We are experiencing daily violent expressions of anger and rage in the world. Terrorist attacks seem to happen more and more often. Country leaders send angry messages to their own people and other nations. Today we hear from Barcelona, last week we heard from Charlottesville. We can also see anger within relationships, anger that leads to domestic violence and abuse. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the U.S, an average of 20 people per minute experience physical abuse by their intimate partners. The national Children’s Alliance reports that nearly 700,000 children suffer abuse annually in the U.S. alone (these are reported cases). Four out of five abusers have been abused as children.
Anger and Relationships
Anger is a problem, a worldwide problem that is affecting relationships at the core of our social organizations from the couple, the family, to society and humanity as a whole.
It is very important to understand that not all anger is the same because not all anger comes from the same place. There is anger that is destructive, defensive while there is anger that is protective. Being defensive is not the same as being protective. Sit is important to learn to express anger when the situation requires it. For that, it is important to recognize what type of anger we are feeling.
When we are being defensive, anger comes from a place of insecurity. Its intensity is usually not proportional to the situation. It usually involves over-reactions and quick escalation. This type of anger comes in as a way to defend the person from feelings of inadequacy, feeling small, insignificant, and shameful. There is a need to feel bigger than, more powerful than, better than, always in comparison to others, a need to feel in control by being controlling. This anger can be destructive. As with everything, this anger has a spectrum. It can range from acting out, losing our minds and maybe even wishing something bad to happen to someone to the degree of being pathological which leads to destructive rage towards others and even oneself. In these latter cases, there is an inability to control aggressive and violent impulses, there are intense feelings of hate towards others and a false sense of superiority. Pathological anger is related to the inability to express anger as a child and the other type of anger, the protective anger.
The protective anger and Pathological Anger
The protective anger is a very important emotion and necessary for survival. It is provided to us existentially for a reason and the suppression and inability to express it leads to reactive, defensive, and pathological anger. Anger is a response to a threat to our own or others’ physical, psychological, existential, or spiritual well-being. In opposition to a passive or hopeless response, anger is a fight response. It is an assertion of fundamental rights of an individual. Without this anger, we would not be able to protect ourselves from others. We would not be able to fight for our freedom as individuals, for our rights as human beings. Our right to be safe, to have a place within a social group that is recognized and valued, to be loved, to be protected when vulnerable.
Seven Questions you should ask
There are several things that we can learn from what is happening in the world, and things can change starting with ourselves. The first thing we need to do is to recognize if we have an anger issue. We must start by recognizing our emotions and being able to determine where those emotions are coming from. Ask yourself these questions to recognize what type of anger you are feeling:
1. Is it impossible to control?
2. Does it come out in ways in which it can hurt others or yourself?
3. Is it disproportional to the situation?
4. Do you have recurrent anger outbursts?
5. Do you have a hard time expressing feelings other than anger?
6. Deep inside, do you feel insecure, ashamed, embarrassed?
7. Do you believe that your way is always right and get angry get angry when others disagree? (in cases where your physical/emotional wellbeing is not in danger
If your answers were yes to all, you might want to understand the deeper roots of your anger.
If your responses were no, then your anger is there to protect you or someone you care about. Listen to it and know that it is important and that it needs to have a voice and be expressed. It is ok to express your needs.