely inappropriate to the situation and often things are said that we later regret.
Healthy anger on the other hand, is ignited by having boundaries crossed in the present moment. It serves us to move forward purposefully from whatever entanglement we are in. When we are in functional anger we are in control, it is appropriate for the situation, we take 100% responsibility for the emotional angst we are feeling and express what needs to change to make things better for ourselves. Anger does not have the power to transform the other person. Functional anger is expressing our truth in a way to create change without emotionally damaging another person. They may not like the change we are advocating, they may even resist the change but they cannot deny what is our truth.
A while ago, I was working with a team of people on a project. We were new to each other and were meeting by telephone conference. After introductions, a couple of ideas were suggested. One of the team members stopped the entire process. He had specific ideas and made it very clear that we were not to waste his time and that everything would be done the way he said or he would withdraw from the team. His voice was sharp and underlying currents of anger hung in the air. As he was the most experienced member of the team he had tremendous credibility. A part of me collapsed in the face of his criticism: my throat contracted, my stomach knotted and my knees shook. I stayed mostly silent through to the end of the call and hung up.
My first reaction was suppressed anger. After hanging up, my thoughts (…well many of them cannot be shared here), began raging. “He is so rude! How could he treat me this way? I am feeling so insignificant and unheard, I never want to see or speak to this person again. I am withdrawing from this project.”
However, it was really important for me to be a part of this team and I was motivated to find a way to continue. Why was I reacting so strongly? What could possibly be going on that would make my body feel as distressed as it was? Why could I not say anything the moment this man stated his boundaries?
And then I realized… when I was a child, my father was a very angry man. (Our relationship today is much different). When he became angry there was no opportunity to speak. Even if I had something important to say, if I tried to speak, his anger would escalate. I learned to be very afraid of anger and that keeping quiet was the safest thing to do.
Working with this man in the present had triggered my little frightened girl from the past. My body was reacting the way I did when I was a child. There was a direct connection to my past.
For me, suppressed anger such as this does not just go away with a logical explanation. It took a week of self-care to dissipate what had been locked inside me. A tremendous amount of movement and directed release brought me back to presence.
How could I now respond to this situation with healthy anger? In this case I was very blessed. The man I was working with realized there was something wrong and came to me. “Is there something I have done to offend you?” he asked. “Yes,” I responded. “The other day on the phone, I felt my ideas for the project were really stopped short by how you approached the situation. I know I have a lot to contribute here and need the opportunity to speak more fully.” The conversation continued and we moved into healthy debate, brain storming and sharing. He acknowledged his impatience and became more open to hearing what I had to say.
Anger has enormous potential as a resource for change when understood, and a forceful weapon of destruction when misused. Building relationship with our own anger is a powerful form of healing.
Amy Hanson is a Certified ARC Bodywork Therapist compassionately working with people from her Shawnigan Lake home.