I am often asked to help a client manage their anger. I decline. Instead, I offer anger transformation. In other words, I attend to expanding the concept of anger to include the thoughts, feelings, and events that lead to it…the thoughts and feelings about those involved, the actions taken, and the purpose the actions serve in meeting the angry person’s needs. Then, we explore ways to meet those needs without anger.
It’s complex— anger can present in many ways. This can include an acting outward or withdrawal inward that causes strain on work, family, and/or community relationships. Withdrawal might not be called anger, because no one gets hurt, unless you count the pain of abandonment to the leave-ee and the pain of isolation to the leaver. It’s just not violent. It is safer, in terms of physical injury, but no less injurious to relational health and personal mental health.
Anger often follows a sense of unfairness or personal harm to oneself or a loved one. Some folks get angry when they see an unfairness inflicted on a stranger. Some feel anger or even rage, in the wake of a mass shooting or mass tragedy.
Anger is a self preserving skill. It’s the body’s reaction to perceived threat or hurt. The event triggers our fight-flight-flee centers of response, and we react. In therapy we learn to lengthen the time between event perception and reaction; making way for a measured, wiser response. With skill, we become able to respond to the unfair event calmly and effectively, which more likely results in a healthy outcome.
Anger is often relationship-specific. That is, one member of the family may receive a parent’s wrath while the community (or a brother or sister) does not. By those facts, anger is relational, not only individual.
Transformation of anger to informed diplomacy results from an exploration of the relationship, real or perceived, in the present and the past, that comes together today. Once we learn what we have to unlearn, we begin to understand that our reactions are actually our pasts acting in the present and setting the frame for our futures. Once we learn new meanings of past events, and compartmentalize events and thoughts about today and tomorrow, we begin to accept things as they are. We are then able to consciously work to affect healthy change, toward the goals we envision.