One of my colleagues (Norah Breekveldt) has just prepared a short paper on anger – taking an interesting line: that anger is an emotion which we ought to express more often. Anger can be good!
It is an interesting approach to the subject because most of us learn and assimilate the virtues of self-control – and we control and suppress feelings like anger (and joy) down to fairly minimal forms of expression.
I was reading a first draft of her paper in a crowded train last night, jammed in an overcrowded space right up against a young man with dirty hair and a hoody, twitching about – with the possibility (in my mind) of a bit of drug withdrawal going on. But his major sin (for me) was that he was eating a packet of salt and vinegar chips a few inches from my face, with his mouth open most of the time.
Yep, I was getting angry.
Fortunately, a bit of conditioning clicked in, and I wrestled more constructively internally with just why events like this made me angry, and whether a more constructive response would be to think of something else, or perhaps concentrate more fully on the paper I was reading.
Sometimes we do suppress things too much however, where a bit of expression of our feelings would be better all around, for ourselves and for those around us. In less trivial situations, anger can be expressed constructively: “This makes me feel angry – can we talk about this?” is a good form of expression of anger.
“You complete toss-pot!” is not quite so effective. (I actually heard one passenger say this to a fellow blocking his exit from another train the other day.)
The first response allows for a much more thoughtful discussion, and is clearly less personally confronting than the second.
Another issue Norah’s paper touches on is the importance of reflecting on why something makes one angry. The questions are directed internally: “Why is this making me angry?” “Why am I allowing this to cause me stress?” “What is this telling me about myself right now?”
Tough questions, but chewing on them is worth the effort. If there is more anger in your daily or weekly living than used to be the case, it really is important to sit down, perhaps with a good friend or a coach, and work through the underlying causes.
On the other side of this discussion is the issue of suppression: where anger is always pushed down, not properly expressed, and where it becomes the source of cynicism, withdrawal and resignation.
We sometimes see this in those we work with in career transition: more often than the overt expression of anger in fact. And this can be equally troubling. Bad situations, most often politics in the workplace, and been allowed to steadily compromise the self-esteem and normal enthusiasms of a well-balanced person. Quite often the effect of a move away from a past situation, and of our early work in unpacking talents and capabilities, and longer term aspirations – is the liberation of a buried personality. Some real enthusiasm emerges as long with-held interests are given reign. It is terrific to see what a change, and some time with a good coach here can do, in reflecting on anger, suppressed feelings and in moving to a much less oppressed state in an individual. This work is rarely just about “getting another job” or starting a new enterprise.
Norah’s paper will shortly appear in the Reading Room on our website.