I was once told that there is no such emotion as anger. At first I was skeptical at the validity of this statement. I have been angry and I have made people angry, how could it not exist? It was then put to me to think back on a time that I was really angry, be it with someone, something, or just a circumstance. As I thought about that particular scenario, I was then told to try to remember exactly the thoughts I was having and how I was feeling. “Did you feel angry?”, “Yes.”, “What did it feel like? Explain it in detail.”, “Well, I was really hurt and sad and I didn’t think that the person who I was arguing with understood that. I didn’t think that they felt they had done anything wrong and so I felt like my feelings didn’t really exist to them.” “So you weren’t really angry with them, just hurt, sad and defensive.” And that is when I knew it was true. Anger doesn’t really exist as an emotion. Anger is a reaction to your own emotion in the situation.
I have known myself to be angry quite a lot in my younger years. I used to get angry at everything that didn’t go my way. Thinking back on those situations now I realize that I was masking all of the real emotions that I was having with this defensive posture. I wasn’t being really honest about what I was feeling because I was trying to protect myself. In not communicating my feelings directly and effectively, I was causing myself more hurt and frustration.
Let me give you a hypothetical example. You find out that someone you are close to has done something you wouldn’t approve of. Say they went out all night and didn’t call or let you know they were alright and you stayed up all night worrying. Were they in the wrong to not be considerate enough to call or text you and let you know they were safe? Yes. Are you angry? No. More likely you are hurt that they didn’t care enough to contact you, scared that something bad had happened, frustrated at your lack of control in the situation and sad that your feelings had been ignored. Instead of communicating this directly though many of us would just lash out at the other person and tell them what an inconsiderate a-hole they were, which would probably provoke some sort of defensive maneuvering on their part and start a whole new cycle of arguing.
My BF and I were out visiting my family a week ago and we were watching the Newlywed Game, of all things, with my parents. We somehow got on the subject of fights in our relationships and who is more stubborn and who gets angry more often, when my BF told my parents “She doesn’t really have a temper problem.” You should have seen the shocked looks on both of their faces. Growing up I did have a big temper problem. I was an extremely passionate child and though I talked, a lot, I didn’t really talk about my feelings. What I did do was have an angry little fit if I was upset by something. I don’t do that now. Do I have little bouts of “I am so angry I could just spit.”? Yes, I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. I am a flawed individual who is doing her best to be her best. I will fail, we all do. If you aren’t failing you aren’t learning. (Which I think should be taught in every classroom and on every sports field a kid ever steps into, but that is a debate for another day.) I sometimes get in a mood where I don’t want to be vulnerable to the person I am angry with, even with my BF sometimes, and so I bottle those feelings and rage out instead. Here is the big kicker though, I know full well that I am not actually angry and that I have the power to change the situation if I just open up that damaged, flawed heart of mine and speak the absolute truth of what I am feeling.
I know that a lot of you are probably thinking that this is crazy and that I don’t know what I am talking about, but I want to leave you with a few thoughts. Since I was told this very enlightening piece of information the amount of arguments I have had with anyone has been cut into a tiny fraction. I’d say well over half. I feel closer to my friends and my family and especially my BF. I feel like it has changed the dynamic of our relationships and given me more power, not less, in controlling my life. I have not been as unhappy in general since this valuable insight has come into my life. And especially this has changed how I deal with someone who is angry with me. Instead of becoming defensive about what I said or did to upset them, I now look for the real emotion that they are feeling and try to appeal to them to communicate that with me, rather than lash out.
Perhaps the only take away you get may be to question your true emotions in a time of high stress or maybe you start looking at other people’s anger in a different way, but I hope this helps you think outside that box and appeals to your reasoning brain to help you fix a bad situation instead of letting something fester. Let me know what you think? Does anger truly exist or is it just a defense mechanism to protect your true and vulnerable emotions? Or is anger just a stress response feedback loop as Influence Versus Control discusses in Anger as an Entity? Anyway you look at it, I believe it is best to question the true motivations of our destructive impulses, but I’d love to hear your feedback.