Posted by: Viktor Mar | 2009 July 17

Anger: The Uncomfortable Emotion by Sandra Lee Blood, MA, LCPC

Anger makes us uncomfortable. When you saw the title of this piece, you may not have wanted to read further. People would rather do almost anything else than admit directly to someone they are angry. It confronts us with the reality of what we’re feeling. Anger can bring a sense of not being in control. If we say, “I’m angry,” it conveys we’re at Level 10. The level where reason seldom dwells. If we speak to someone in that state, there is no telling where things will wind up. So, in a sense, we think anger is a secret emotion. But anger seeps through nonverbal communication.

Anger has been called a secondary emotion. If your child runs into the street, you will probably shout to them angrily to get out of the street. But the primary emotion you feel is more fear of the harm that could come. Put another way, anger has the same role a fever does. A fever alerts the body to the presence of infection. Anger alerts the psyche something is amiss. Viewed this way, anger is not the enemy, but a signpost.

It is amazing how many instances of anger I’ve encountered since beginning to write this article, both professionally and personally. Clients frequently struggle with it. They either tend to lash out verbally or avoid it altogether. To lash out can be more destructive, but at least it’s out in the open. To avoid or deny anger means it goes underground, and when it reappears it is disguised to the point sometimes it isn’t even recognizable to the one who has it. But like I said, anger seeps. If you knew someone knew you were angry, would it make a difference in how easy it would be to approach them to work it out? Maybe not in some situations, but one of the keys is to catch it early so that it doesn’t escalate into a feud.

During the course of writing this article, I inadvertently deleted a portion. I soon realized there was an anger volcano of frustration rising inside me. I didn’t feel I could recapture what I had written. I felt deflated, like I had just wasted an hour. The frustration was an energy that needed expression. Luckily, there was someone close by who I could tell what had just happened. She gave me empathy in return. After a few futile minutes of attempting to find the original on my computer, I decided to incorporate the experience into this article.

For me, the action of typing allows the emotion to escape through my fingers. After a few minutes, my thoughts started flowing, and I was on my way.

That response is hard won after years of therapy. The place where I start with my clients after the underlying dynamics are understood is the concept of objectivity. Half the problem with anger is getting “hooked” by it. Remember the old “count to 10”? That’s the germ of good advice. If someone is able to look at the situation instead of be in it, they can get a toehold on what is going on, choose what they want to do next, and then do it.

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