I encounter many people who admit to resentful feelings and anger toward friends and family members. Almost inevitably, these feelings end up stemming from a fear of confrontation. We’ve been so brainwashed into always being “nice” that emotions and bitterness can build up and erupt into major conflicts and even psychological problems. The vapid daytime TV “experts” have convinced many people that anger is somehow evil, that anger means confrontation, and that all confrontation is bad. Right? Wrong!
It all depends on the circumstances. If somebody does something wrong, and if not doing anything will be harmful to your peace of mind or that of a loved one, then it’s foolish not to confront the issue head-on. Consider, for example, if somebody gets credit for an important project that you actually did. Do you just humbly swallow it and say nothing, or do you let the appropriate person know that you, in fact, did the job? Fight the knee-jerk reaction to humbly hang your head and skulk away! Any choice other than defending yourself will result in a festering resentment that will impact your work and your mental health. Where is the virtue in that?
The value of confrontation will depend on how well you handle the situation. While it might seem straight-ahead to scream, “You idiot! How could you do that?” it makes more sense to say something like, “I’m really concerned by how you handled that. Please tell me what you were thinking.” If your goal is to reason and persuade, then you must communicate reasonably. If the person you’re confronting can’t be reasoned with, then don’t bother. It’s a waste of time.
Anger gets a bad name when people act blindly only on their feelings, Anger based on facts and logic is the appropriate response to an injustice. To not be angry would be to deny reality. There is nothing healthy about denial and bitterness.
So what do you do with the anger? Do you take suitable action, in proportion to the nature of the injustice? Or do you determine that it’s just not worth it? Facts and reason must be your guide. Sometimes we experience “displaced anger”; when you express anger over one situation when you’re actually angry about something entirely different. A mother blows up at her son for leaving his toys on the floor. She’s understandably irritated, but it’s not the toys that make her explode. It’s actually something going on in her marriage, her work or whatever. The point is that we’re not always angry for the reasons we feel we are. Long-standing anger that doesn’t get expressed can latch itself onto some unrelated person or situation. Anger management therapy can help an individual understand why he or she is really angry.
Another source of anger is hurt feelings, masquerading as rage or irritation. This often plays out in marital and romantic relationships. The classic example is a feeling of betrayal resulting from the discovery of an affair. People who feel hurt and betrayed lash out. “Hell hath no fury” not only applies to “a woman scorned,” but also to anyone who, deep down, is more hurt than angry. It can blow up into prolonged legal battles, hateful diatribes, nasty emotional exchanges and even physical violence. These demonstrations, as vicious as they can be, are often nothing more than a manifestation of hurt. A skilled therapist can help separate the hurt from the feelings of anger.
If people better understood how anger can be disguised by the mind, there would be less verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Psychological help is worthless unless you’re first willing to acknowledge that maybe you don’t know the true causes of all your emotions. Stop and think about how you feel and why you feel that way. Calmly insist that angry loved ones do the same. The results may surprise you.
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