Jim C. Hines (jimhines) wrote,
Jim C. Hines


Iin one of the many comment threads over the weekend, someone asked me to elaborate on my thoughts about anger. Mostly, this goes back to my time as an undergrad, mumble years ago. I went through a two-weekend, 60-hour training program so I could volunteer at a local crisis center. Then another 30 hours of sexual assault counseling training, and then 30 more to get trained as a trainer, after which I led more 30-hour and 60-hour programs, because I was just that masochistic. The training was intense, and I got a lot of good things out of it. One of the lessons that had the most impact was about anger.

I hate confrontation. At some point growing up, I learned two responses to people getting pissed off at me: either get away, or else get pissed right back. Fight or flight, basically. I don't think I'm alone in this, but for purposes of this post, I'm going to try to stick with talking about me.

Enter training. When you're learning to deal with people in crisis, you have to learn to deal with intense emotions, including anger. Anger at the man who raped you. Anger at the disease slowly killing your mother. Anger at the friend who shot himself last week. And sometimes, anger directed squarely at you as the counselor. In order to be a decent counselor, I had to learn a whole new response to anger. I had to learn to listen to it.

That's a hell of a lot easier said than done. One of the most common reactions in the beginning of training is to try to make the caller feel better ... mostly because we're scared of the anger and the other intense emotions, and by fixing them, we won't have to deal with them anymore. But eventually I started to figure out that anger wasn't going to hurt me. That someone could be yelling and swearing at me, and I could respond with an acknowledgement of that anger and an invitation to talk about it. That actually listening could go a long way. Not eliminating the anger, but allowing it to move forward and become a conversation. Once I got to that point, the anger lost a lot of its power over me. It became okay for other people to feel anger, because it's just an emotion. A powerful one, sure. But when it comes to emotions, you have the right to feel whatever you feel.

Anger isn't something to be fixed. It's okay to feel it, and it's okay to be on the receiving end. It's there for a reason, and trying to shut it down is only going to shut down the conversation (and most of the time piss the other person off even more).

I don't claim to have mastered any of this. Not even close. I still have a hard time when my wife and I fight. I tend to be more interested in fixing her anger or shutting it down. (You can guess how well that works.) At work when someone gets pissed at me, my first impulse is to smack them down, to prove they're wrong, and also that I'm better/smarter/whatever, so they can just bite me. (I mostly manage to keep that in check, I think. Mostly.) Online? Yeah, this is me.

There's a lot of anger out there on the blogosphere, and it's there for a reason. And there are certainly times when anger can lead to abusive behavior. I'm not trying to tell anyone how to respond to that anger or where to set their boundaries. It's not my place. And LJ is a different environment from the crisis center, with different rules and roles and expectations. But I will offer that there are alternatives to fighting or trying to shut that anger down, and that for me, one of the most empowering things I learned 15 years ago was how to accept and listen to other people's anger.

Superpowers, by David J. Schwartz
Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy
Red Hood's Revenge

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