The roots of the word “Anger” are in the ideas of Distress, Sorrow, Grief and Affliction. A far cry from the road rage motorist or the violent husband. Yet when one stops to think about it, the connection is more obvious. In today’s Thought for the Day on Radio 4, Dr. Sam Wells spoke about two causes of violence.
“There are two aspects to violence. One is fantasy. The fantasy of violence supposes that all opposition, disagreement or subversion can be overcome through degrees of obliteration, and the threat of them… the other aspect of violence is oblivion. By oblivion I mean the deliberate removal of oneself from conscious, rational, relational existence.”
I think it is legitimate to swop “anger” for “violence”. Particularly since one so often spawns the other. (I am not talking here about ordinary, everyday anger which we all know about and which, mostly, fades quickly. I am talking about the near psychotic levels of rage which is unthinking and dangerous to all. Often exhibited by young men in their cars.) What lies behind out-of-control anger is so often a feeling of impotence, inadequacy and emptiness. I was talking with someone recently about anger and its purpose. It became apparent that they had used anger to keep the world at bay. If nobody could get close, there was no risk of vulnerability. After a while he commented “I’ve spent forty years building a prison for myself.” I had to agree.
The image that comes to mind in working with anger management is that of a besieged castle. I understand that in a siege it was sometimes uncertain who would run out of rations first. The besieged or the besiegers. Problematic anger seems to follow a similar pattern. One is angry at being unloved and uncared about, so uses anger to keep these difficult feelings at bay. Which creates a vicious cycle, of course. Eventually most terrorist groups end up talking directly to those whom they are fighting. (Presumably at some point even Isis will end up talking directly with those whom they hate. The classic case in the UK is the IRA)
The image at the top of this blog is of an emissary with a truce flag. Sooner or later envoys have to meet and risk talking to the enemy. This is true of the inner world. At some point we have to send out an emissary to engage with the external world. It’s a risky business! If I allow my defences to come down even briefly, what will happen? If I stop being angry at everyone and begin to talk and listen, where will it end? Will I be exploited? This is the work of Anger Management. To negotiate a truce between the warring parties and allow a conversation to happen. Albeit in this case a conversation between different parts of myself. From here it might be possible to start a conversation with the outside world. And who knows were this might lead?