WHICH FACE OF ANGER ARE YOU?
BY MIKE FISHER EXRACT FROM HIS BEST SELLING BOOK – BEATING ANGER
The five faces of anger
I regard anger as having five different faces, or characteristics, each finding expression in a particular type of behaviour. Each face is shaped by how we have (or have not) dealt with our own and other people’s feelings and experiences. An awareness of these different faces can help to understand how anger is ignited in the first place.
The faces begin to emerge at an early age, as part of our sophisticated ego defence structure. You can look at each different face as a mask, or persona, that we develop to protect ourselves.
Each face works rather well at first – that is, each one offers us protection from things in life we are afraid of or anxious about – but eventually the faces become tired and worn, and they begin to crack. When this happens, instead of helping us to express our feelings of fear, hurt, sadness, shame, and so on, the faces start to inhibit us. They stop us expressing our true feelings in a healthy way. As a result, many of our feelings are transmuted into passive aggression or outright aggressive behaviour. At this stage, the faces of anger start to dominate our personality.
The task is to recognise which face we are wearing, what that face means to us as an individual, and why we have become attached to it and feel we need it in our life. Only then can we begin the process of transforming the various faces of anger so that we can become emotionally healthy again.
The caring face of anger
You often hear people say, ‘If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be angry with you’ or ‘I am only angry with you because I care’. The expression of our anger can be seen as being in direct proportion to the depth of our caring and passion for life. This includes the desire to protect ourselves, our loved ones, the planet and anything that matters to us.
On the first evening in my group workshops, participants are asked to fill out a stress questionnaire. It is true to say that feelings of injustice tend to rate high on their stress barometers – a very common trigger for anger. People who feel strongly about injustice have a huge capacity for caring, and this brings an enormous amount of meaning to their lives. Hence their reactions to circumstances or events can vary from a little anger to outrage, depending on how strongly they feel about the situation and how much value they attach to it. They are angry because they care rather than being simply indifferent. If they lose this sense of care, they are faced with a crisis of meaning, and they may believe that in order to cease reacting angrily, they will have to cease caring. Therefore the caring face of anger relates to what holds meaning, value and significance.
If a person fears expressing their own anger, they risk becoming depressed. Where there is anger, there is always hope. Where there is repressed anger, there lies the roots of depression, and when there is depression, quite often all hope is often lost. This is well illustrated in work with angry children and young adults. Children who express their anger are easier to work with than children who are so depressed that they cannot express their feelings in a healthy way. Depressed children often have little hope left and are very hard to reach. They tend to be very passive in their interactions at school and can easily become a target for bullying. If this situation persists, it is only a matter of time before these children drop out of school or fail dismally. If you can reach them through continued trust and patience, and educate them in differentiating between the caring face of anger and the isolating self-destructive qualities of repressed anger, then you are generally able to build a bridge and bring them back into the world.
The caring face of anger is also evident when we use our anger as a way of ensuring that our physical and emotional boundaries are not transgressed. Getting angry in these instances suggests that we respect and care for ourselves enough not to let ourselves be
manipulated and have our boundaries broken.
Obviously, where a lot of meaning has been attached to an issue, it carries a huge charge. In this situation, it is therefore easy to fall into expressing our anger in unhelpful ways or in ways that undermine our intentions and integrity. Learning to express your anger when you experience injustices towards yourself and others is the first step; learning to express your anger in an appropriate manner is the second. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the intensity of feelings that arise.
THE CARING FACE OF ANGER
Make a list of where the caring face of anger applies in your life. For example, you may feel angry when someone you love is unfairly treated by others, or when you see a parent in a supermarket being cruel and shaming towards their their young child. In these circumstances our anger may be healthy – as long as it is expressed in an appropriate way.
The self-diminishing face of anger
People who have low self-esteem or who don’t value themselves are excellent at putting themselves down and giving themselves a very hard time. Being self-diminishing (or self-forgetting) is an effective way of turning our anger inwards. It’s a passive-aggressive act directed at ourselves and is a means of keeping ourselves small and insignificant in the world. As a result of continuously minimising our own experiences, however, we begin to feel resentment. Others start to bear the brunt of our built-up aggression, anger and hostility, and this has a detrimental affect on our personal and professional relationships. The self-diminishing face of anger has an in-built defence mechanism that, once activated, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: ‘I will reject myself before you reject me.’ People who adopt this face have learned to cope with their own self-hatred and find it preferable to the kind of pain they fear they would suffer at the hands of other people.
