Jonathan Hooker

Working With Anger

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Emotions are like muscles, when they have not been used for a long time they need to be exercised to develop them. In this way they can become stronger, and perhaps even more importantly, they can become more sensitive. When we first rediscover an emotion which has not been used for a long time we switch it on, and can quite often find that it is either on or off, but it is as if the volume control is missing or broken.

Anger gets a lot of bad press but it is the emotion which helps us define who we are. This is because we use anger to signal what we will put up with, and what we will not tolerate, so this is how we lay out our boundaries.

One of the reasons for the bad press is people often mistake rage for anger. Anger has a full spectrum of degrees of which rage is an extreme at one end of this spectrum, whereas at the other end we have the smallest building block of anger which might be; “I don’t like this” or “I don’t want to do that”.

When we have been passive for a very long time and we switch our anger on, often the reason it becomes so extreme is because we use it too late. We spend a whole day ‘putting up with’ things that do not really suit us, and then at some point some unsuspecting individual, often one of our children, does something which represents ‘the final straw’ and we erupt. If you find yourself doing this, it is really worth thinking back over the day at the things that have added to this outburst. Each time we allow ourselves to feel used and say nothing, or do not react to things which do not suit us, it is like picking up a stick of dynamite and putting it in our rucksack for later, or in other words we store up small resentments all day and they gradually build into a massive resentment, so that when the rucksack finally does go up, it is a major explosion!

If you do this and want to change it, then congratulations you have already started – because you have noticed something that you would like to change. Noticing is the first step. When we notice ourselves doing something we do not like it is always the first step towards changing it. Gradually you will notice ‘it’, whatever the behaviour is you want to change, earlier until eventually you will catch yourself doing it and then finally, before you actually do it. When you are going through this learning process, in which you are changing an established habit, it is important that you understand that changing habits takes time. You need to be patient with yourself, and when you find yourself doing the old behaviour; ‘DON’T beat yourself up!” You probably do that enough already. Instead congratulate yourself for seeing what you are doing, or have just done. Each time you repeat the old habit, congratulate yourself for noticing! Each time you do this you will notice earlier next time. Eventually you will see it as you are doing it, and you will change it.

In the meantime you can help yourself by keeping the rucksack empty. This is done by spending a few moments throughout the day or at the end of the day, reviewing the resentments you did allow yourself to put up with, and noticing who they are with, and thinking through how you could have ‘done it differently’ but with grace and goodwill. It is not the aim to blow earlier, but simply to be clear about what we will and will not tolerate from others. To help with this process see the section on Assertiveness. Becoming more assertive and showing people who we are by saying clearly hat we will and will not tolerate, is quite a journey, but it is a journey to intimacy. It is about being willing to show people more of who we are. We do that when we show more emotion and more emotional reaction. This in turn allows others to see more of us and allows them to engage more deeply with us. This tends to be more satisfying for them and for us. This is also a journey for us to get to know ourselves. When we have an underdeveloped sense of anger, we tend not to have much connection with ourselves. That means that we often do not know what we want in many everyday situations. So we go along with others and their proposals. Often only later feeling irritable or dissatisfied that we have not achieved what we wanted. But we did not ask because we did not know. Going into any important meeting it is important to sit down quietly and ask ourselves what do I want from this meeting, and what is and is not acceptable for me and why.

Once we are clear about this we can go in prepared, and respond to the suggestions of others with some passion and feeling, because we have taken the time to work out how we feel and what we want.

To start with others can catch us by surprise by calling us up and saying can you do this for me this weekend, for example. Often we do not know in that moment and can feel pressured into making a quick decision. My preferred strategy is to say: ‘I will call you back’. Often in only 10 or 15 minutes, but I need time and space to think about what I want to do. I may even call a close friend and say ‘This person has asked this and I am not sure what I want to do’. Usually I become clear in less than a minute, by just talking it through. Then I can call back and say this is what I would like. Often it is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but more ‘what you have suggested is not completely convenient, what about if we organised it like this?’ This has also changed how other people deal with me. Before they tended to treat me like a door mat, and they might say: ‘I have organised this, so you need to do this’. Now they are more inclined to ask if something is convenient for me. I had to retrain them to be respectful of my views and priorities.

If you would like to know more about anger, anger work or anger management, please email using the link here or call me using one of the numbers provided.

Often people contact me because they feel they are too angry. Often this is being unassertive and putting up with too much and so allowing their anger to well up inside them. Sometimes people contact me because they feel lost or do not know who they are. There are many reasons for working with anger.

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