Friday, August 22, 2008

On Anger

I used to have a lot of anger problems. A lot of it had to do with depression, which for me, caused irritability and angry outbursts. I'm not so prone to anger any more but I continue to think about anger and its potential to creep up on me and interfere with my new-found (relative) freedom from it.

I think one reason for the abatement of anger in my life is that I'm in a very good relationship: one where I can be myself and still feel I deserve the love and attention I get, even when I'm far from perfect. Another reason is the maturation process. In terms of feeling peace and acceptance, getting older agrees with me.

Where I continue to struggle is in my reactions to people when they express anger, especially when it seems misplaced and misguided. To me. If I see little reason in the anger and negativity beyond that which I can change; even in myself, I then feel a strong need to eschew that person and cut them out of my life; at least to an extent that is possible. I've done that with a relative; with whom I have to stay somewhat in touch but with whom I no longer engage in bitter struggles with myself over. The other came more recently. I decided that what I'd gained from the relationship was so old and stagnant, that it didn't merit the time and attention I would need to give the person to try to understand their anger and negativity. I've asked myself if this was selfish. And I'm still trying to answer that question.

One of the things I've discovered in attempting to answer that question is that the anger displayed toward me personally by others, which goes beyond what I can do myself to turn it around, just causes me to become angry back. It's all too much a reminder of how angry and defensive I can become in the face of what I consider to be unfounded anger on the part of others. That isn't to say that anger hasn't been directed at me personally in the recent past which has gone ignored. It has and sometimes with just cause. In those cases, where I value and love the person, I'm working on seeing their point of view on what makes them angry at me and I try to change that, if I can. Sometimes it takes several conversations and strong emotions and a lot of work. But it's worth it, for the other person and for me.

But I have to admit that otherwise, I avoid angry, negative, defensive people whenever possible. I wonder if I'm depriving myself of lessons potentially learned or if I'm preserving my energies for those struggles that are really worth it.

We all become angry, frustrated, irritable and defensive at times. Mostly toward the ones we love and care about the most. I understand that and I'm trying to learn from it. Is it selfish of me to avoid those other, peripheral angry people? Or is this protective mechanism a good thing for me.? I have tended to conclude the latter most of the time. But I go back and forth. Avoiding the angry has worked for me. I admit that it's worked for me because I honestly lack the emotional energy to take it on. If it's one thing about depression that has stayed with me and no amount of peace or happiness or medication can take away, it's a limited amount of emotional energy. I don't mean the happy kind, as I'm sure you might guess. I mean the negative, complex, exhausting kind. Again, it's the people I love I try to save this emotional energy for. Even then, sometimes it's difficult to rise to the occasion as well as I'd like to. Sometimes I even fail miserably. I'm working on it.

I'm mostly concerned about how unavoidable, peripheral people affect my attitude toward anger and toward myself. For example, at work. I work with one person on my team who presents a lot of challenges for me. I can't avoid her, so how do I deal, right? She doesn't overtly express anger but instead engages in what some would and have called passive-aggresive actions. I have tried to ignore them, I have tried to talk to her about it (without referring to her as such) and have gotten nowhere. It causes me to worry about my own responses,which are mostly directed inward. I have so little to go on as to why I cause this person to be so angry with me, as she refuses to be forthcoming about anything that I can change. I can only guess and say it's her problem but it doesn't make the situation any easier on a day-to-day basis. It sucks so much energy out of me to deal with her. And deal I must - as in, next week when school starts again.

What role does anger play in the quest for self-awareness and inner peace? What do my reactions to anger say about me? How do I avoid defining my life as a series of emotional struggles? Or should I just accept it as such; both personally and as part of the human condition?

I have more questions than answers, as usual. Though I have far more of a clue than I did years ago in even asking these questions. For that I'm grateful.


  1. As has happened so often, you have become my voice. Starting right off with "getting older agrees with me".

    Are you depriving yourself by avoiding anger in others? No. You are conserving some of that emotional energy you speak of. I might go so far as to say, keeping yourself sane.

    I'm so happy that you have found a truly good relationship. Go with it. Let yourself just be happy. Try not to anguish over what you cannot change. (How easy for me to give advice when I don't know your circumstances.) There always will be more questions than answers. You can't change that.

  2. Hi, Bobbie
    You're either an early bird or you can't sleep - which is my situation. I've been up since 2:30. I'm WIDE awake. Good thing it's not the first day for staff at school.

    Your advise meant to much to me. I can't even begin to describe it here. I will write an email about it soon.

    I value your opinion and judgment more than I can say. Thank you.

    And I have a request: please don't let me off the hook if you think I'm off-base. About anything I write, I mean. Not just this topic.

    Peace and friendship,

  3. ok- it's early for me- i haven't had my morning cuppa yet :) getting older agrees with me too- and cut many 'toxic' people out of my life for that reason. life is too short to engage in endless rounds of the same battles with people. if they aren't willing to change, you can't change them. and really, how much are you learning? how much you can take of someone's toxicity? i have found that some folks are just 'dumpers'- they don't have or won't learn the coping skills for life and so dump all of their crap on others to feel better. well, i am not a dumpee anymore. ahh... passive-aggressives in the workplace :) wouldn't know anything about that ;) without knowing the particulars- i would say you can only protect yourself. you can't do much about anyone else's behavior unless it directly affects your work- and then you can report them. i practice not reacting. it's hard because i can feel the adrenaline rush of reaction and then i have to take a moment. breathing in and breathing out and staying calm so that i interact instead of react.

    so, no- you are not depriving yourself of anything by replacing miserable experiences with happy ones. you can't soul search and grow if your soul is sucked dry by toxic people. namaste morning person :) email is on my sidebar

  4. "Justifiable anger" is a luxury I cannot afford at all any longer. It drives me into resentments, which drive me into self-pity, which drive me into a mental illness. I have no brakes on the rage-train. So I use a lot of spiritual tools to settle down - this doesn't mean I don't get angry - I am not a saint. But it means I've developed tools to deal with it without causing harm to others.

  5. Betmo: I so value your thoughts. Thank you. I feel much less alone knowing others feel the same way.

    Jood: "Justifiable anger". It is a type of poison for me too. I guess I've know that intuitively but only recently began to take a closer look at it in my own life. Your comments make me feel stronger. Thank you.

  6. Pagan - Your post rings so many bells for me. I'm afraid I can't pretend to have any answers but I do share in many of your experiences. Having suffered with depression for most of my life, I know that anger plays a major part in this illness. When I have been at my most depressed I have often expressed myself through anger. This has meant that I have done much damage to good relationships, often irreparably. Thankfully, I seem to be getting much better at channelling my anger now or, infact, have learnt to be not so bloody angry! On a selfish level, it's just not good for you.

    I believe that other people's anger has also contributed to my depression in the first place. My parents, who I love very much, have always been very angry people. When I was a kid, my dad displayed this through physical rage, which was quite terrifying at times. My mum let her aanger out through a very sad bitterness. Naturally, neither of them have evet been the happiest of people. Even today, in their old age, they are very tiring people to be around and there are times when I just cannot cope with their horrendous negativity. I think, for self preservation, it's important to try and put some space between yourself and such angry people. I do find it very hard to reach a healthy level of detachment. No matter how often I tell myself I won't let them drag me down, it happens. Having said all this, I still adore both of them and they have been great parents in many ways. Life is weird.

    Gosh, I'm talking about myself and have admitted that a lifetime's experience hasn't really made me any wiser. Sorry I can't help more but it's good to know we're not alone.


  7. SB: My father was a depressive who would often go into deep funks, where he didn't rage but would become very intensely irritable and argumentative. At his best he was really brilliant, funny and interesting to talk to. My mother went through a doubt of depression (due to a situation with her brother) that lasted some four years. Her biggest problems were with anxiety. She is a fairly happy person, given what she's been through but continues to struggle with anxiety - most of it regarding things she can't control but will worry herself to death about anyway. But I've lived an ocean apart from my parents for almost 21 one years. I spent a lot of years saddened by this fact, though for some reason I didn't feel the high level of anger and resentment that one would assume from what I've been writing. With that particular separation, I really internalized the anger. I've come to understand an accept that they needed to live out the rest of their lives in a place that was familiar and loved by them but that did not include my family and me.

    Oh, those loses you have to experience in order to forge ahead sanely.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. You HAVE helped. Oh, so much. I'm grateful for your comments. Truly. Your comment means a lot to me, my friend.

    Peade & love,

  8. Some days it's a struggle to bottle it up and release it in a healthy way. Other days I can let it bounce off me as if I'm protected by some sort of shield.

    I don't remember who said it first, but sometimes giving in to the anger is fine, as long as you channel it in a non-destructive way.

    Sigh. Life is much easier when we are left alone.

  9. I need my anger. It helps me not let others walk all over me. And that can happen because I have issues with boundaries. But as you said, as I get older it isn't as much of a problem. I am more straightforward now and less likely to become resentful. Good things imo.

  10. Much like you I tend to avoid anger and angry people but it's not always possible since sometimes it feels as if the world in general is pissed off. So many are in situations they can't control and like monkeys in a cage lash out at the weakest. Sounds a lot like a bad marriage, doesn't it? But I know you know - this is something we've all witnessed in others and more frighteningly in ourselves.

    At work humor is always a good option as is a short session of deep abdominal breathing.. almost a yoga break. I know this because I also work with a very difficult bad tempered woman. She's been there nearly 30 years and it appears the only resolution is to patiently await her retirement next year. Not much of a positive option but I try to be decent when we have to speak to each other and otherwise avoid her.