The core issue to address with this face is how to identify and meet our own primary needs – the basic requirement we human beings have for love, comfort, reassurance and support. Part of the process of overcoming self-diminishing anger is commiting yourself to identifying what your needs are and then taking responsibility for getting them met. Once you are able to do this, you will naturally find that your need to self-sabotage or self-destruct will slowly dissolve. It takes practice, but it is possible and it does work. In the past, when I found myself in uncomfortable situations I often noticed that I felt scared. I would usually not stick up for myself, even though a voice inside my head was telling me, ‘Michael, say something, do something! Don’t let this person get away with this sort of insensitive behaviour.’ The problem was that I wanted the other person to see me as nice, caring and emotionally sorted, so I repressed my feeling of anger. And in so doing, I diminished myself. I was also generally unwilling to say how I really felt, in case I upset the other person or hurt their feelings. In effect, this meant that it was OK for me to feel hurt but it was not OK for them to feel hurt as a result of me sharing my feelings. By keeping my feelings inside, I was not being true to myself.
THE SELF-DIMINISHING FACE OF ANGER
Look back at the examples above of the ways in which I used to diminish myself. Now make a list of how you diminish or forget yourself and how this impacts on and affects others.
The numb face of anger
Many of us use anger as a way of numbing ourselves. Expressions of hostility and anger become a smokescreen obscuring other distressing feelings such as sadness, fear, hurt and shame. Offloading our anger onto others feels safer than expressing and communicating the full range and complexity of our feelings. People who wear this face need to remember that in fact the more angry they become, the more emotionally impotent, vulnerable and powerless they end up feeling – exactly what they are trying to avoid.
If you wear this face of anger, it is important to find a way of sitting with the discomfort of your own emotional pain and containing your anger. You need to recognise that habitually dumping your anger on someone else serves only to numb you and cause others confusion and pain. Begin the process of finding a healthy and meaningful way to express the full range of all your feelings. Allow yourself really to feel your hurt, fear, sadness and shame, and express these feelings to others without self-recrimination. People will respect and value you more, and you will gain self-respect and be much happier.
THE NUMB FACE OF ANGER
Identify instances when you have used anger to avoid feeling another emotion. We may do this, for example, by moaning and groaning continuously; by finding fault with others; or by hyping ourselves up until we explode under the effects of adrenalin, enjoying the euphoria of the release. Acknowledge how your behaviour impacted on and affected others.
The unrealistic face of anger
The unrealistic face of anger is based as a response to expectations of how I should be, how the world should be and how others should behave. By adopting it we give ourselves permission – and justification – for blowing our top. We have every reason for punishing others, or so we believe. Unrealistic expectations create conflict and misery, and entertaining them can become a very dangerous game to play. While you’re judging others for not getting it ‘right’ or being ‘good enough’, you avoid having to look at your own imperfections, shortcomings and shadow projections.
Many of us impose our ideals onto others as a way of feeling superior; however, this is merely a cover-up for deep feelings of inferiority – a way of hiding the fact that we feel unconfident. In order to feel good about ourselves, we have to put others down by judging and criticising them when they fail to meet our unrealistic expectations. We may experience a profound sense of entitlement or specialness, feeling that the world owes us something we don’t have to work for.
A great deal of anger is motivated by an inability to accept the world the way it is. However, anger won’t change the world. By continuously expressing unrealistic anger, we just make a gigantic hole for ourselves. And the more we use anger to get us out of the hole, the deeper the hole gets.
In order to begin emerging from the hole, we need to hear the feedback that others have to give to us, even if it is difficult to hear. We have to understand that other people are not the enemy; the enemy lies deep within. We must make it a priority to recognise that when we judge and criticise others, we are trying – ineffectively – to feel better about ourselves. There are far more effective ways of esteeming ourselves. Once we discover this, our unrealistic expectations of others will diminish, including the constant need to prove ourselves.
THE UNREALISTIC FACE ANGER
Make a list of all the unrealistic expectations you have of yourself.
- Now do the same for the unrealistic expectations you have of others. If you find this difficult, look at the judgements you make about others; they often contain an expectation.
- Now consider what effect this behaviour has on those close to you. Write down your reflections in your journal.
