The Top Seven Reasons People Resist Anger.
1) I’m afraid people will get mad at me.
This is the fear of reprisal. The thinking goes something like this, “If I’m angry this person will get also get mad.” Of course, when someone is mad, all kinds of bad things are likely to happen, so of course, don’t make people mad. The thinking is that people will retaliate and punish me. The assumption is that getting mad makes other people get mad. This is also a myth. Uncontrolled anger makes people mad, maybe, but anger itself is not the culprit. Most people think this way because in the past they have exploded after holding feelings in too long. Of course when we blow up, “things” can be unpleasant. But, this is not because of being angry; rather, it is because we were not assertive. Had we been assertive with each feeling as it occurred, we never would have reached the “blow up” stage and there would be no fear that people “will get mad at me.”
2) Bad things will happen to others. The thinking is that if I’m angry, others will fall apart or even do themselves in.
This is about guilt. This is also false. Others are not nearly as bothered by our angry communications as we might think. And, we are more bothered by what we don’t communicate than what we say. Being responsible for someone else’s reaction is considerate to a point, but imprisoning if taken too far. Let others be responsible for their own reactions and let us practice more often speaking up, even if tinged with anger.
3) People won’t like me. “If I get mad, I’m going to scare someone and they will think negatively of me. It’s better to shut up.”
People who can’t deal with their own anger are more likely to be afraid of you, or avoid you because you are “stimulating” their own feelings, which they want to avoid. “Likeability” has to do with many other more important variables that don’t necessarily have anything to do with anger. Think about interpersonal warmth, honesty, emotional intelligence, genuineness, empathy and caring. These are some of the qualities that produce “likeability” in relationships, and they are better expressed with assertiveness, which in this case is the best purely psychological expression of anger, rather than with aggression or passivity.
4) If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
This is the voice of your parents, culture or religious training. Learn to just be comfortable with who you are, including with what your feel. Then, learn some ways to process those feelings.
5) It’s no big deal.
This is minimization, avoidance, intellectualization, rationalization and/or suppression. It’s what we do when we don’t want do deal with something, so suddenly it’s not important. Sometimes this is the lazy man’s way of saying it’s just too hard. It’s actually harder to deal with things later after we have “stockpiled” them.
A corollary to this is, “I already get what I want now, especially when I am angry." This is also more rationalization but sometimes used by bullies or immature types who don’t care about others, just as long as they get their way. Impulsive types sometimes fall into this category. Their very (angry) presence nets them something, but the side effects are usually uncomfortable to their psychological neighbors. Anger can be manipulative, precisely to the point that it is used to control others through intimidation. It’s important to get enough control over ourselves to try different, assertive vs. aggressive ways of relating to others.
6) People should know what I think or what I want.
More often than not, they don’t. People are not psychic. We have to spell things out for most people, usually verbally, preferably directly. Expecting others to know what we think or want is a recipe for disaster. Don’t use this as an excuse for not dealing with your feelings.
7) Deeper psychological stuff. Some people have a history of failing at anger management, not because their feelings are faulty, but because they are, or so they think. We might have a crummy self-esteem, so dealing with powerful feelings such as anger definitely won’t fit in with our unconscious anticipation of failure or avoidance of success. The paradox is that using anger constructively increases not decreases self-esteem. It helps to develop realistic self-confidence and skills to keep it.
Some people are afraid of their feelings, especially anger. They shut up because speaking about this feeling “upsets the apple cart.” I make the analogy that anger is like fire. Fire, by itself, is value neutral. It is neither good nor bad. Sure, it can burn down your house, OR, is can be harnessed to heat it up--same fire, same heat; different use, different outcome.
Then, there are certain personality types that use anger maladaptively. Narcissism comes to mind. This is when the universe revolves around us, so when people don’t “snap to” when we command them, they get upset with us and because of our personality, we get upset with them. The other narcissistic phenomenon that is very common is what we call entitlement. This is when we expect others to already know our thoughts, feelings and wishes. They should be just waiting to take care of us. Right! The thinking is, we are entitled to have things our way, just because we are who we are. Adjust expectations downwards. Assume people don’t have our thoughts at heart. They usually don’t. This is hard for narcissistic folks. In this case, the problem is narcissism, which has not much to do with anger management, except that narcissists usually have bouts of rage when their huge self-oriented needs are not met.
Lastly, some people learn to avoid conflict, anger and even simple assertiveness all together, while at the same time “getting even.” Example: Imagine you are angry with your wife, but dealing with your wife is a very big chore. She’s “difficult” or downright aggressive. So, you “disappear” for a time, thus avoiding conflict. If you just happen to disappear when the two of you are scheduled to go somewhere, you have also made her angry. In this case, you did it indirectly in the service of avoiding conflict. Pretty slick. You accomplished two things at once, were responsible for neither and no one was the wiser.
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