If I were to write about anger, where would I start? It's a question that has occupied my thoughts lately, and it's not an easy one to answer. Anger, you see, is a very personal thing. Much like our response to loss, it is something we deal with in our own individual way. More importantly, few things have a greater capacity to cause embarrassment, ill feeling, resentment and lasting damage to relationships than unrestrained anger.
We seem unwilling to understand, or even acknowledge, our anger. It is a valid human emotion that is common to all of us, and yet we tend to see it as something shameful: we even go as far as to say that someone giving in to their anger has "lost it".
It is understandable that most people do not want to deal with the anger of another person. Dealing with aggression is not pleasant, and anger, by it's very nature, is usually expressed in an aggressive manner.
I'm not immune to the feeling myself. When my illness was first diagnosed, when I discovered that it was likely to become progressively worse, when all the possible associated future complications were revealed, I was angry. I felt that it was grossly unfair, that the whole universe was conspiring against me. The most damaging aspect of my anger, at that time, was that it was turned inward towards myself, leading to an extended period of severe depression, the severity of which I never wish to experience again.
For the first time in my life, I became a bully, and the victim of my own bullying behaviour. I labelled myself as worthless, thoroughly deserving of whatever pain and misery was yet to come. Surely, I reasoned, I must have done something terribly wrong to deserve this. It was a truly awful time, but I learned a lot about anger, because I was both the aggressor and the recipient of my rage. So, what did I learn? It's no surprise that anger can be extremely damaging; however, it can also be transformed into a vehicle for positive change.
One of the first things any good anger management course will teach is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling angry. Trying to repress anger can lead to it being turned inward, as previously described. The goal, as any good anger management course will go on to say, is to express your anger appropriately.
In my case, my anger was turned away from my own perceived shortcomings towards the correct target: my illness. An acceptance of my condition enabled me to change the way I thought about it. As I saw it, this illness had decided to pick a fight with me, and it was not going to win. I lost no opportunity to discover more about my condition, or to strengthen what had already been weakened by my new found adversary. Once I stopped bullying myself, the illness became the bully, and therefore the target of my anger.
So, how do we express our anger appropriately? I would suggest that we should find the absolute source of our anger, direct our attention there, and there only. We should work from the premise that we are upset about the actions of another person, not the person themselves. It is far too easy to say things we don't mean, and turn a wish to prevent a certain behaviour repeating into an assassination of character.
If we are on the receiving end, the tendency is to fight fire with fire, as it were, or to defuse the situation quickly. The most helpful thing would be to pinpoint the root cause, by encouraging the person to talk about what they are feeling. If we react in anger ourselves, we just escalate a situation where neither party is able to think clearly, due to the "red mist" which descends.
In the end, seeing anger as something shameful, which must be repressed, serves no one's interests. If the feeling is allowed to build up inside, with no release, it will eventually be released explosively. Assertive behaviour means saying how we feel about things, whether that feeling is positive or negative. If we feel something is wrong, and do nothing to correct it, isn't that more shameful?