Anger: Everybody Has It, So What Do We Do With It?
There is no easy way with anger. It can be one of the most powerful psychological forces that we experience. As an old song once said, “anger is an energy” — and it can be a force for growth in a person’s life, or a source of misery and destruction.
At this time, the problem of dealing with anger is more on our minds in this society than it has surely ever been. As a society, we really don’t know what to do with it. It is simply symptomatic of our confusion and uncertainty that a major fast food chain has created a major campaign centered around a hamburger called the “Angry Whopper”!
For many people, anger is the unacceptable “taboo” emotion, the one that has no real place in our lives, the one that “decent” or “reasonable” people avoid. This is a lesson that many of us learned deep in the womb of the family. When I think of my own upbringing, it is absolutely clear to me that most emotion was suspect, but anger in particular was completely anathema.
There is a trend in modern thinking to isolate anger, to treat it as some intruder in the human psyche or soul. There is a tendency in much of modern psychology to want to wall anger off and treat it as a specific discreet problem that has only limited connection to the whole of a person’s personality. So we hear a lot about anger management and rage addiction. This type of term that ignores the fact that a person’s anger stems from real issues in the whole of that person’s personality.
But those who have to deal with their anger or rage as personal problem know that such emotions are anything but discreet. When they are in full force, they can often seem to take complete control of the personality, and to be completely in the driver’s seat.
Nonetheless, our anger has an important role when it is appropriately acknowledged. Contrary to what we might believe, we need our anger. When it is working properly for us, it helps us to establish boundaries. That is to say, it is important for me to listening to my anger, in order to keep the world at large from walking all over me. However, I need to deal with my anger in ways that our not destructive to myself or others.
If you or I find ourselves with a lot of anger, most often it will be because at some point something has happened to us that has led us to feel violated, disrespected or treated as more like a thing that a human being. It is important to be careful with our anger, though, and to try and see through to where it really stems from in our lives. The things which may “push our buttons” or be a “lightning rod” for our anger in the present may actually not be the true source of our anger. Sometimes, without our even being aware of it, we can displace our anger from its original source onto some other person or thing in our lives. Or, we can fold the anger that we feel towards people who are close to us back upon ourselves, and that can be one of the sources of depression.
Most often, if people have a real issue with anger, they need the help of a competent therapist to truly understand it, and render it under control. Also, an important part of therapeutic work is discerning where our anger is pushing us to grow, and what it is telling us about what we need to go after in our lives, and how and where we need to take care of ourselves better.
Jung tells us that energy is conserved in the psyche, just as it is conserved in physical nature. The anger which is given no place in the conscious mind lives on in powerful form in the unconscious. There are all kinds of reasons why my anger may not be accessible to me, why I may not be able to feel it. Nonetheless our anger continues to smoulder beyond our awareness in the shadow. As we experience the hidden denied or repressed parts of our personality, we may discover, to our surprise, that we carry strong impulses of anger of which we were hitherto unaware.
It is not so much that we have anger, as what we do with it that will determine whether anger is a destructive force in our lives. If our anger is in the driver’s seat, and displaces our ego, with its sense of proportion and its reality testing, we can find ourselves in big trouble. As Jung stated, the real problem is not that we have complexes, but it is when the complexes have us.
Some people do become “rageoholics,” and some people control others by their displays of rage. These are very dangerous patterns. It can be so exhilarating to just give way to anger or rage, and to let it have free reign. It can feel God-like to surrender to the archetype of divine righteous wrath. It can also be utterly destructive to ourselves, to those whom we love and even to complete strangers.
Anger is not something trivial. If yours is destructive, then it’s important to seek out someone who can help you to deal with it, to listen to it, and to get on good terms with your anger.