Being Constructively Angry is a challenge that faces all of us when we feel anger about some person, event or thing that doesn't 'fit' with how we feel the world should be.
The concept and experience of anger is very similar to that of conflict in that people will often see it as a 'bad' thing and a 'wrong' emotion to have rather than see that those associations of 'badness' or 'wrongness' are more as a result of how people can sometimes express their anger - in a way that is destructive, violent or abusive.
What anger shares with conflict therefore is a 'bad reputation' because both anger and conflict are inevitable and natural occurrences, but what will sometimes be bad or negative are the responses to anger and conflict and it is this 'guilt by association' that gives a negative reputation to both.
What is overlooked is that most of us are constructively angry at different times and this article and accompanying videos intends to show some of the ways in which we express anger constructively so that the reader can draw upon that understanding when needed.
By using this understanding it is possible to become more conscious, more mindful of how we can be constructively angry in situations where, at first, we have not been so creative, when things seem to just get worse rather than better, or where the same experience keeps happening.
The main features of any situation where someone has been destructively angry would seem to be the following:
Violence - physically attacking someone as a consequence of feeling anger, perhaps in 'revenge' for something they have done or we believe they have done to us either directly or indirectly.
Abuse - using abusive terms that convey little useful information that can help that person or persons to understand what it was that led to anger arising in the person being abusive.
Destruction - perhaps vandalism or destroying of property or objects as a way of expressing anger in a physical way that may be a substitute for being violent or may occur alongside being violent.
Destructive expression of anger will normally remain at the level of abuse and only in particular circumstances move on to vandalism and violence. Often the expression of anger through abuse is seen as 'acceptable' even though it serves little or no purpose in helping to create learning and change in relation to the situation that led to the arising of anger within the person, or persons concerned.
Even in protests against violence and destruction it can still be the case that those who object to these more severe expressions of anger will resort to abuse in criticising the people they are protesting against. If we are to be constructively angry there needs to be an awareness of all the ways of responding which are ineffective, not just the extreme expressions such as vandalism and violence.
Some may also point out that anger can be expressed destructively through simply 'cutting off' from someone by not speaking to them or by preventing them from accessing something whether it be material things or even love and attention, as some form of 'punishment' or revenge for an action taken. It's difficult to allocate exactly where in the 3 areas above of violence, abuse or destruction this would fit but in many ways it constitutes a level of self-destruction because to actively cut ourselves off from others can often be a painful behaviour to start and then maintain.
So, how can we, instead, be constructively angry?
How can we use the 'energy' of our anger to create learning and change in a situation so that we feel a sense of acceptance, or perhaps peace or resolution about it once that change has occurred?
The video above shows 6 things to keep in mind when feeling angry that help to channel our anger into a constructive way forward rather than one which is destructive and, consequently, will fail to help us create change.
The most important thing to acknowledge is that our feeling of anger is ours!
No one 'made' us feel angry. Anger arises within us as a consequence of experiencing an external event such as a person doing or saying something, an event or a thing that exists that we feel angry about. Often we will not acknowledge the significance of how saying something or someone 'makes us angry' leaves us powerless as it suggests others 'switch on' our anger and so there's nothing we can do to prevent that happening again and again in future. When we do own our anger, even if we wish it didn't come from within us, we can start to reflect on how we respond to the feeling and go on to create change, whether in the the outer event that we feel anger about or change in how we perceive it and interpret it from 'inside' ourselves which will then affect how we go on to act as a consequence.
Once we have acknowledged that our feeling of anger is ours we can then go on to use the following insights to help us be constructively angry:
1. Monitor yourself for any intention to abuse, destroy or be violent
In order to prevent returning to a destructive expression of our anger we need to monitor at all times whether our intended action is one of destruction, violence or abuse. This is because, however 'justified' we may feel such actions to be, they do not help us to create the change we want to happen, and will only lead to a distraction from that issue towards a consequence of the violence, destruction or abuse.
This can be a great personal challenge and so it may not be that we manage to avoid resorting to at least abuse if not destruction and violence in some cases. While some may say this is understandable in some situations, it can never be condoned or justified and serves no purposes towards our aim of improving our situation. As we have said elsewhere 'It is ok to make mistakes as long as we use them as opportunities for learning.'
2. Ask Questions and Listen in Order to Understand - Then Ask More Questions
Once we acknowledge our anger we can use it as a source of energy and determination to create change, and that change will arise when we question, listen to the answers in order to gain understanding.....and then go on to ask more questions, to increase our understanding even further.
