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
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.
Self Help Magazine