Anger is a topic that comes up a lot in conversation with my clients. Specifically, the concern around the inability to effectively express anger is what comes up. It’s a question of not being able to express anger and frustration at all until it reaches the level of blind rage at which point it comes out in all manner of destructive ways. Or at least there’s a fear that expressing anger at ALL will result in irreparable damage. The image that comes to mind is one of a pressure cooker without a safety valve. It eventually just blows.
I have to confess, as much as I like to pride myself on being pretty straightforward even in the face of conflict, I often find myself at a loss as to how to express negative feelings to those around me. While I think this is a common human dilemma spawned by a fear of disconnection and rejection, to be honest, I don’t think the problem is one-sided. I have noticed a tendency, especially on this side of the country and, Seattle in particular, whereby direct expression of needs and emotions doesn’t happen as often as it should. This lack of transparency, by extension, makes it very hard for the person on the other end of the dialogue to openly address the underlying conflict or concern because the person presenting the issue is often downplaying true intention and often disguising it as something different entirely. The respondent is left with a situation that, at best would have perhaps been uncomfortable but, has now been made confusing and almost impossible to address.
Because I get a lot of questions around what effective anger might look like or whether it’s even a necessary emotions (it is!) I thought I would offer up the best description of healthy anger I’ve ever come across. This comes from a paper written by my former Seattle University professor, Dr. Steen Halling. Of course I can’t find the original paper as hard as I’ve tried (today) and so I apologize. Nevertheless, here is Dr. Halling’s definition in all it’s glory in the hope it you find it as helpful as it has been for me. The goal is to move away from the idea of eradicating anger toward a position of understanding it and using toward productive and authentic expression.
Mature anger is not blind rage directed at an object one fantasizes about, rather it is directed towards a person that one sees, it is speaking to another, calling for his response, not an attempt t annihilate his capacity for responding as in rage. It is an appeal in an attitude of at least some openness. I would suggest that the anger can be a movement of desire, a movement towards the Other rather than a movement based on need with the goal of assimilating the Other. -Dr. Steen Halling