Humanizing Anger By Laxmi Parmeswar, MA, MS, LPC
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The most common emotion that is primary in every person that comes for counseling is anger. Whether it is overt, covert, masked or disguised as something else, it is usually intense and debilitating. It can be excruciating, compromise our daily functioning and get us in trouble socially, emotionally and even legally!
But let’s not forget that anger is not always negative. Even though it is classified as one of the seven deadly sins, anger exists even in infants. A baby cries uncontrollably when s/he is hungry and the saying, ‘only a crying child gets milk’ has some value to it. Anger can propel us to positive change too. If Mahatma Gandhi was not outraged at how he was treated in South Africa, history may have been a little different! Anger has fueled social justice & progress, community movements, policy shifts, and transformed countries all around the globe.
Anger is complex; it can be episodic, and/or dispositional. It can lead to hostility, aggression, terrorism and wars. If you pick up any newspaper or read news articles, there is an overwhelming evidence of anger in contemporary times AND History of course, is testimony to the destructive power of anger.
BUT anger is universal, is connected to self-preservation in animals and humans, exists in all cultures, has a brain chemistry or neurological aspect to it, is sometimes a source of creative expression & works of art, and WE MUST CLAIM IT! Only then will we understand it; and learn how to live with it, cope with it; and not be overpowered by the negative behavioral aspects of anger.
It is easy to get caught up in the web of anger. When society puts so much pressure on us to look a certain way, act a certain way, show off our possessions, have a great job, have a great family and be successful, rich and famous at all times, how does one not succumb to anger and experience its devastating consequences to our health and emotional well-being?!?
BUT we can and we must. There is both a nature and nurture component to how we express anger. The therapeutic process, regardless of one’s diagnosis, facilitates an inward journey to unravel our anger- to understand its origins in childhood; what are the personal triggers and patterns of expressing our anger & why; AND most importantly, how to correct these recurring patterns, identify & take responsibility for our feelings and make choices about how we express anger.
Whether it is responding to a driver cutting you off on the road, or losing a game, or being poor, or dealing with a difficult boss, an abusive relationship, an unhappy childhood, or returning from war, looking inward and making conscious choices is a smart way to begin this long journey towards personal peace and authentic joy.