    "It is natural for the immature to harm others. Getting angry with them is like resenting a fire for burning."

  11. Pagan,

    I've been off-line a lot lately, painting... so I did not see this post until now. It resonated with me. A lot.

    Knowing you are also an INFP, I wonder if anger plays a similar role in your life to the one it plays in mine. Here are some things I've learned after hard work and lots of comparing notes with my dearest, my kids, friends, etc.

    1. My anger is almost always converted from something else. I HATE the emotions that I can't DO anything about (fear, disappointment, guilt, sadness, grief, boredom) and I often shove them down inside rather than feel them. Then they come boiling up later (sometimes weeks later) as anger. I can usually recognize that this has happened because the anger is all out of proportion to the little event that triggered it. My dearest and I have gotten in the habit of blowing off enough steam until one or the other of us can ask, "OK, what's REALLY bothering you? This isn't it."

    2. I sense others' emotions and assume I'm causing them. Sometimes I'm off base about the emotion in the first place - they may not be feeling what I think they are AT ALL. And often I'm off base about the cause. I have enough information to make all sorts of assumptions, many of them wrong, and most of them not in my favor (I think I'd rather paint a more depressing picture and be pleasantly surprised than vice versa and feel a fool, so I tend to go for the worst). I think that maybe I'd be angry in that situation, so I assume the other person is (at me). I assume they would feel foolish or stupid in a certain situation (because I would) and they don't. When I offer sympathy or whatever THEN they get angry - because now they sense that I thought they ought to feel foolish...

    3. The worst anger, for me, comes from having to make decisions and take risks. I HATE this! Even though that's the most exciting time in life, and I may have been really bored in the time leading up to it, I still freak out. But I don't really - see, I'm really quite in control... What I'm actually doing is stuffing emotions (mostly fear - fear of failure AND fear of success) down deep somewhere, and then I have frequent volcanic eruptions.

    I don't know if these ring a bell for you, or not. I'm really working a lot on the second item above, as dearest helps me see how often I'm wrong about what she's feeling (and why she's feeling it). It leaves me disoriented and sometimes depressed (how can I be reading things so wrongly) - but more often lately it makes me feel free. It shuts down my over-active emotional radar when I find out it's NOT WORKING. It's nice and quiet inside when I'm not running my mental/emotional "situation room" with all the colored lights and maps and panicking errand boys running around bumping into each other in their rush to describe the emotional crisis person A is having (probably not, actually). Quiet enough to hear my own emotional crickets. I love crickets.

  12. DCup: I used to tell my kids that: "It's ok to be angry but not okay to hurt others physically or emotionally." But you often do anyway. shurg

    Liberality: I can be very straighforward at times. I'm a person who is very much in her head and I don't have a natural, brilliant smile on all time. It's just not the way my face is made. Sometimes others don't understand that there's no emotion tied to being straightforward; just trying to get the job done or clarify or whatever.

    Steve: I think I do bottle up the anger a lot but it needs reining in. If I give in to it, takes over. I can both store it up, especially if it's around a specific, ongoing issue, OR be easy to anger. Both. Ugh. If I can think and plan to make things more quiet and groovy for myself, it helps a lot to keep the anger at bay. That means a lot of alone time: reading, walking, music, puttering, journaling, etc...

    (time with W.P. can both be like being alone or not being alone; depending, but it is almost always really good; even when we're just quiet together)

    #2 is very familiar but has started to improve in recent years. Now I find myself noticing in other people that they are doing a lot what I used to do a lot more OF. It's actually helpful in empathizing with the person, as it's something I know about.

    I used to be a prolific apologizer. To put it in simple vernacular: if someone was having a bad day, I would think it was because of me. A bit exaggerated, but you know what I mean.

  13. That's beautifully put. :-)

    And I hear the sound of peepers coming in through my night window...

    it's nice and quiet inside when I'm not running my mental/emotional "situation room" with all the colored lights and maps and panicking errand boys running around bumping into each other in their rush to describe the emotional crisis person A is having (probably not, actually). Quiet enough to hear my own emotional crickets. I love crickets.

  14. Wait. The bottom bottom was a bogus attempt to quote Steve. HE wrote that. Steve.

  15. So many wise things have already been sent.

    Anger must be expressed somehow, I have spent my life trying to modulate just that.

    It is a process.

    I laud you for your words and the life you live PS.

    Thank you.

  16. Fran: thank you deeply, as I know you've struggled with this yourself.

    You wrote: "I laud you for your words and the life you live PS."

    The life I'm TRYING to live, Fran. As you said, it's a process. I'm sure it will last a lifetime.

    I so appreciate your comment.


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