Anger – Temporary Madness?
Years ago I produced a program that helped children deal with their anger, and it was interesting to look back at that work about this idea of ‘madness' and how my studies have influenced my thinking on this subject.
I understand that when we are angry, we lose access to our rational, cognitive brain. Anger describes a stress response to the clash between your expectations and the environment, and this stress take us into the fight, flight, freeze realm particularly that of the fight. It is the unrealistic expectations that are at the heart of this ‘mad’ response that dominate the high levels of anger we see from those students who have been the subject of early abuse or neglect.
These kids can have very distorted expectations that are underpinned by their faulty belief. For them, if things are to be fair, they must be perfect. These kids project their anger externally and blame their environment. This externalization is a classic response from those who carry large doses of toxic shame.
The other end of this scale comes for kids who have low personal expectations. Because they expect to fail, their frustration turns in on their sense of self; their anger is driven by the expectations of their internal environment. They get very angry with themselves.
The modern setting for the expression of anger for school kids is on social media. ‘In my day' that is in the ‘olden days’, anger was dealt with in the playground. Rarely a lunchtime went by without a fight of some kind. These were almost but not exclusively between boys, and the occasional girl's fight was a cause of much excitement. This gender bias reflects the reality that boys act out with their frustrations and girls internalize.
Since those 'bad old days,' the schoolyard has become a much more peaceful place or at least we have become better at stopping this violence. But now it seems it is the girls’ turn to act on their anger through social media. This difference between physical and psychological abuse makes me think about that proverb – sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Not true; all attacks, physical or psychological will hurt all but those with the personal power to withstand either form of attack.
I understand that the motives behind the nasty comments found in the many social comments are complicated and are dealt with elsewhere in our blog but this Newsletter aims to provide advice on how to deal with the anger comments can raise
Too often the advice given is to just ignore them. It is difficult to overlook nasty comments designed to hurt or insult your sense of self. Teachers at every level are subjected to such comments from upset children and more increasingly irate parents. This growing phenomenon is becoming a real work/health issue in the profession and one that does not seem to be going away. So what to do?
My fallback position when being ‘attacked' always has to examine my boundaries. These simple sets are:
- Remain as calm as you can be. Always remember that as your stress levels raise, your ability to think declines when you are stressed, and anger management is a cognitive exercise.
- Ask yourself ‘what is really going on here'? In the program, I devised I referred to this as asking if the anger was justified or unjustified. What I now do is ask:
- What is really going on?
- Who is responsible?
- If the answer is that I'm responsible, then I must take action to address the conditions that have resulted in the other person being ‘justifiably' angry with me. If the answer is the other person is responsible and my anger is ‘justified’ then things become much more cerebral.
- I now need to ask myself – ‘what do I want to have happen in the long run’? Any long-range thinking requires a calm mind. The more we descend into the fight/flight way of thinking the shorter the time horizon becomes. These actions are designed for instant realization.
- When you have worked out what you need to do then implement your plan.
The very last step is to ‘let go' of your anger. This 'letting go' is not as simple as putting your feelings aside. Whenever you do become angry, your body prepares for a physical response – fight or flight. That energy includes a lot of physiological tension, and if you leave this unexpressed, it will have a detrimental effect on your health. So after you have dealt with the cerebral garbage you need to discharge this ‘energy', this physical garbage. If you are lucky enough you can involve yourself in some sporting activity such as take a run or play a game of tennis but at school, the opportunities are not so available.
I have found that something as simple as screwing a towel or a jumper up as tight as I can and focusing my energy on that exercise helps enormously. I sometimes indulge in a bit of unprofessional quietly whispering unprofessional profanities. Not cool but sometimes this helps.
Above all, be charitable in how you feel about the others in this situation. When you forgive you are giving that gift to yourself. It is a bonus if the other person also accepts your kind offer.