Archive for the ‘Obstacles to growth’

April 7th, 2008


Anger is a powerful form of energy that can be either positive or negative.

For example, righteous anger, which we feel when we witness or experience injustice, discrimination, cruelty, exploitation, abuse, mistreatment, corruption or criminal acts is often harnessed to help us right wrongs and stand up for others and ourself.

Anger can be a self-protective force if we channel it in positive directions. How many kids who were bullied or teased at school focussed an ‘I’ll show them’ attitude into self-development and success?

Some people are more prone to anger than others. Some people naturally have a temperament that produces a hair-trigger temper (it’s in their genes). Stress and exhaustion makes us irritable and easily angered. Our upbringing influences our anger levels. Some parents will not tolerate anger in children and punish any sign of it. Others do nothing to discourage it or even model an example of rage for their children to copy. High levels of testosterone (in both men and women) make for quick tempers and some drugs, such as steroids and alcohol are likely to increase anger. And society ‘expects’ anger from young males; in fact, anger is often the only emotion young men feel ‘allowed’ to express.

But most people who have problems with anger or who use it negatively (against themselves or others) are usually driven by faulty beliefs or reasoning.

Anger and its extreme, rage, are voluntary. Anger is not something that just ‘happens’ to us against our will (although sometimes it feels as though it does). We can only feel anger if we have certain ideas and beliefs and if we change them we can reduce our level of anger.

Many people have a low tolerance for frustration. They become furious when they can’t get what they want, when the world and other people are not the way they wish them to be, when their wishes conflict with reality.

At a subconscious level, many people believe that the world and other people should cater to them, conform to their standards and wishes and satisfy their desires. Their response to disappointment is very often rage. We don’t automatically become enraged because we can’t have something but we often do when we believe we are entitled to it.

Anger is frequently triggered when unrealistic and irrational expectations are not met. As silly as it sounds, most of use actually expect things to go our way, for the world to cater for our convenience and pleasure and we are put out and indignant when it doesn’t. For example road rage erupts when traffic congestion, bad manners and inconvenience clash with the driver’s belief that everyone should get out of his way, that he should have a smooth and trouble free trip and should not have to endure other drivers’ perceived lack of skills and consideration.

I once watched a grown man throw a temper tantrum over lost car keys. It would have been comic if it hadn’t been so disturbing. This man lived in a world where keys were not ‘supposed’ to get lost. He seemed to feel that the keys were deliberately thwarting him and how dare they inconvenience him?

For many of us our natural narcissism, the belief that ‘it won’t happen to me’, leaves us shocked and outraged when something does go wrong. Mishaps and inconveniences are a blow to our ego, our sense of self, and our first response can be the self-defensive rage of one under attack.

When things go wrong for us our first response is often confusion. We are led to believe in fairness and justice. The good are rewarded and the bad punished. So when we have done nothing wrong and things still go wrong we feel that we do not ‘deserve’ such misfortune and respond with anger.

Fate and fortune have it in for everyone at some time or other but we often take it personally and feel persecuted and so react with anger. It can be hard to come to terms with the fact that life is not just.

So if you are often angry or disproportionately angry, look beyond the immediate reason and examine what beliefs and ideas may be contributing to it. As the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca advised, we will be much better off if we take a ‘philosophical‘ approach to life, a self-possessed, calm, and dispassionate response to disaster, mishap, misfortune and inconvenience.

Anger is something we can learn to manage but some people have no desire to understand or control their rage. It gets them what they want, or the sheer force of it contributes to their sense of power. But mostly, when you believe you are superior and special, anything that contradicts that view can provoke rage.

Anger and rage are often components of narcissism.

Narcissistic people often become angry when they are reminded of their own vulnerability by seeing the vulnerability of someone else. They become angry at the person who makes them realize that they too are vulnerable (so they attack or deride those smaller, weaker, or less fortunate). This is one of the reasons why some people are not sympathetic or supportive of others who are suffering or in need, the ‘blame the victim’ syndrome.

Narcissists may seem placid enough when they are getting their own way, but when thwarted, they can explode. Their anger may be the cold-blooded, calculating type or the explosive, overwhelming, irrational and out of all proportion reaction of true rage. But the narcissist’s anger is never anger on another’s behalf, anger at injustice or anger that leads to constructive action. It is the tantrum of a child not getting his own way, rage at others who do not agree with his exalted opinion of himself, or who refuse to submit to him.

The narcissist may use his or her anger as a weapon to frighten and intimidate or he may rage at any criticism, or at not being as powerful, successful or adored as he believes he deserves. He may rage at life and the world for not recognizing his greatness and at all those who do not admire and love him.

In a relationship his or her hostility may be controlled or openly expressed. Because he believes his partner exists only for him and should be everything to him and do everything for him, any sign of falling short or of independent behaviour might arouse his ire. He also expects constant reassurance from her that he is as wonderful as he believes and if he doesn’t get it, he feels aggrieved sometimes to the point of fury.

Because of his image of himself as self-sufficient, he may also fee anger toward a partner he depends upon. Dependency does not fit his image at all. And a partner makes a handy substitute target for anger that cannot be directed at the real target. Many wives suffer from a husband’s unleashed rage at his mother, or father.

The narcissist who keeps his anger hidden may release it as passive aggression or passive resistance. He will thwart and sabotage his partner’s plans, use ‘jokes’ to mask insults, and promise the world and deliver nothing. His anger is a sharp knife that only comes out when her back is turned and his ’stabs’ may only be small but they still wound.

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