5: The addictive face of anger
When we are wearing this face, we turn to an addictive substance or behaviour in order to avoid experiencing our anger. This face reflects the extraordinary length to which we will go in order to avoid our anger. At some time or other, all of us experience some form of emotional pain within the context of the family; whether this pain is acknowledged and expressed within the family will determine the mental health of each individual and of the family system. The lack of expression or communication of painful feelings forces them deep into the unconscious, whereby they may manifest as some form of addictive or compulsive disorder. This enables the psyche to endure the psychological pain of repression. Addictions serve to anaesthetise us. They give us an instant feel-good sensation. Eventually, however, we still have to face not just our original trauma but also shame and remorse as a result of the effect that our behaviour has had on ourselves and others. When this, too, is too painful to feel, we then return to the addiction to minimise our negative feelings – and so the cycle perpetuates itself.
Addictive anger manifests through four main avoidance behaviours.
Drugs of choice. I am using ‘drugs’ here in a loose sense, to indicate not only substances such as drugs and alcohol but also behaviours such as sex, intensity, work, drama, adrenaline, gambling, food, shopping and so on – in other words, anything that is used inappropriately to alleviate pain and suffering. A word about addiction to alcohol. Drinking results in one of two consequences. The first, of course, is the drowning out of all pain – indeed, of all feeling. The second, paradoxically, is that under the influence of alcohol the very thing we are trying to repress often raises its ugly head. Like me, you have probably come across people who appear as quiet as a dormouse until they begin to drink – when their destructive anger explodes. It may be the aftermath of a drinking bout that forces such a person to acknowledge that they have an anger management problem, as they witness the destruction they have left behind. If you have an addiction to alcohol, it will be necessary for you to address your drinking habits before you start working on anger management.
I always suggest that people with an alcohol or drug addiction see a specialist in addiction counselling or join one of the many local AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) groups.
Karl Marx famously said, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’ While religion can be an influence for personal and communal good, there are those of us who use it as an emotional bypass, giving over the responsibility for how we lead our lives to God. This means, in essence, that we never have to grow up. God the father is there to take care of us and wipe our sins away. If we never grow up emotionally, we remain in a passive state. Religion becomes a powerful drug that enables us to avoid feelings of despair, pain and suffering. Yet if we do not take responsibility for our lives – which includes taking responsibility for our behaviour, thoughts, actions and feelings – we are not fulfilling our promise as human beings. God wants us to be fully coherent and in charge of our own life. One of the greatest gifts we can give God is to take up this challenge.
Spiritual materialism (the new age)
Since the early 1960s, many people in the Western world have come to believe that in order to transcend life’s banalities and perceived meaninglessness, they have had to journey inwards, towards the true ‘final frontier’. On the whole this movement has been a positive vehicle for self-realisation (and for the welfare of the planet), yet it is possible to use new-age spirituality as a means of avoiding our deeper, darker sides. The piecemeal importation of Eastern and/or tribal spiritual traditions, practices and rituals has sometimes created scope for individuals to hide from feeling, owning, expressing and communicating their painful ‘negative’ feelings. An example of this kind of avoidant behaviour might be: ‘Every time I get angry or someone is angry with me, I shroud myself in white light, hold my favourite crystal in my pocket and chant ‘om’ to protect me from the negative energy that others project onto me.’ This is all fine if you have a truly healthy relationship with your own and other people’s anger. However, it is extremely unhealthy when you are looking to defend yourself against feeling your own feelings. Spiritual materialism may, in the short term, be a security blanket in the face of our own internal dark forces, but in the end we all have to face our demons. Anger cannot be avoided, however hard we try and however many incense sticks we burn. We still have to do our anger work!
Intellectualism is frequently the addiction of choice for those who are mind-identified. Intellectualisers have little or no awareness of their feelings, body or spirit. They live in their heads and rationalise everything that happens to them. They tend to bury their feelings beneath words and are often criticised for being emotionally unreachable or crippled. They are often dissociated from their bodies, living from their neck up.
Intellectualisers believe that they can control and outsmart their own feelings. In reality, however, life just needs to throw them a little curve ball and they completely fall apart emotionally. It may be only then that they begin to accept the need to develop a meaningful relationship with their feelings in order to function fully in the world.
Identify which behaviour you use by asking others to give you feedback. Try to acknowledge what they say, rather than just seeing
their opinions as negative. Experience yourself as others see you.
- Look at how this behaviour manifests and record your reflections in your journal.
- Once again, record your reflections in your journal.
I am hoping from doing this process, it will have given you deeper insight into which of your faces you use and hopefully, you will begin to become more and more aware of when you them and how come, at least this way you will begin to access choices in how you manage them differently – Mike Fisher