Two weeks ago I told you that Donald Trump is a reminder that anger isn’t always bad. In fact, anger can be our friend when we practice embracing it, understanding it, then learning how to express it with calm and vulnerability.
Well, there is another side to anger.
Anger isn’t always healthy. Sometimes it pulls unhappy people together into a cauldron of intense and addictive poison.
This isn’t just in politics. I’m talking about how anger sometimes masquerades as healthy self-expression but only leads to resentment and destruction.
Here’s what makes anger all-too-often seductive and deadly:
- Anger makes us confuse intensity for intimacy. When I watch clients closely, I repeatedly see how people use anger to activate powerful emotions in their partner. It brings them momentary joy. Anger becomes the last way to trigger an intense reaction in their partner. It is as if they conclude, “If I can’t get you to respond to me in love, at least I can get you to respond in hurt or anger.” It is similar to intimacy. Only it is emotionally deadly. Kind of like the way poison berries in the forest taste good. Until they kill us. Same with anger.
- Anger makes us feel alive and powerful. Anger releases feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and adrenaline into the bloodstream, like taking cocaine and pain-killers at once. That is why anger is both attractive and addictive.
- Anger numbs unwanted feelings, like guilt. Next time you screw up notice the temptation to get angry about something as a distraction.
This nuclear-powered combination explains how anger can quickly infiltrate then kill good relationships.
It also exposes how anger can come to dominate a political season. Political analysts agree that Trump supporters seem united by longstanding feelings of anger and political powerlessness.
So, let’s start doing our relationships (and politics) without the poison of excessive anger. Here’s how:
- Try expressing the underlying hurt directly. Anger usually signals hurt feelings. See if, rather than getting angry, you can say “What hurt me about that was…”
- Try making a request. Anger is often a request in disguise. Ask yourself what you want or need and try asking for it directly.
- Break the cycle by understanding others’ anger. Remember, a true mark of maturity is when someone hurts you and you choose to understand them rather than just hurt them back.
Once you understand when anger is poisoning you, it will transform how you relate to people. Not only will you be able to use your angry feelings for good, but you will be able to understand your emotions and intentions on a deeper level and, ultimately, drastically improve your awareness of yourself and others.