“My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” – Chief Joseph – Nez Perce of the Wallowa Valley in Northwest Oregon.
Anger is as unavoidable as the weather. We can not stop rain and we can not stop anger. But like the weather, how we chose to interact with anger determines how healthy and durable we are. There are two ways to express anger: directly or indirectly.
Expressing anger indirectly is NEVER productive. That is called passive aggression.
Passive aggression is an invisible killer, like a toxic mold, that silently destroys joy and harmony.
Indirect expression of anger is a profound misunderstanding of how communication works and is deeply negligent. It is also nearly impossible to identify and even harder to confront and put an end to. Passive aggression occurs when you or someone else expresses anger through actions without verbal explanations. Actions without communication lead to misunderstanding and confusion and more anger.
Learning how to identify passive-aggressive behavior in ourselves and others will heal the world. Most people are not aware they are being passive aggressive. They have simply been brought to the mistaken conclusion that there is no way out of their frustration and so that frustration leeks out in seemingly unrelated ways as an irresponsible foggy malaise of hostility. We all do this. The key to stopping passive aggression is in developing the ability to believe and expect resolution. Believe it is possible to communicate with the ones we care about- or even humanity at large. Expect that people will be reasonable if we can approach them in a calm, courageous manner. It is when we fall into hopeless negativity that we resort to passive forms of expressing ourselves. Improve expectations. It takes the same amount of energy to be a negative person as it does to be a positive person. You chose which direction you move up or down the spiral of reality.
Even if someone has behaved passive-aggressively towards you it is in your own best interest not to reciprocate in kind. Do not perpetuate the cycle of silent revenge. Speak directly about the situation, about how you feel. It is likely that the person you are confronting will say something like, “What are you talking about?”
Anger is an energy. It is not a solid object. It is therefore easy for people to deny and nearly impossible to prove in someone if they refuse to admit being angry. Don’t be surprized if someone dodges or denies your effort to get things out in the open. And don’t be tricked into defeat if they refuse to acknowledge the truth of what you are saying. If you sense someone is angry, this is not debatable. Tension is tension. Know that you do know what you are sensing and be brave in your attempts to address the invisible subtext of a situation.
If words fail you, just reconnect to the core desire- which is communication and connection- and say, “I can’t put my finger on it, but I just feel something is wrong.” This invites the other person to help find words for the situation.
If you happen to be the passive aggressive one- (which is 50% of the time) ask yourself, do you want to be understood or do you just want to keep fighting? Think of the desire for retaliation as if it were a poison ivy rash. The itch is never satisfied and only leads to more itching until eventually the only action we can take is to stop scratching.
Resolve to fight no more forever.
Dropping the anger about being misunderstood will ironically facilitate a willingness on the other person’s part to understand you better. When we expect and demand to be understood, we force people into defense.
People are not here to please us or make us feel good. No one has any obligations to be something for someone else. We must all follow our own evolution of truth. If I please you at some point, that is a gift. If I displease you we have reached the limits of our common ground and must respect our differences.
Expressing anger directly can be productive or destructive depending on how skilled we are at dulling the sharp edges that cut and hurt others. It is not possible to not hurt people. Human beings are sharp dangerous objects moving through time and space. We must dance and dodge and guard against even the ones who love us most. To sustain trusting, protective connections it is necessary to teach each other how to receive and withstand our times of anger.
We can not prevent anger. We an only weather the storms when anger happens. Anger is an invitation into deeper understanding. But it is hard to remember this because the experience of anger is so painful we often need to get rid of it as fast as possible. We are tricked into thinking that expressing ourselves in the moment will lead to relief. But doing so often makes other people feel attacked.
There are two skills we can learn to diminish how painful our experience of anger is. First, we can learn how to burn with anger without expressing it right away. This is the equivalent of a dancer taking charge of his body to perform with maximum power and precision.
Anger is just a large amount of energy. Letting that energy flow out as it rises up is not the best use of it. Building an inner container for it to access as reserves can lead to astounding success. Most things in life do not need our immediate attention. Some things do and they are brief. Most situations can occur at a slower pace than anger might drive us towards so don’t let anger drive you to action.
If you find yourself filled with rage, set a command to do nothing. Sit with the rage. Remove yourself and burn. You may think your anger makes you more powerful and more effective. It does not. Being overwhelmed by any emotion, be it anger, sadness, jealousy, even joy- weakens your communication skills. If overwhelmed, do not proceed. Retreat to a still place, preferably outside.
The second skill in learning how to diminish the painful effects of anger are to learn how to handle another person’s anger without getting angry back.
Most fights are caused because one person gets angry at someone and that someone gets angry about having someone get angry at them. Getting angry that someone is angry with you creates an impasse. If someone is angry with you – remember- you are not in physical danger. If someone is angry with you- remember- this can only signify that they have connected to you and long to be recognized and understood regarding some issue between you. We do not get angry with people we care nothing about. Anger is an indication of care. The opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy. When there is anger, there is care. There is a connection. When we get angry at large concepts like the government or public figures, we are actually experiencing how much we care about our country or a given issue represented by a public figure.
If it were possible to not get angry humans would have figured out how by now. It is not possible to not get angry. Repressing anger is deadly. Humanity is now faced with an urgent need to learn how to express anger constructively and how to receive another person’s anger without generating more to the situation.
How you navigate anger is as unique as your signature. It is an evolving process that is best made conscious. I wish you courage and clarity in this noble endeavor.