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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


( 57 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 11th, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
Active listening is a tricky business. I went through dozens of hours of crisis line training, and I still have to beat down my insticts to "help" by "fixing" what's wrong in the other person.

Mar. 11th, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)
Yep :-) And heck, sometimes I think offering a possible solution is a good thing. But a lot of the time, we jump right to the fix because we want to skip all of that listening and emotion stuff.
(no subject) - michaeldthomas - Mar. 11th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
Good post - helpful.

*<3 that XKCD - soo me, at time! Lol.

*Do you find yourself using this as yet another tool to use in your writing, and for your characters to use, as well? (I do that kind of thing, and suspect other writers do so, too.)

*Nice word count! Not too long before first revision, then?
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
This particular piece doesn't come up very often, because to be honest, very few of my characters tend to be that in touch with their own emotions and reactions. But for the right character, it works.

And thanks! I'm expecting to have this draft done by the end of the month. Maybe sooner. It's gonna be short, but it will give me something to work with.
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
As a certified fruitcake, I can tell you flat out that if you try to make me feel better, I'll get pissed as hell. I don't want to feel better. I want to know that my anger and hurt is justified and it's okay for me to feel it.

My DH often does not respond when I'm on a rant. That makes me even madder. I tell him to say "Yeah, they're crap." "You have every right to be mad." "Do you want me to hunt them down and run them over with my dually? (thank you, dear friend, who actually drives a dually).

I need to know that my anger and hurt is justified. I'm right to feel maligned. Telling me everything is hunky-dory is fruitless.

Counselors are not taught the right things to say. Trust me. I'm a raging maniac.

Fortunately, I keep my angst at home. Don't enrage me further by soothing. I NEED to be mad.

Other than that, I'm just fine.
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
"I don't want to feel better. I want to know that my anger and hurt is justified and it's okay for me to feel it."

Yes. That. And trying to fix my anger or make it go away tells me that the other person's comfort is more important than whatever it is I'm dealing with right now.
(no subject) - marycatelli - Mar. 11th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 11th, 2009 11:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Mar. 11th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 11th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Mar. 11th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 11th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Mar. 11th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Mar. 11th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 11th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Mar. 11th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Mar. 11th, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 11th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)
I hope so. It's something I've thought about off and on for years, mostly when dealing with online fights and arguments. (And very often it's to remind myself, because I forget a lot :-)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
I have a degree in counseling, and I STILL want to fix everything. And anger still scares me.
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:40 am (UTC)
Fear is an emotion too. Being scared is just as valid as being angry. But for me, listening to the anger also helps me to get past my own fear.

I'm such a touchy-feely emotion guy tonight :-)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - melissajm - Mar. 11th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
*rueful laughter* I was raised by a pack of renegade social workers (really: my after-school hangout was the back office of a YM-WHA where my mom worked, where an MSW was apparently an employment requirement) and by the time I was ten I'd gotten "I hear you" enough to last a lifetime.

I have a slow-building but hot-burning temper, and once I do get angry I don't want soothing agreement or a calmly dispassionate assessment; I want someone who'll stomp up and down with me until I run out of steam and start to laugh at myself and the situation equally. Over the years I've learned to "fast-forward" to that point, thereby saving hundreds of dollars a year on antacids, but it's a mindful thing, not instinctive.

I would make a lousy Buddhist.
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)
"I hear you" can be a good thing, but sometimes someone to stomp with is a lot better :-)
(no subject) - suricattus - Mar. 11th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 11th, 2009 11:54 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)
Anyway, I heard that you get mad at them, so easily.
Did they say something mean to you?
Mar. 11th, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
Never mind.
Mar. 11th, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
In the past, I disliked anger in others, but even more in myself. I hated getting angry and tried to avoid it whenever possible.

However, after doing The Artist's Way, I no longer feel that way. There is a whole section on anger in that program, and what I learned is that anger is fuel. When are we more likely going to change an intolerable situation, when we're hot about it, or when we are lukewarm?

Now, when I'm angry, I no longer fear it. I allow myself to fully feel the anger (not acting on it, if I can help it). Then I just say, "What needs changing, here?"
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 11th, 2009 11:55 am (UTC)
It was a great program. Dysfunctional in a few ways, but overall I learned an awful lot.
Mar. 11th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
This was a very very insightful, helpful post. Thank you.
Mar. 11th, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
Depression is supposed to be anger unexpressed. I have a punching bag I used to hit a lot. I've been meaning to put it up for caridovascular reasons but also to de-stress.

I did action painting in college. We took house paint, it's cheaper, and threw it on drop cloths to get that Jackson Pollock style. It's visceral, like martial arts or surf boarding etc. etc. and was fun too.

You can turn the anger into passion with creativity. Sometimes writing is too passive if the anger is too intense, so a punching bag helps. There is a way to punch correctly to avoid injury. The boxing way is very cathartic.

Journaling the anger is good too.

First,write out why are you angry and at what or whom?

Then you can express the anger calmly.

This "type of behavior, action etc." makes me feel angry because it hurts my or me etc. etc. Tell the person or if you can't write it down and then burn it.

Or you can express it in artwork or writing and maybe even get paid for it:o)
Mar. 11th, 2009 02:06 am (UTC)
Very interesting post. Well said. Have you ever thought of becoming a writer?

I am a Wiccan high priestess (think of it like being a minister--people often come to me when they are dealing with difficulty) and a professional tarot reader (ditto). I also have a "day job" juggling 50 artists in a cooperative. Say it with me, people: oy.

I have learned over the years that the hardest thing to do in the face of anger or sorrow or everyday frustration is to just listen. It is often also one of the most valuable. Think about how rare it is to have anyone truly listen to you. When faced with anger, first I try to listen and sometimes agree (yes, that sucks, they suck, etc.). When the rant gets around to the second or third round (and it almost always does), then I try to talk the person down enough so they can listen back, and THEN I try to fix it :-)
Mar. 11th, 2009 02:23 am (UTC)
That's nice that a lot of folks here are counselors. Most people have small ears and big mouths. I used to be that way. It's a hard skill to learn to listen but it's like moving a step up from being a baby when you open up your ears.

If I were to make a metal sculpture about anger it would be huge and black inside with jagged, spiky red leaves on the outside. Like Jim said, I'd be mad if someone tried to fix it or diminish it, the sculpture or the anger. The anger comes from hurt and it's valid but the anger doesn't have to be re-expressed by the hurt person to hurt back the person who hurt them. It can stop there and be expressed in a healthy way. It doesn't even have to be expressed toward the person who hurt them if that person is too sick and confused to understand.
Mar. 11th, 2009 02:57 am (UTC)
It's so tough sometimes in my job to understand/do this. I'm a nurse, and a lot of the times, i have to just say, "Well yes, this does suck. Quite a lot. I'm sorry." to patients and their friends and families...because there's no way to fix things, and i can't ever ever negate them. It's changed a lot about the way i deal with conflict in my personal life, too. It takes a strange kind of strength to just listen.
Mar. 11th, 2009 11:57 am (UTC)
I imagine it has to be even harder in the medical profession, where a lot of patients do expect you to be able to fix everything, and where the stakes can be so high.
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Jim C. Hines


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