I confess. Insisting instead that I am emulating my calm, happy panda face, all the while (through gritted teeth, flared nostrils and heavy breathing) – the red-faced tiger within, is fighting to be unleashed in self-defence.
There are interesting insights in the book “The Anger Fallacy: Uncovering the irrationality of the angry mindset” by Steven Laurent and Ross G Menzies.
Some of the takeaway messages from the book have been useful in understanding this often-misunderstood emotion.
- ‘Venting’ doesn’t help cleanse or purge angry feelings. It can aggravate and reinforce aggressive behaviour. It can be inflammatory and can emotionally charge a conversation.
- Stopping to acknowledge our own feelings of anger rather than ignoring, denying or supressing it can show a degree of humility and wisdom. We can begin to reflect, articulate and have a chance to re-think our thoughts and actions. When new information comes to light, frustration, irritation and anger can be defused without unnecessarily needing to express it.
Specialist help may be needed in some more complex, important problems that have been ignored because of other underlying feelings of guilt or shame.
- In heightened moments of anger, reasoning and negotiation fuels rather than tames. Telling someone to “relax” and “breathe” can agitate and exacerbate.
- “The long-term effects of anger are definitely more than the sum of its short-term effects” (pg. 55). The effects of anger may be subtle, hard to notice in the short term but can result in damaging effects on relationships and increased health risks (e.g. hypertension and heart disease) in the long term.
- Anger most often occurs in relationships. It can motivate ‘vengefulness, revenge, retaliation and retribution’ which is often not what we value, desire or intend.
- Anger interferes with our ability to solve problems; it can reinforce rigid and inflexible thinking. It can shift the attention on external blame which can impede learning and personal growth.
The fortune cookie message for me is that Anger can be tamed by empathy.
Empathy is learning to recognise our own assumptions and viewpoints that may be different from others. Anger is influenced by our attitudes and interpretations. It can be shaped by our learning history, programmed by our past experiences. Rather than defending our own behaviour or perspective, empathy is about first “getting into the skin” of the other and understanding their emotions.
…For us humans to cultivate doubt and check our own assumptions when in our heart we feel we are right... (pg. 248). Empathy is not easy and takes effort and practice. It can only be described as “superhuman.” But we do have the capacity for compassion and understanding.
All of this genuinely feeds my smiling panda and soothes that inner tiger.