I remember back in the early days of my psychotherapy training we had one afternoon set aside for an experiential lesson on ‘Anger Work’. We had to bring props like cushions, newspaper, phone books, or towels to express our anger with by hitting them on chairs, tables, or the ground. In no time the room was filled with students hitting and banging on things, shouting, some students crying, some in fear. About 20 years ago that was the height of psychotherapeutic practice when it came to expressing anger healthily as opposed to hitting or shouting at a person. We also learnt the “When you do X I end up feeling Y” formula for expressing anger assertively: “When you forget to put the garbage out I feel angry” thereby helping people to de-personalise the incident. It’s not you I am angry with, it’s your behaviour!
I assume the thinking behind it was that we don’t express anger enough or at least not well enough. When looking at the extent of warfare, violence, and oppression in the world it is a mystery to me how this thinking came about. There is even a new thing called ‘road rage’ which is becoming a mental health condition (I would not be surprised if it ends up as a DSM-V diagnostic criteria for mental illness) rather than just bad behaviour. The bottom line is that if you or I feel angry we are compelled to act, or better, we should act by letting the other person know exactly how we feel because there is nothing worse than letting the ‘offender’ get away with whatever they are doing.
There is the self-righteous idea of teaching the offender a lesson and I, the victim of the offence, am the right person to teach you what you obviously have not learnt so far! This is especially the case when people can justify their anger because the other person committed an offence they assume everybody would be angry about like: forgetting an anniversary, not keeping a promise, having an affair, breaking a precious heirloom, lying, not protecting me, ignoring me, not meeting my expectations, hurting me or my feelings (in)advertently … the list goes on.
Here is the VERY bad news: depending on the relationship between the opposing parties a few predictable scenarios are going to happen: Everyone expresses their feelings, people feel hurt, attacked, or misunderstood, and respond accordingly, which inevitably leads to conflict and/or feeling bad, closeness diminishes and in extreme situations relationships even break up. Ill feelings and ill thoughts spread like wild-fire destroying every good thing in its path.
Don’t get me wrong, anger is a feeling that tells you that something is wrong. What would be a wise thing to do? Should it always be expressed or what else to do with feeling angry and upset about another person’s actions? Read the next post for a solution!