I’ve written about anger before, but I’ve forgotten what I said, by now. I suspect, though- that I have not yet come near fully fleshing out what I have to say on the topic!
When I try to hold the concept of anger in my mind- what I think of, has to do, intrinsically- with fear.
I think of anger as falling under the ‘fight’ side of the fight or flight response.
But what triggers this response, in the first place? I feel like we humans have a tendency to think of that response as something that is initiated in only the most extreme situations in life.
Humans are complex beings, though- and I believe that this sort of response has a much bigger impact on our day to day lives than we tend to realize!
What is Threat?
Yes, threat includes the more overt, more obvious things that cause us to feel afraid, or feel angry – violence and the potential for violence.
But where do we draw the line, in our emotional response- between the feeling of almost getting hit, and that of actually being struck?
And then between being screamed at, by someone who is standing a few feet away from us, compared with being screamed at, by someone who is running towards us?
And then what about screaming, compared to yelling?
Yelling, versus that cold, biting lash that can be things like condescension?
Each of these things, I feel like- differ more so in degree of intensity of the resulting feelings, for me; than in the type of feeling, itself.
It’s like what I talked about in the post ‘Brooke and Metavore discuss Rules,’ in my mind: the humans as mad libs thing.
The kinds of environmental stimuli that seem to me to cause such feelings, in myself and in others- varies.
Greatly. But the feelings that we all have, in response to those things? Those seem to be broadly similar across humans.
But threats can be even more subtle than I the sorts I listed, in the above.
Threats can come from things not directly attributable to other humans – things like fear over losing our jobs; fears over not measuring up; fears over who we truly are, not being an acceptable kind of person to be.
All of those can be sources of anxiety, among too many others to count.
And we respond to such things, to such threats- by trying to fight them (anger), or by trying to run from them (fear).
When I would do things like not open mail when I had debts- this was a form of running, even though what I thought I was doing, was something different.
Even the current political climate, the crazy polarization going on, here in the US-
Could be read as the scary things we are all facing, right now- manifesting in a large scale ‘fight’ response.
I’ve mentioned before a study I read, long ago (if anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll track it down!) – the authors of this study concluded that when humans experience anger, our heart rate and blood pressure rises- and when those key physiological indicators rise above a certain mark, our brains become incapable of processing novel information.
I decided long ago, that I believed arguing to be Inefficient.
So I tried to just…stop.
First, I tried to quash the feelings of anger, altogether.
That made things worse, for me- for when I told myself that I could not get angry, and then did, anyway; then, I had an added later of guilt and self-hatred to contend with.
After that, I tried working around the fact that I could not just… magically not be angry anymore, by instituting certain rules in my life. Rules, like taking a break from a discussion if I felt myself becoming emotional, long enough to cool down for a bit.
That worked great!
Until I dated someone who used their physical strength to prevent me from even going for a walk, or stepping out to have a cigarette.
Then, I really learned about my own anger.
Those kinds of tricks, those sorts of hacks that I was employing, to get around my own capacity for anger- they have limits to their efficacy.
Mine were effective enough that I probably would have skated through the rest of my life without confronting my anger, face to face- had I not ended up in such a particular, and extreme sort of situation as one involving actual physical abuse.
I had to find a way to actually lessen my own anger. This is a thing which takes time. It cannot happen overnight; that isn’t how our brains work. But our brains are plastic. They can change, with time and repetition. And honesty.
Just masking my anger, this was not enough to effect real change in my brain.
I had to begin recognizing that anger was, indeed, a thing which I felt- and finding ways to overcome it.
For me, in practical terms, this means turning a situation around, in my brain.
Finding ways to change my perception of things, to make my own thoughts about whatever it is- about what I could have done better, instead of what someone else did wrong.
This does not mean to justify bad behavior, or to continue to allow people to treat us poorly– I wanted to help that ex of mine so desperately that I was effectively enabling him. Making it less likely that I could actually help him.
What I could have done better, in the beginning – was to walk away at any one of the first dozen or so glaring red flags I’d noted. Long before any overt physical violence happened – I saw the signs. Over and again. And over and again, I told myself I was misreading things- I justified them, somehow.
I will not do so, again.
I do not reduce the responsibility that others have for their actions; but in shifting my perspective in this way, I increase my responsibility for my own actions- and my agency.
And this way, I learn better how to avoid repeating so many of the same mistakes in my life, over and over again.