Jeff Billig looks at anger from a variety of ways and comes to the conclusion, “it’s not so bad.”
Poor anger. People just don’t know what to do with it. Some think the problem is men can’t control it. My experience is that men try to control it too tightly.
Maybe because anger is not very pretty. Or because it’s scary powerful. Or because when mom and dad got angry, bad things happened.
But today, I see the whole issue as a case of mistaken identity. I think most people have a problem with anger because they confuse it with its “evil” cousin, violence.
Anger and Violence
Anger is an emotion. It tells you you’ve been offended and you should probably do something about it. It’s original equipment for us pre-grace humans. As people in an unfair world, we experience it all the time at levels from mildly vexed to apoplectic.
The truth is, anger is one of the world’s great motivators, driving positive social movements and great music.
Violence, on the other hand, is an action that hurts. Not good, unless you’re engaged in certain athletic or governmental activities. Violence sits at the extreme end of possible ways to deal with anger.
But men have a truckload of ways to deal with our anger before we get to violence. From “fuck it” all the way to “fuck you” (verbally or digitally) with a full range of actual actions that deal with said offense including forgiveness, conversation, mobilizing and “getting mad” in between.
Seems to me that anger, fear and resentment are the Three Stooges of the “negative” emotions.
Their act often goes something like this: Man shows anger. Woman feels fear. Man gets resentful. Woman get’s angry. And it goes on, Nyuk nyuk nyuk.
While they can certainly screw up a relationship, nobody actually gets hurts except the people who insist on holding onto them.
The first law of Anger
Anger is energy. You can’t put it in a box and think it’s been eliminated. It’s going to come out somewhere. (Either internally as matter –like a tumor– or externally). The longer you wait, the more you cache and the more powerful its release is going to be.
So venting anger, blowing off steam, cleaning out the pipes is an essential skill for any man. There are lots of ways to do that without violence. Ideally, you express it verbally at each event in a way that resolves the offense. But how many of us do that?
Until I was into my 30s, I just swallowed my anger. I thought it was a virtue. I feared that expressing it would have negative repercussions.
Instead, not expressing it did: I was divorced, resentful, repressed and a bit passive… but was considered just the nicest guy.
And that’s how it would have continued, until I met her.
The gift of anger
One sunny day, as I was driving my girlfriend back from work, it happened. I forget the subject, but she started picking at one of my emotional scabs. I asked her to stop. She continued. I tried to change the subject. She continued. I got serious. She continued. I warned her. She continued……
Finally, I exploded. Red faced, dizzy and shaking, I screamed at her with an anger kept locked up since childhood. It felt like horses bolting from the barn, out of control, and I didn’t know if I’d ever get them back in. But there they went….
I didn’t get the response I expected.
She sat there quietly with a little smile on her face as I continued to spew. Finally, as my rage died down, her smile grew and she looked at me with love and amusement in her eyes. “Very good. You got mad!”
She wasn’t afraid. She didn’t cry. No one got hurt. I felt great.
My life was instantly changed by the love of a strong woman who was more interested to helping me than controlling me. She gave me my anger.
I gave her a ring.
Anger’s not so bad
The thing that people who don’t spend time with their anger don’t understand is that it’s very manageable. It’s not nuclear. It’s not dangerous. It even has a certain childlike charm.
And you can play with it. Start by just getting pissed and you see how people pay attention. Or you can get mad and watch people back off. If someone responds to your anger by escalating, you can just watch it. It’s just them and their anger.
Nothing to fear. Unless they’re someone who’s already shown a tendency to take anger to violence. (Something beyond my area of expertise.) But in that case, I suggest you get your ass out of there.
Dealing with the big anger
I’m talking about the anger we all have, if we’re still human. The anger at injustices in your community and around the world. The anger at Obama or the GOP or Al Qaeda or God or whoever is responsible for all the suffering. Most of it isn’t personal. A lot of it comes from watching the news.
But every day, we pack all that into our anger cache along with our gripes from work and bad drivers. So when we do express anger it’s probably totally disproportionate to the event that prompted it.
And this is why we need to find some way to let it out, regularly. Some offer it up to a higher power. Some work out. Some go to the gun range. Some can actually do it through sex. Others cry, historically considered more acceptable for women. My favorite is to go to a beach, find an area far from other humans, and scream my ass off into the surf. When the tank is empty, I rejoin humanity.
The gift that keeps giving
So my wife and I have now been mostly happily married for 22 years. And certainly there are times she regrets the day she gave me my anger. But we have great fights. With voice-raising, door-slamming, and even name-calling. (Much more fun now that our son is grown and away at college). And we let it all hang out.
If there’s an issue to be dealt with, we try to deal with it. But we understand that it’s usually more about letting off steam than any particular offense one of us may have committed. And we give each other license to do that. After all, who else is going to let us do it?
Seems to me, allowing each other to express anger is one of the best ways to express love.