Sometimes there may be a temptation to use questions as a weapon in order to 'catch out' the person being asked in order to defeat them in some way. While this is a common media interviewer practice on television and radio, it doesn't help us to understand more, it simply leads to defensiveness on the part of the person being asked the questions. That is likely to increase our anger and our frustration and we may believe it is because of the person's defensiveness, but if our questions are not focused on learning but on humiliating and catching out the person being asked the questions, we will have played our own part in that happening. See the following video for how to use open questions to enable a greater level of understanding:
3. Where Answers Don't Exist - Create Them!
Having asked questions we may come to understand that on some issues relating to the thing we feel angry about there may not be any answers that anyone can give. This gives us a choice. We can use the absence of answers to try to embarrass the people asked, claiming they 'should know' the answers even if they don't. Or we can see the absence of answers to be an opportunity to create answers that help towards improving the situation about which we felt our original anger.
Remember at all times that the energy and determination for keeping our focus on learning and understanding through questions and listening to the answers comes from our anger and is a constructive use of that anger. The more we come to understand about the situation, the more we can create effective change within it, and this is achieved through asking questions and then more questions and not through abuse, violence or destruction.
4.Be Clear About What You Want Others to Understand About Your Perspective and Communicate it to Them Effectively
We also want others to understand us and so we also need to be able to communicate effectively what we think and what we feel about the thing, person or event that we feel angry about. Again, we may instead be tempted to simply abuse those we feel have not taken on board what our concerns are....but abusing them distracts them and us away from effectively communicating our thoughts and feelings and ideas about what will help to improve things. So consider for yourself your own questions about what would help such as:
What do I want to happen in this situation that I feel angry about?
What would help that to come about?
What does this person/do these people need to know about my perspective on this, my experience of this happening, my ideas for what will improve things?
How will I communicate that effectively to them so that they are focused on what I say and not any distractions?
Will this be verbally, by letter, email, social media?...by some other means?
What will i do if my initial approach doesn't work or doesn't get through?
How can I use the energy of my anger to help me persist with this?
5. Ask For Help, But Not Through 'Guilt-Tripping'
Ask other people for help but don't direct your anger at them by 'guilt tripping' them as if they 'should' help you. This can happen in a lot of situations where people see themselves as promoting a 'social cause' which they feel angry about.
Unfortunately sometimes those involved in campaigns misdirect their anger towards people who don't want to help them as if they 'should' help them and their anger and frustration leads to a form of emotional blackmail.
How often have you been approached by someone in the street wanting you to support their cause with a question like 'Do you care about......?' which is meant to trap you into saying 'yes' or feeling guilty for saying 'no' because to say 'no' suggests you are saying you 'Don't care'. This can work to get perhaps a small donation or a small regular payment to the charity or cause they are promoting, but it doesn't really get the genuine wish to help from most people who are asked. Any support that comes out of a sense of guilt in the helper is unlikely to be sustainable.
Simply asking for help from people and explaining that you want to bring about some improvement or change in a situation is a simple, open way of drawing upon the energy of your anger in a constructive way. No manipulation or 'guilt tripping' is needed. If people say yes to helping you, great, if they say no, that's fine too.
Be wary of having an expectation of others to share your anger about the thing, person or event you feel angry about, as this again risks you misdirecting your expression of that anger towards them rather than towards creating change in the situation you are angry about.
6. Look Into Yourself For Answers, Not Only Outside Yourself At Others
Remember that your anger may have arisen in you because of your own misunderstanding of something, perhaps your own assumptions that prove in time to be wrong. Or it may be that you have had difficulty in coming to terms with something in the world around you being 'as it is' and the main change that will be needed is to find your own acceptance of that. So look within yourself when being constructively angry as well as outward to the person, event or thing that you feel angry about.
For example, someone may be angry with 'immigrants' or 'people who are gay', or 'rich people' and so, because they are not going be able to change that external fact about the world however much of their anger they put towards it, their questions about such issues will also need to acknowledge their own misperceptions about things as well as any they find in others of whom they ask questions.
This Link takes you to a webpage about someone who found the humility and strength to use her anger and sadness constructively in the face of terrible personal tragedy. Jo Berry's father was killed by an IRA bomb in 1982 at a Hotel in Brighton on the south coast of England. The bomb was intended to kill Margaret Thatcher. Jo has since dedicated her life to asking questions to try to understand and help others understand what leads to people being destructive with their anger and trying to help people be constructively angry, to use their difficult experiences to learn and grow and develop peaceful responses to tragedy.
Jo does this through sessions of dialogue with the person who planted the bomb that killed her father, Pat Magee, once known as 'The Brighton Bomber'.
Here's another link to a website with more information about Jo Berry and Pat Magee and many, many others who enter the challenge of being constructively anger following tragic events in their lives. The website is that of The Forgiveness Project.
Finally, here's an interview with Jo and Pat:
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