There is a thin line between anger and fear
We all have a way of playing draining board Jenga. Some delicately arrange items in specific pre-thought out ways while others precariously create a balancing act of which the slightest breeze will resemble a cliff crashing into the sea. So, when I reached to adjust a cup and a bowl the other day, I knew I was pretty much picking a fight with my other half. Was my reaction a display of hidden anger?
Their response worried me more than any snap comeback would have. Instead of telling me to go away, they apologised! What made it worse was in that moment I realised that this had been happening a lot in the past few weeks. They apologised for the dishes, the hoover, for noise when I was working, even for the dogs.
Why was I worried about this? Because as someone with an anger management issue, I have learned that when a loved one starts to apologise for small things, the problem isn’t them, it’s me and my anger.
Now, I don’t think I am alone in noticing the fact that being cooped up at home has the potential to create ugly tensions. Unchecked and unresolved nit-picks can evolve into major issues creating tension and arguments, and it isn’t like we can go anywhere to cool off.
Isolation and Anger
Hidden in the almost impossibly inescapable deluge of COVID-19 news stories we hear about the dangerous impact of imposed quarantine on our mental and physical health, especially those in abusive relationships. But even those of us who don’t fit the typical definition of ‘abusive partner’, the current situation poses some risk. Yet we aren’t taken seriously.
You may have heard or even used the term cabin fever to express your feelings. Although not an official condition symptoms include feelings of isolation, resentment, mood swings and irrational outbursts.
We, as a society, have a complex relationship with anger. Throughout life we are to control and manage it. We learn that getting or being angry is a character flaw, but that isn’t always true. Power and success derived from positive anger is often rewarded.
Generally speaking, there are three types of anger; Passive Aggression, Open Aggression and Assertive Anger.
Passive Aggression is the indirect expression of anger by a person unable or uncomfortable to express hurt feelings honestly or openly. -Moving items on the draining board because I can instead of telling my boss that I am angry about his email.
Open Aggression comes from a need to be in control. A person may tend to lash out verbally or physically and can hurt themselves or others.
Assertive anger is the best way to communicate feelings of anger. For example, telling a person, “I feel angry when you do that…” is assertive anger. The feelings pressed but in a non-threatening way.
The Evolution of Anger
To scientists, it sounds obvious, but anger reminds us that like any other behaviour or emotion, it exists today because it is proven to be advantageous. Fear alerts us to danger, rumblings of the stomach to hunger, and anger to injustice.
Anger is commonly thought to have origins within the fight or flight mechanism-there to save our lives. Response to anger depends on personal perception; what may highly greave one may unfazed another. Philosopher Aristotle observed that anger was connected with the idea of right and wrong, so alongside that and personal emotions, ethics play a large part in anger.
What My Anger Looks Like
During my teens, I would unleash my anger physically on my younger brother until I learned an interesting trick. As my anger level rose to boiling point, I could swallow it. Psychologists call this suppression. It has been studied and is thought to cause a variety of psychological and physical ailments alongside anger.
Over the years, this tendency has shown itself in some ugly ways and tested all those around me. I nit-pick, argue over the smallest things and sulk. It turns out I’d have been better off just letting it out on a punching bag or using constructively to get ahead. It would have saved relationships, and quite a few friendships had I not let my niggles take over what really mattered.
Assertive anger, when used correctly, is a good thing, but when the control has been removed, it can be very dangerous. Heightened situations such as the one we are currently in, has removed large areas of this control aspect, specifically the freedom of movement. Subsequently, this has caused great changes in daily living and behaviour.
So, what happens when your entire life has changed beyond your control, and only anger is there to support you internally?
Recognise, interpret, and address
I recognise I’m angry because cannot go for a drive. I realise that I am angry because the current situation means I must stay at home; therefore, I cannot just go for a drive, but I understand why (interpret). Instead of sitting here or nit-picking at my partner (or the dogs), I will clear some space and try an exercise video I’ve seen online (address).
Simply put, recognise the feelings, listen to them and their reasoning, and change what you can.
Everyone over the past few months has felt some degree of anger; what they have chosen to do with it is very individual. Regardless of social media posts, not everyone is taking advantage of unexpected “free time” to learn new skills. As someone who is just trying to survive this and not drive those around me and myself to the brink of all-out war, I am learning still learning that just because I don’t burst out my shirt like Hulk doesn’t mean I don’t have an anger issue. For me, recognising the small passive things that I do are signs of regaining my self-control.
Returning to the fight or flight mechanism inside us all-anger is never far from fear. Right now, we are bombarded with both fear, so if you start to feel it, that’s okay. It’s normal to feel strong emotions (negative or positive); it is what we do with them that holds the key to our success.