“One man may be so placed that his anger sheds the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at. But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both. Each has done something to himself which, unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it. Each of them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again: each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not. The bigness or smallness of the thing, seen from the outside, is not what really matters.”
~CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
But not Anger. We don’t talk about anger, it is impolite and inappropriate conversation. Instead we pretend like anger doesn’t really happen and we go about our business hiding it behind our beautifully decorated front doors.
Let me help, my name is Rachael and I get angry.
Anger is what happens when we feel threatened. When someone or something has crossed our stated or assumed personal boundaries without our permission, we feel angry.
Our response to anger is what matters. As Lewis indicates people either chose to retaliate through violence OR stuff it down and people judge them as foolish.
As adults many of us have learned how to appropriately deal with anger. We exercise or journal or pray. We confront our anger and work through our belief of right and wrong. We are motivated by our anger to find solutions, clarify our boundaries and even seek forgiveness. We leave most experiences of anger more committed to who we are and what we believe.
The Difficult Mind in my life does not understand anger. Anger means retaliation. In my sons mind “I’m angry” equals “I have to fight for my own justice.”
So why doesn’t the Difficult Mind understand anger? Look at our definition of anger. Anger happens when we feel threatened. The Difficult Mind has an extremely limited emotional vocabulary. The Difficult Mind does not have the words or social skills to be able to create and explain their personal boundaries to people. They can not actually tell you what does and doesn’t make them feel threatened.
Look at it another way. The Difficult Mind does not know what makes them angry, they can not connect how they feel to the environment around them.
Case and point: My daughter and son are playing Legos, she lines up three Lego figures and my son explodes.
Son: “I HATE PLAYING LEGOS WITH YOU”, throws his Legos and stomps off.
Mom: I calmly follow him and ask “What did your sister do to make you angry?”
Son: NOTHING. I just don’t like playing with her.
Mom: Did she take something you wanted or needed?
Mom: Did she say something that made you mad?
Son: No. She was just humming.
Mom: Why did you scream, throw your Legos and leave?
Son (through tears): I just don’t like being around my sisters. They always want to play royalty and I don’t want to play royalty. I always have to do what they want to do.
The anger and following retaliation really had nothing to do with the Legos. My son was probably having an okay time playing Legos. What was making him angry wasn’t even his sisters humming. His anger was born out of a desire to play something he wanted to play an hour earlier. By letting his initial frustration go undefined as anger, it grew and grew until it exploded.
The issue is even deeper than not getting his way. The real anger issue is that he doesn’t feel valued. He doesn’t feel like anyone wants him. He feels both alone and discarded simultaneously, yet he lacks the social knowledge and emotional language to deal with those moments as they happen.
Practically what does this mean?
We deal with a lot of retaliation. This comes in the form of violence, yelling and refusal.
We work on giving our son the language to express his anger. This is partly what therapy helps us with, developing a vocabulary of emotional language.
We struggle with consequences. Anger and then retaliation become a coping mechanism not just an act of defiance. When anger is seen as a coping mechanism consequences become harder to engage and carry through. We don’t want him to stop coping, we just want to see him be able to do it in a healthy way.
We abide in a world that requires patience, self control and most of all love. Our actions speak louder than our words. If no vocabulary exists for communication our actions are all we have left.
I chose to quote Lewis because it reminds me of what happens when we don’t engage our anger in the right way. When we chose retaliation or denial instead of reconciliation and love, anger does more than create external problems, it darkens our internal soul.
Celebrate the healthy path of anger today. Appreciate that you have a language and social understanding of anger. Commit to reconciliation and love. And if you think about it, pray for our son, his road with anger continues to be long and dark, yet we hope that love will ultimately shine through.
“Hope and sorrow in it all there’s rescue and there’s not.”
There’s Rescue: We have gone from living in unexplained violence to growing an emotional vocabulary with each other. It seems like such a small thing but with each new understood emotion, love shines a little more.
There’s Not: We are far from managing the retaliation that we face every day. It can be discouraging.
Today I am thankful for the ability to understand and work through anger. I am grateful to be loved in such a way that I am able to grow through anger and not be swallowed by darkness.