Anger is normal. We feel angry when we feel wronged or harmed by others, or witness others being harmed or unjustly treated. Anger typically triggers fear and helplessness, in those who experience it and to those who witness it. Hence, people turn on fight or flight mode, to defend against anger, until they can no longer hold back and it explodes!
In relationships, anger can manifest in either pursuing behaviors (eg. clinging, controlling, confronting, even verbal or physical aggression), or avoidant withdrawal, including stonewalling behaviors (eg. emotional shut-down, refusing to communicate or completely ignoring the other person). Overtime, especially in close relationships, we can easily accumulate so much of resentment that all we want is to get back, or get even with the person who keeps doing the “wrong” thing to hurt our feelings.
When we are feeling deep in pain, it might be easier to externalize the responsibility onto the other person who “caused” our pain. It might be harder for us to see clearly how we ourselves also contribute to, or perpetuate the cycle of pursuing and distancing, or other fight and flight patterns, including frozen anger, which is a type of passive aggression. In frozen anger, the person may appear like a “saint” without temper, but his or her frozen or withholding behavior gives frost bites to others. If we can be truly honest with ourselves, it always takes two to tango!
And yes, anger can really hurt. But anger is often a secondary emotion. What underlies anger is usually fear. Whilst fear makes us feel weak and vulnerable, anger is like steroid that gives us a rush of energy and pseudo strength. True strength lies not in anger, which is fear in disguise, but in love!
The true antidote for fear is love. Deep, genuine love is like volcano lava that can melt away anger and overcome all fear reactions. Hence the question is not about “how to manage anger”. The deeper and harder question is: HOW TO MELT? More specifically, how to melt for the person who truly matters to you? As Olaf said in the animation Frozen, some people are worth melting for…
When I allow your love to comfort me, I become okay again. When you don’t mind coming into my messy emotions, not as a hero to save me or a parent who takes care of me, but as a partner who shares my burden, then you truly see me and know me – my strength and my vulnerability. Deep down inside, we all want to be known and loved, just as we are. Not as a child, a weakling, or a dependent. But as the strong and vulnerable person that we are created to be.
Therefore, anger is really an invitation to dig deep and draw out your true passion. Anger is scary. Passion is sexy! When you can see your anger as passion, then you can allow little shifts inside you. When you can allow shifts and movement inside yourself, then you can begin to act differently outside, in all your relationships. When you can relate differently with others, out of your own inner shifts, not because of external change, you can finally take hold of the joy and power inside you, instead of succumbing to the whims and needs of people and situations outside of yourself.
Let your anger reveal your true passion! Like volcanic soil, the lava that covers the earth makes it fertile. So the passion from anger may kill, or be transformed into a fertile ground, ready to create more life, love and growth…
Enjoy this little clip of Olaf’s heartening line in the animation “Frozen”!
Article by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng