Andy* is boiling over with rage. His colleagues are metaphorically ducking for cover again as he starts to build up a head of steam. His voice raises in tone and volume. His face changes to a deeper red. His body seems rigid. It’s a powerful and rather scary sight to behold.
The thing is, getting angry like this, is a regular occurence, not just at work but at home too. His partner is losing patience, having gone from bemused to scared, to having had enough. She wants him to have anger management lessons.
When it blows over he’s as calm as can be. It’s almost as if he hadn’t been there or it wasn’t the same Andy. Charming to a fault, funny, engaging, Andy finds it easy to be likeable but this dark angry side drives people away. He’s lost jobs over it, friendships and relationships.
So two questions. Why is it happening and what can he do to manage his anger better?
Anger, rage, frustration, fury all are regular attendees at counselling. And so are their opposite cousins, pleasing, niceness, placidness, though they’re a topic for another post.
Anger can have all sorts of roots, but when it takes over and is very easily and often triggered, it’s probably a sign that it’s crying out (yes) to be heard and attended to.
A Symbolic No
One helpful way of looking at anger is to think of it as a symbolic ‘no’. Something within you is strongly saying no to an experience, whether it’s about boundaries, respect, space, value or something else. This reframing of anger, as a message with a deeper meaning, can allow you to explore why you experience anger and what purpose it’s serving.
In Andy’s case, there is a deeper belief that the world is unsafe, that it has to be kept at bay. Because if he let it in, it would let him down or worse see the shame he carries for being who he is.
Anger can be a healthy response to many things in life: injustice, invasions of personal space, inappropriate behaviour. I’m sure you could add many things to that list.
But when it becomes a default response to a whole range of life experiences, it might be time to ask, what are you really angry about? Is it this situation or is it something deeper, lived longer ago that you feel so angry about? Were you shamed or humiliated by someone close? Were you taunted for being who you are?
When your vulnerabilty is under threat, it’s quite normal to put up your defences. Faced with a fight or flight response, you may choose to fight. The question is, who are you fighting and why?
Does this battle belong to the here and now or is an echo from the past? What or who are you saying no to? What do you need to work through?
This Week’s Lifeline
Anger is often likened to fire. This week’s Lifeline is connected to a fire and burning ritual. You’ll also need drawing materials.
Start by finding a quiet and private space where you won’t be interrupted. Ground yourself first with some mindful breathing, paying deep attention to your breath.
When you are settled, call to mind things or actions that make you angry. Bring them to mind vividly, allow yourself to be in touch with your anger, to notice how you feel it in your body.
If you’re willing, allow an image for your anger to come into your imagination. Take the first image that comes, don’t censor.
When you have an image clear in your mind, stay with it for a minute or two, really taking in the detail of the image with all your senses.
Come out of this meditation and taking your paper and drawing materials, draw the image of your anger, and any associated words with it. Take as much time as you need to bring your anger to life on the page.
When you’re done, take a few moments to be with that experience as fully as you can. See if you can identify what or whom you connect that anger with.
When you’re ready, you are going to destroy this image of anger, if you wish, by burning it. This is an action of letting go of anger, but only having first had the chance to experience it fully, as is your right.
Find a safe place and way to burn your image, either indoors or outdoors taking care of course not to set anything else alight.
See what the experience of burning the image of your anger feels like, whether you feel the anger still or release from it.
Finally make some notes about your experience if you wish.
Are you struggling with anger and need a safe place to explore it? Why not get in touch for a first counselling session to see how I can help you work with it and through it.