What is making you angry?
It feels like there’s a lot of anger about right now – living in Melbourne last week we saw some super unsettling demonstrations of anger by disenfranchised people in response to the extended lockdowns, mandated COVID-19 vaccinations, an enforced shut-down of the construction industry and probably a lot of other things too. And at a global level there’s so much to get angry at that the list would be unending.
As far as emotions go, anger gets a bad rap. Too much of it, and it is destructive, it ruins relationships and causes disconnection. From an evolutionary perspective though, it’s an integral part of our fight-flight response to trauma. When we are unreasonably angry (and it’s not just in response to a direct and obvious threat) there is always something that is happening underneath – another deeper cause for that anger. It is pointing to something that is causing pain and it warrants attention, however one of the big challenges we face when navigating challenging emotions like anger is that we are moved to act – and fast! That’s the essence of that survival instinct where anger comes from in a physiological and evolutionary sense.
When anger isn’t coming from a threat-space, it can be the mask covering a multitude of very uncomfortable emotions that can come about when people don’t act or respond the way that we believe that they should. It can be the result of poor communication and misunderstandings. Anger often has its dirty little tentacles in emotions like:
When I’ve been reflecting on the events of this last week in Melbourne I’m struck by how much fear appears to have been spilling out as anger – fear of what might happen if we have the vaccine, fear of what might happen if we don’t, fears around the uncertainty of the future, financial stress and a deep fear that the people ‘in power’ hold too much power and might not be wholly trustworthy with that power. I don’t want to get into a debate about the vaccines, far from it, I just wanted to draw attention to the fact that most of us right now are afraid, and a goodly proportion angry. That connection warrants attention.
Without spending another blog on how to create space for uncomfortable feelings to allow us time to choose how we are going to respond to them adaptively (see earlier blogs on this), let’s just note that when anger floods us, we need to become aware and attuned to its unique tell-tale effects in our nervous system. Anger will be triggered by, and bodily speaking, feels different for each of us. We need to get tuned in to what our personal triggers are, and what it feels like on the inside. Is it sweaty palms, clenched fists, tension in your stomach or chest? Can you hear your heart beating in your chest, loud and powerful? Or, is your head pulsating with the sound of blood pounding in your ears?
When navigated well, anger can be channeled and utilised in quite productive ways:
- Anger motivates us to fix problems – it can propel is into action
- Anger can energise us – it can serve as a positive force to stand up for ourselves and creatively navigate obstacles
- Anger can drive us towards our goals – when triggered it can sometimes remind us that we have drifted off course, preventing us from realising our desired objectives
- Anger protects our core values – it can serve a value indicator and regulator, highlighting discrepancies and boundary infringements
- Anger makes us aware of injustice – it serves as an internal guidance that can indicate when things are not right, just or fair and can lead to big societal change
If you need to tend to what is underneath your anger right now, we have therapists at Thea Baker Wellbeing – please reach out to us at: email@example.com / 03 9077 8194.