March 17, 2013 by lucieromarin
Well, I’ll say at the outset that this post contains what you might call ‘hard-won jail truths’ rather than anything you might find in a book written by someone, with, say, authority. And it also doesn’t apply to all kinds of angry people; it applies to people for whom anger is a misplaced expression of grief or loss or fear or so on; it applies to people who are almost as afraid of their own anger as are the people around them, because they’re trying to say, “I’m scared,” or “I’m hurt,” and what comes out is something more like, “RAAAAAAAAAH! I will destroy you and your children and everything you’ve ever loved!!!!!” This is really just a list of a few things I’ve found helpful.
Before the Outburst
1. Understand that, to other people, all anger looks the same. A low-blood pressure ‘RAH’, a bullying ‘RAH’, a frightened ‘RAH’, or a badly-trained choleric ‘RAH’ all sound identical to the person who is being rahed at, and, if the person is naturally timid, all rahs are equally scary. This is important. If you’re going to express hurt by being scary, the only thing you’ll end up with is the grief of feeling misunderstood, over and above whatever the grief was that caused the anger in the first place. And you will be misunderstood, because most every kind of anger looks the same.
It is possible to learn identify different kinds of anger, and this is certainly very – for want of a better word – empowering, but other people don’t have a greater duty to understand our anger than we do. Their chief duty is self-preservation; it’s for us to understand the anger and to choose other ways to express pain.
2. Know if it’s a side-effect of trauma. Obviously, there are times when a vice is just a vice, and confession is the only solution for it. Sometimes, however, a vice is a symptom; recognising a trauma-symptom for what it is will do more to heal it than any number of confessions (not that you shouldn’t go! Just don’t expect it to work like magic.)
3. If an opportunity ever comes up in conversation to acknowledge your habit of exploding, and to add something to the effect that you’ve learned that this is your confused way of trying to express pain and that you’re working on this problem – take it! Take the opportunity while it’s there. Your friends deserve to hear it, and the memory of it will be a kind of protective padding for them the next time you start pounding the table with your fists, shouting, “Are you the stupidest person in the universe??” or the next time they open their email only to be lacerated by your well-chosen adjectives.
When You Feel the Next Outburst Brewing
1. Most important: make sure the thing you’re angry about has actually happened. I’m not joking. This is a problem for angry people. Some years ago, I spent half a Mass stewing about an announcement that hadn’t been made from the pulpit, drafting vicious emails in my head while my vision clouded and my temperature spiked…only to pick up a newsletter to find that the announcement had been printed on the newsletter’s opening page. On another occasion, a woman vented to me at length about how stupid and mean and mean and stupid and stupid and even more stupid the organisers of the parish picnic were, because the children who did not get a prize for the dress-ups would be so hurt (because the organisers were stupid.) She did not know that I was in charge of the prizes for the dress-ups and that I had bought something for every child.
So. Make sure the thing you’re angry about has actually happened. (This includes waiting until the Supreme Pontiff has actually destroyed the Church before freaking out about how he is absolutely certain to do so.)
2. Epipen. I learned that, if, in the first second of a rage reaction, I mentally jabbed myself in the arm and said, “I forgive her” (or him) it would save me a lot of trouble later on. It’s not a deep forgiveness, and it doesn’t erase the anger, but it slows the reaction. It buys time.
3. Speaking of buying time, the next person who tells me to take a deep breath and count to ten is going to get a punch on the nose right around three or four. I don’t know about you, but my rage does not disappear in ten seconds; you can’t just leave it and hope it will go away. You have to get a lassoo over it, grab it by the neck, and wrestle it to the ground. In a situation where I might react immediately and verbally, I use the ‘epipen.’ In a situation in which I’m left to stew, and the anger is beginning to pour into a mentally-drafted speech, email, text message, or so on, the best option is to make a firm resolution to say nothing. That includes, then, not thinking about what you’re going to say. This is like an immediate shut down of a nuclear reactor…but the only sad thing I have to add is that I suspect that, if you haven’t been trained to stick to your resolutions, this might not help. When I say ‘make a firm resolution’ I mean making an immediate, serious act of your will – one that you don’t move back again. If you’ve not had much practice with this, it might be hard.
(You can practice on something small. Decide what you’ll eat for lunch tomorrow, and stick with that resolution, no matter what your taste buds or your concupiscible appetites tell you the next day.)
4. If none of this helps me, and the anger-cloud is really taking over my brain, I find it useful to cast my imagination ten years into to the future (or one year, or whatever); to imagine something really wonderful happening, and to imagine not being able to tell my intended anger-victim about it because I destroyed our friendship with my impending outburst. I ask myself if I want to say this stuff so much that I’m willing never to see him or her again, willing to be utterly alone on That Fabulous Day in the Future because of my actions today, etc etc. I’ll tell you what, this exercise really separates the sheep from from goats where friendship is concerned. No, I’m not saying that it’s ever okay to rage at someone, but imagining the consequences of rage certainly shows me which friends I really want to keep!
(On a completely different note – I’ve finally worked out why Nathan Fillion made such a great Mal in ‘Firefly’ and such an indifferent Castle in the eponymous tv series. It bugged me for ages, but now I know – he’s meant to play men of authority, and Castle isn’t one.)