What is Anger Management? It’s Not About Getting Angry!

25 Jun

Anger management is bullpucky… If you insist on being taken seriously, once in awhile you may need to do it in a really loud voice. When we (women) refuse to accept conflict as normal, we miss out on a most effective tool for communication, self-awareness, and getting our needs met.

“…our anger [is] a guide to determining our innermost needs, values, and priorities…” ~Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Ever since women in the late 1960’s threw their bras into the “freedom trash can” as a means to protest oppression of all sorts, well-meaning but entirely misguided attempts have been publicized to help us “deal with” (aka control) (our) anger. That’s “anger management.” That’s nice. But, it just doesn’t work.

What is anger management anyway? All these workshops and books teach us to talk about being angry while encouraging us to avoid really expressing it. After all, women are historically associated with words such as: bitch, witch, mad, crazy, crazed, bitter, fiery, feisty, huffy, headstrong, nag, on the rag, radical, bristling, cool, ice queen… Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget “shrew.” …among other fun characterizations. And who wants to be called any of those things, let alone be seen as that?

To wit: anger-management strategies fail. Why?

Because women are accustomed to quickly convert feeling angry into “malaise”…explaining our anger away with as hurt, sad, depressed, or feeling vaguely ill. These emotions are much more acceptable to us because they draw empathy, sympathy, and care from others–emotions which are largely passive and non-threatening, not aggressive. And they can be easily turned against oneself as a last ditch effort to excuse and/or duck out of the interaction altogether. After all, rattling cages isn’t just risky business, it takes TIME to “handle.” And, who’s got the time? It’s just easier to suck it up, stuff your feelings, and move on.

So, yeah, anger is a distressing topic. But, we need to put it on the table. How can you authentically communicate to someone who matters to you if something between you has caused you to feel angry? You’re angry because you’ve been put out and something needs to change.

When there are no guidelines in either family systems or work environments for working out conflict, and nothing is considered healthy or acceptable, people pretend not to have the feelings (that’s “anger management”) or may seek out ways to covertly deal with them (that’s “revenge.”) But, look at it this way, anger plays a part in honest, candid, intimate communication between self-respecting equals.

TO THE POINT

Anger has a key role in helping an individual be seen and heard—-two essential components of a healthy relationship. “I am hurt, upset, scared, put out, shaken, frustrated, disappointed, and feel he/she/it has done me wrong. Ideally, I have already tried being assertive in a neutral way, and the other person has failed to notice or respond adequately. Now, I feel stymied. That’s what drives my need to speak up loudly (in anger), to alert the other person by communicating my state more vividly and to insist on my right to be heard.”

Deep down, anger (the feeling) is well-intentioned because it is a natural response to being put out and it is motivated by wanting something to get better. It is not about forcing agreement. That’s being a bully. When you think about it as a way to improve things, the concept of anger is both logical and functional.

In a following post, I will present the distinction between anger and rage. And, I will lay out my three-step Healthy Anger-Delivery (I’ve H.A.D. it!) strategy. For now, just sit with the idea that if you insist on being taken seriously, once in a while you may need to do it in a loud voice. Ask yourself: Am I willing to get even a little louder in order to safeguard my most cherished priorities?

Let me know.

2 Responses to “What is Anger Management? It’s Not About Getting Angry!”

  1. PJ Van Hulle June 26, 2013 at 12:26 PM #

    OMG! I love the “I’ve H.A.D. It” acronym! :D Very clever, Sally.

    I’m curious to learn more about what you see as healthy ways to express anger rather than “stuffing it,” (which I think may have contributed to weight gain for me in the past).

    On a similar note, I think that complaining is unhelpful and energy draining. However, I think it’s great to have a short “venting session” now and then to get it out of my system. I love the PAX idea of asking someone to “hold the trash bag” for me while I vent for a few minutes. That leaves me feeling clean, clear & more positive.

    Love & Prosperity,

    PJ

    —–
    PJ Van Hulle
    Executive Director
    Real Prosperity, Inc.

    “Have Fun. Do Good. Make Money”

    http://www.RealProsperityInc.com

    • Sally Rubin June 26, 2013 at 6:04 PM #

      Hi PJ,

      Thank you for reading and responding to my blog. Well, you’ll have to wait until next week to get the “I’ve H.A.D. it” strategy. I’m going to post on Monday’s and Thursdays…unless you have some statistically better days to suggest.

      In the mean time, YES, the PAX idea of holding the trash bag is a good strategy. Though, I think that you have to already have a lot of trust (with whomever you do that with) in place to have it work.

      Because people’s issues around conflict are generally derived from their families of origin, you have get to the root of those messages first and be hyper-aware of them. Otherwise, it’s easy to get triggered.

      We all have different ways of languaging anger. Overfunctioning women tend to just “do it themselves” to avoid what it might take to deal with someone who isn’t pulling their weight or who is being difficult. Work-arounds are second nature to us. It’s part of our dance of action. And, we need to see it for what it is, so that we don’t end up doing more than we need or want to do.

      ;~) Sally

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