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THE FOUR FACES of ANGER

Anger Busting™

What's the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word ANGER? Frustration? Yelling? Loss of Control? Violence? Maybe fear, silence or avoidance? All reasonable responses...Or are they? A bit one-sided, for my taste, that is, the "anger glass" appears "half empty." How about a "half full" perspective: confrontation, energy, power and tenacity? Or honesty and being real?

The "half empty" responses, if not totally reasonable, are certainly representative. These are the words that invariably pour out of my workshop participants when asked to associate to "anger." To understand the preponderance of negatives, I ask this follow-up question: "How many people grew up in families where it truly felt safe and secure expressing your angry feelings as well as being the target of other people's angry feelings?" In a room of fifty to a hundred people, I usually get less than a handful of raised hands, and even some of those seem to be wavering more than waving confidently. And then, drawing upon an old New Yorker cartoon, I offhandedly observe: "About the same number of people who show up for the annual Adult Children of Normal Parents Convention." Which always gets a knowing laugh.

So maybe all these negative associations are not so surprising considering most of us didn't have many "healthy anger" role models. But "anger," like most things in real life, including the short-sited proverbial glass, is often double-edged -- neither half empty nor half full but half empty and half full. (Of course, my smart-assed brother knew how to determine whether the glass was half empty or half full: look for the lipstick stains. Now why didn't I think of that one first? Sibling rivalry, jealousy, family competition...Me angry?)

I sure am an angry guy. And as a youngster and teen I was a lot angrier. I mostly bottled it up, back then. Occasionally, I would explode. But the usual state of affairs, despite endless athletics, was a low grade depression, difficulty concentrating in school, fear of being bullied, mindless TV watching and, too often, being anxiously "good." And then, we had a mid-life family crisis. My father jolted us by separating, returning and entering group therapy when I was 19. A few years later, I followed his path. And all hell broke loose! No, not really, but the family atmosphere was radically different. The myth of anger being only disrespectful, irrational or out of control was being overthrown. My parents were more openly and honestly fighting. Scary, but ultimately liberating for all.

The Four Angry "I"s
In addition to subjective experience, our language has a unidimensional tilt when defining anger. According to the The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: The Unabridged Edition, anger is "a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by real or supposed wrong." However, a clinical description is broader than a lay one. Anger is a state of heightened activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system (for example, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, flushed face, chest pains, sweaty palms, etc.) that is fueled by our cognitive -- conscious and unknowing -- interpretations. You experience those "Four Angry 'I's," that is, you have a palpable sense of:

Injustice. A rule of conduct, a cherished belief or instrumental goal is being threatened or abused; you see yourself (also others with whom you are psychologically dependent or connected) as a victim of an injustice, unfairness or disloyalty.

Injury. You feel disrespected, discarded or ignored; there's a sense of insult and humiliation along with injury -- often psychological, at times also physical.

Invasion. Your freedom, autonomy, boundary and personal space are perceived to be constricted, disrupted or violated; your identity and bodily and/or psychological integrity are being threatened or attacked.

Intention. There is an energy and determination to do something about the above injustices, injuries and invasions; you are ready -- reflexively and/or purposefully -- to challenge the status quo.

So anger is a potential range of feelings, from irritation and determination to outrage and fury. Its breadth, depth, intensity and interactive potential is often forged by how one looks at the world through his or her "Four Angry 'I's." As I once wrote:

Anger! That double-edged power source. It's the high octane emotion for blazing performance and for igniting a legitimate grievance. Yet, when it's bottled up we smolder away; when we erupt it may engulf us. And, when we are the target of a volatile flame thrower, there will be scars.

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