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The Daemon Called Anger

By Raka Tavashmi, Personal Advisor & Workshop Facilitator

2 Comments
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In my work with young people, referrals often come in because someone is unhappy about a young person being angry. No amount of persuasion or punishment has worked, I am told, and everyone has had enough. Anger Management specialists are called in, various tools and techniques are discussed, assertiveness skills are taught.

As valuable as these interventions and materials can be, they are not a replacement for regular lived experience.  We learn best by modelling those around us, and if we want young people to skillfully manage anger, we need more than a workshop or two – as adults we need to be able to model for them a healthy attitude and response to anger. How do we do this? What do we know about anger, where does our own anger come from and what do we do with it?

It seems to me that most people are terrified of anger – our own and others’. Why? Perhaps because we have learnt that expressing anger leads to love being withheld from us, and earns us only disapproval and rejection. Or perhaps we have witnessed violence stemming from anger, and have learnt to believe that ‘anger = violence/danger’. We tend to demonize this emotion, and try to find ways to not be angry anymore.

 But anger is not the same as violence. Anger is a valid, passionate emotion that tells us when something precious to us is at risk of harm. Think about it – recall something you are/were angry about and ask yourself – what was I trying to protect? Can you find something important to you, a vulnerable feeling perhaps, which needed  defending against someone or something?

Psychotherapist David Richo describes differences between anger and ‘drama’. True anger, he says (in How to be an Adult, 1991), is meant to communicate and express any hurt feelings, it is non-violent and safe. Drama, on the other hand, seeks to scare and threaten, is violent, punishing and out of control. Perhaps anger becomes drama when we are scared of our own anger, when we couldn’t possibly say “No!” or “That really hurts”, the consequences could be terrible – we may be rejected or dismissed –  so we in turn scare and hurt the other, this way we will definitely be noticed and appear powerful.

We tend to think of anger as a problem we need to destroy, something bad and poisonous. Poet David Whyte sees it very differently, as he writes in Consolations (2015):

“Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.”

And another message from David Richo –

“Anger is fresh lively energy that is valuable to our individual evolution… The anger stimulates our power. It is not something we need to drop or deny. It is something that lifts us and transforms us once we allow ourselves to feel it and show it.”

I wonder who we would be if we started seeing our anger as a clue to find what is important to us, what is worth fighting for. What if we allowed anger as an expression of our vitality while we drop the drama, what if we let our children see what true anger looks like and what adults do with it? Who would we be? and what would our children learn?

Raka Tavashmi, Personal Advisor & Workshop Facilitator

Raka works for Cyrenians Conflict Resolution Services and loves working with young people. Her interests and training are in philosophy, psychotherapy, cognitive psychology/neuroscience, creative play, dance, stories and myths. Currently she is enjoying writing, reading poetry, dancing Argentine Tango, learning to mix paint, taking photographs, exploring Arthur’s Seat and learning rock-climbing.

2 Comments

  • Paul burns July 31, 2015

    This is really interesting Raka. I have mediated many mediations with young people and their parents in which the issue of young peoples anger is on the agenda for the parents. Scenarios are many and varied but their are two common themes which spring to mind after reading your blog.

    The first is young people responding by saying they feel its in part a response to their parents anger. Often they will agree to do their best not to be so angry, if their parent does likewise. Parents often acknowledge this and say they will try to do this too, but occasionally they argue that’s it ok for them to be angry because they are the parent and that can spark and interesting and challenging discussion

    The other scenario is young people that experience anger or other feelings they find very difficult to control with parents that seem not particularly angry or controlling. They nearly always feel bad about the effect it has on others and often talk about ways in which people respond that make it worse such as getting angry back or withdrawing.

    The things that cause this uncontrollable anger can sometimes be explored and then often reveals issues for either or both of them. But this is not always possible and its important for mediators, maybe others too, not just to get drawn into assuming the problem is all with the young persons because they “kick off ” every now and again. If we do we risk getting pulled into colluding with blame

    • Raka
      Raka July 31, 2015

      Thanks Paul, great points. Yes I too have seen both scenarios. Sometimes parents don’t realise that they are also angry, and only see the anger of the young person. It can be difficult to accept this if we are not “allowed” to be angry. It’s great when they can acknowledge their own feelings and actions too, must make for productive mediation meetings!

      For me is unacceptable to claim that one person’s emotions are acceptable while another can’t express the same. I think this kind of repression is emotionally abusive.

      It’s interesting what you say about young people feeling worse when their anger drives people away – it’s a classic Attachment Theory concept, where anger has the inention of expressing discontentment and getting a helpful response, but instead just makes things worse by pushing people away. Perhaps any counsellors reading this can comment further!

      One of the points I was trying to make in the post is that any attempt at ‘not being angry’ is a fruitless exercise. It doesn’t help us, and only drives feelings further inwards causing more trouble. But much is to be gained from learning appropriate responses to anger and to discover what the anger is telling us about ourselves or our environment.

      I’m reading a great book about young people and anger – might review it sometime in another post.

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