The definition of anger given in my trusty Funk and Wagnalls dictionary is: A feeling of sudden and strong displeasure and antagonism directed against the cause of an assumed wrong or injury.
To me, the key word here is “assumed”, for we tend to blame others and their words or actions for the anger we feel, when, in reality, we are often reacting to an inner sensitivity that has built up within us from some previous situation(s). The subconscious mind remembers everything!
To quote from Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families: “For many of us, this (anger) is the only emotion. For others, it’s the only one we don’t allow ourselves. Anger is paradoxically frightening and liberating. It can be a deceptive con, a trick to hide all other emotions. It can get us out of a jam quicker than anything else. It relieves us of responsibility. … It can make us feel right whether we’re right or wrong.”
We need to always remember that anger is a secondary emotion, covering up some other emotion such as fear, shame, guilt or hurt. Looking behind our anger for that other emotion can be scary, but also freeing if we investigate a bit. When we can feel emotions without being them, we can start paying attention to what they are saying. And by watching the thoughts that arise in our minds during the emotion, we can discover the ideas and images upon which it is based. Sometimes this can be a truly profound experience!
I personally used to react with anger when faced with a comment like, “Oh, that’s a man’s job.” I’d immediately heatedly retort that a woman could do it just as well! Where did that anger come from? It took me a while to realize that I had been told in my early teens that education would be wasted on me since I would just get married anyway. I guess being the only girl in my family (six older brothers!) and being a Leo, I really resented the inference that I was less important to this world than a man. Now that I’ve dealt with that reason for my anger and know that within I’m OK, I can laugh at such a comment instead of getting all upset.
Here are a couple of words of wisdom that I’ve come across over the years:
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the container in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
“We arm those we hate with the energy of our anger; so it is not they who conquer us, but we ourselves.”
That dictionary definition is bang on, isn’t it?
Mary Underhill is a stress therapist and grief counsellor.