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The Underside of Anger

Angry couple


I can’t help but look around today and see that much of our world seems to be awash in uncertainty, embroiled in endless conflict, and struggling to make sense of turmoil of all kinds. It seems that there have been few times in recent memory when there was more anxiety over what we do not and cannot know, and the awful possibilities that loom on the horizon.

What disturbs me most is how I see many people react to all of this whether socially, politically, in the workplace or in the home. Everywhere there are examples of anger, resentment, righteous indignation, blaming, dodging responsibility, and calls for “someone” to fix things and for the “other guy” to stop obstructing what needs to be done.

In the midst of all the noise, it seems obvious that beneath the anger and accusations there lies a deep layer of fear around what is happening or might happen, and of not knowing what to do about it. Unfortunately, that sense of uncertainty and need for security is seldom clearly heard and even less often honored under the din of everything else. One expression of anger just triggers the next, which incites the next, and on and on it goes.

Years ago I worked with a group of men who were working hard to name the painful feelings that were hidden underneath their expressions of anger – the feelings that they seldom noticed, owned or named. The most frequent answers were shame, fear and sadness.

These men realized that they were using angry complaints, criticism and verbal attacks as ways to avoid the uncertainty and vulnerability of expressing their pain directly. In fact, they said that being angry and attacking gave them a feeling (illusion?) of strength and protection from the pain. Unfortunately, each of them had also seen how their anger and aggression created hurt and resentment in others, driving them even further from the connection, resolution and safety that they most wanted.

I am surely unqualified to offer solutions for our many current crises, but I am certain that it is very hard for healing to happen where unspoken fear is hidden under a ‘protective’ layer of anger and aggression. If it were just a case of our lawmakers and celebrities chewing on each other that would be bad enough. Far worse is the infectious nature of increasingly normalized anger and aggression as it ripples through the media and into schools, businesses, homes and families.

I believe at least part of the solution has to include breaking the pattern of escalating anger and blame by courageously doing something different – starting with each of us as individuals. Systems theory teaches us that when one part of a consistent (even if toxic) pattern is changed, all other parts must also change.

That means that you and I, as individuals, have power to change things.

What would it be like if the next time you felt the urge to respond or attack in anger or frustration, you chose instead to speak of your fear or sadness or helplessness, and opened yourself to hear and accept the pain of others? What if everyone could do that?

Northern Illinois Men’s Counseling stands ready to coach, support, guide and challenge men and couples to be the best they can be. Call, text or e-mail if you have questions. When you are ready, you can schedule an appointment through the website without the hassle of phone tag.

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