When is anger helpful? Could "having a temper" really be a symptom of emotional repression?
- "He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can life amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust." -- Thomas Aquinas
- There's some disagreement about whether this idea or quotation is accurately attributed to Thomas Aquinas, but that's beside my point; I'm more interested in dissecting the idea.
- Anger can be extremely emotionally dysregulating and encourage rationalization of itself, creating a vicious cycle.
- The subconscious identifications and subconsciously integrated value judgments leading to an instance of anger may be wrong.
- Example: Getting angry at kids or pets when they frustrate your desires because we impute a bad motive, rather than recognizing that they are doing the best that they can and are attempting to achieve a value.
- Anger is often not really about the stimulus, but about one's own previous baggage or some more abstract idea.
- Example: My own fury about bad UX in apps and websites is not about the concrete inconvenience of the bad experience (otherwise, my reaction would be wildly uncalibrated in magnitude), but more my reaction to things like my passion for good UX, pride on one's work, etc.
- Anger's usefulness is dubious, given that the typical intensity of its manifestation represents a severe limbic system hijack that undermines the ability to reason about a situation in the most accurate and effective way.
- Anger can naturally and effortlessly dissipate when recognizing that people are generally doing the best that they can (a type of assuming positive intent), believing in your bones that people's interests are fundamentally harmonious, and dropping our cultural obsession with good versus evil.
- "Imagine you are walking in the woods and you see a small dog sitting by a tree. As you approach it, it suddenly lunges at you, teeth bared. You are frightened and angry. But then you notice that one of its legs is caught in a trap. Immediately your mood shifts from anger to concern: You see that the dog's aggression is coming from a place of vulnerability and pain. This applies to all of us. When we behave in hurtful ways, it is because we are caught in some kind of trap. The more we look through the eyes of wisdom at ourselves and one another, the more we cultivate a compassionate heart." - Tara Brach, True Refuge
It seems to me that "has a temper" and "anger management problem" are superficial characterizations that have the force of being dispositive, like they're some unchangeable, irreducible primary that describes a person's fundamental nature.
- What would a compassionate approach to understanding someone's anger reveal?
- Is chronic anger (and uncalibrated angry outbursts) really a function of something that's maybe a result of a different stressor?
- I'm not talking about anger that's properly calibrated to a perceived injustice or harm, but anger that seems "out of the blue" or disproportionate to the stimulus. Could it reveal that a person is repressing the expression of emotions more broadly, which then ends up manifesting as angry outbursts because of the impracticality of trying to bottle things up?
- Could it reveal opportunities for self-reflection, growth, and the development of skills to rumble with difficult emotions and learn how to be more emotionally expressive in general (in a constructive and kind way), preventing the build up of pressure that ends up only getting "relief" through hurting other people?
- Are angry outbursts sometimes a manifestation of compassion fatigue, ruinous empathy, and a failure to engage in authentic self-expression (instead engaging in self-suppression)?
- What is the connection to "micro-corrections" in a proper feedback model, rather than waiting until you're driving into a ditch and jerk the wheel?
- What is the connection to prioritizing play, fun, and joy? Could a failure of pursuing those manifest in a sort of anhedonia that compromises resilience to life's stressors, which then build up and explode as angry outbursts?
- What is the connection to psychotropic drugs that are typically used in psychiatric contexts to manage anxiety/depression (such as SSRIs)?
- When in the grips of emotional turmoil, why do some people take out their frustration on others, while other people end up manifesting more kindness and compassion?
- How is this related to the yo-yo effect of the "doormat" parenting style? (And are "doormat" and "authoritarian" really the same phenomenon, but in different proportions at different times?)
- How is anger connected to frustration or annoyance? What is the role of injustice? Is there a meaningful difference between "anger at" and "anger that"?
- If anger is fundamentally a response to identifying something as an injustice...
- what is the connection to the natural disposition to "fuck their shit up" versus being more conciliatory or deescalating?
- is it possible to "fight" against an injustice with love in your heart, rather than needing anger to be impelled to action?
- how can you reconcile anger with believing that people are generally doing the best that they can (assuming positive intent)?
- what is the connection to good versus evil?