Anger and its Misdirection

I was once told by a client who had an ongoing struggle with her mother, that “there’s no way I can let go of this anger, because that means that all of these years and the effect it’s had on me would have been for nothing.” She then affirmed very clearly that she didn’t care if that meant continued stress, probable health effects (which already seemed to be manifesting), life dissatisfaction, and ongoing relationship problems, because “that’s better than what would happen if I had to tell myself that it was all pointless.”

I’d like to be able to say that after she heard herself speak those words, she immediately picked up on the irony.  In fact, I’d be almost as okay revealing a second-best resolution: That through a relatively short course of therapy, she listened to my reflection of those words, became open to new possibilities, and came to resolution that the continued distress was far more difficult than anything associated with any self-admissions. Unfortunately, I can’t do either, because despite a good amount of growth in many areas over the course of several months, she continued to cling tenaciously to her outrage, and she eventually left therapy, by my guess, moderately satisfied.

Anger is a strange emotion. I’ve heard it called everything from “our most basic, primal impulse,” to “a secondary, unnecessary feeling that just masks fear or sadness.” Through all these contrasting (and overgeneralized) viewpoints, though, I’ve come to recognize that there’s some truth in all, but the biggest truth I’ve discovered is: it serves an important purpose, for everyone who experiences it. But the next question I have is: Does that purpose serve you? For the young woman above, it served to protect her from severe self-doubt that may have truly clobbered her, if her anger was dismantled abruptly. But it did too good of a job, and made it near impossible for her to confront any self-doubt.

And what about so-called “irrational anger,” or anger that would be seen as socially inappropriate? Do you have the right, for example, to feel anger toward a disabled person who has done nothing, whatsoever, to bring about their problems? Isn’t that forbidden? Well, while it would never be appropriate to treat that person disrespectfully or abusively, there may be some very difficult self-confrontation here. Honesty toward your feelings and resolution to acknowledge and deal productively with that anger will go a long way in your ultimate caregiving.

In the best way possible, anger may be viewed as a built-in human communication tool. It is there to alert you and others to the fact that as a human, you have personal limits and boundaries. When those boundaries are broken, the appropriate expression of anger (not yelling, belittling, or other destructive expression, and definitely not passive aggression!) is immeasurably important in negotiating greater outcomes for you and those you care about.

On January 10th, 2011, posted in: Articles by Administrator

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