When anger corrodes. Wait, does it?
How can you tell when your anger morphs from a moment of clarity and self-protection to something else entirely? Anger has its destructive side . . . at least Ursula K. Le Guin believes it does. I reserve the right, at the end of this post, to disagree with her and talk about this “corrosive anger” in a different way. Our emotional language fails to describe the ever-shifting currents of feeling. As soon as you call it one thing, it becomes another.
Most of my anger essays coach you to notice it, name it, feel it, and own it. I want you to know that anger is a normal part of being human and that it holds survival value both for you, personally, and in your relationships. But today, I need to say something about the other side of the anger coin.
Anger corrodes when . . .
- It hangs around too long (a personal judgment). Nobody gets to tell you how long is too long. But you know it. Most useful anger stories I’ve witnessed involve brief surges of awareness, followed by other emotions and perspectives. Healing anger comes and goes pretty fast because the picture is always more complicated than it first seems.
- You refuse to hear or process new information (as in, looping around endlessly, saying the same things over and over, refusing to learn a new perspective). My grandmother did this because she couldn’t get past the initial point of trauma. She never went to therapy, much less EMDR therapy. So, the same ideas triggered the same emotions and words for her, over and over, for decades. Watching her reminded me of that thing where you hold your hands over your ears and sing, LALALALA.
- It causes you to dissociate into rage (Okay, I call this rage.). You dissociate into rage if you blast people, accuse them, corner them, bully or threaten them, hit them or otherwise physically assault them, or call them names. If you roll your eyes habitually at someone’s feelings or automatically shut them down with contempt, consider the possibility you’re dissociating into an automatic (albeit more subtle) form of rage.
- You use it as a default posture (which you may not even feel but step into like a bad Halloween costume). Like above, if people are scared to talk to you, consider that you may have an automatic anger response that becomes abrasive or demeaning. Ask yourself if you’re fully aware of how you react to people. Ask them for feedback.
- It becomes your excuse for hurting someone (I call this rage too.) Maybe you scream something like, I just can’t trust you! Or You’re such a disappointment to me! If you lob these statements in an argument, you weaponize your anger unfairly. YOUR ANGER IS NO EXCUSE FOR TRAMPLING SOMEONE.
Are we even still talking about anger? I want to use a different word, like rage, when anger turns to something degrading, because I hate to malign an innocent and automatic emotion. What do you think? When it’s a costume, is it still anger? Or is it a habit of hiding it? Write me with your thoughts.