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Liz Hoggard: How to be angry effectively

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Thursday, 26 November 2009 at 04:24 pm

I have a problem with anger. Expressing it, that is. Instead of healthy open debate, I skulk around like a passive aggressive teen. I watch in awe as others explode. A fellow journalist smashes up his computer in the office. People think it manly if bonkers. Another colleague, cultivated, liberal, fills the air with expletives all day long. Indulgent smiles all round. What a character.

I know it's bad for to bottle resentment up. It makes you a low, thing of animal cunning. People, confused by your passivity, lose respect. Dates slip through your hands. Lazier friends start to take advantage. "Liz can get the bill, and I'll settle it with her later," says a serial offender.

We conflict-averse types can literally spend our entire lives creating and trying to sustain elaborate fictions to hide from others - and, not uncommonly, from ourselves.

And the bad news is repressed anger can kill you. According to new research published this week, by a team at Stockholm University in Sweden, men who fail to complain about unfair treatment at work by bosses or colleagues double their risk of heart attack or dying from heart disease.

Keeping things bottled up - sometimes called 'covert coping' - greatly increases the chance of developing symptoms like a headache or stomach ache. Major organs can stop working. The immune system breaks down. Your hair (never your strongest point) goes brittle and drops off.

Meanwhile the Angry Squad are rewarded. In fact having a blazing row at work could actually be GOOD for your heart.

So recently I have been trying to cultivate a more authentic angry voice. To express my real feelings (at work, with friends, in love). Books on "compassionate honesty" litter my office. "Are you ready to free yourself from self-defeating behaviour?" trills the blurb on one. "Are you really hard-wired to run from pain?" confronts another.

A month in, can i tell you what a bloody disaster it has been? Prospective employers have stopped returning my calls. The lodger is borderline tearful. The last person I slept with has decided I'm "too difficult".

It all starts so well. When a friend forgets (again) to book the theatre, I text back sternly. "Babe, I really haven't got time for this behaviour." Chilly silence. An editor on a glossy commissions me to interview an A-Lister. The shoot is frankly a nightmare. When I tell the truth, it becomes like the Salem Witch Trials. I hate myself for stooping to complain. Then get furious that I'm wrong-footed again.

On a weekend break with a female friend (a genuine force of nature, who rarely does anything she doesn't want to), I psyche myself up to be a Person of Substance. The first time, she pulls a stunt, I'm ready. "You don't want a main course," she tells me, whipping the menu away. "We can share."

"Actually," I begin, visibly trembling. "I'm a grown-up, I think I can decide what I want to eat." People at the next table exchange looks. Have I just been let out of an institution? Maybe they should just move the knives away?

The trouble is I can never pull anger off with conviction. Being incredibly reasonable becomes your job description. Even though (whisper it) you're not actually always that nice on the inside. You become so unused to authentic anger, that when the red mist does finally start to descend, you go from 0 to 60. People look on in horror as you make a fuss about something incredibly trivial.

Why can't I be more playful. Have more fun with fury?

Instead I feel so incredibly guilty that I go out of my way to be charming on the next occasion. Emails are littered with kisses and "my dears". The offender, flumoxed by my inconsistent behaviour, acts thoughtlessly again, and I revert to my sulky inner teen. Stalemate.

I'm running out of address book. So frankly in praise of the 'covert coper' for me. Who cares if the price is a headache?

Comments

dogsolitude_v2 wrote:
Friday, 27 November 2009 at 09:47 am (UTC)
Maybe, instead of needing to Express Your Anger™ you need to be a bit more assertive.

Getting explosive at a situation isn't impressive, and is really no different to what you're experiencing insofar as (a) you feel wronged and (b) you're not asserting that fact in a calm, authoritative and persuasive manner.

Seriously, if someone loses their rag and starts raising hell my thoughts are that they lack self control, maturity and professionalism. It has a childlike quality about it, and whereas it may help to have a feeling of release you certainly won't look good...

Assertiveness is about recognising that you have certain rights (such as the right to choose a meal, the right to make decisions, be heard etc.), being confident in expressing them, and recognising that others have rights too (so no aggressively steamrollering over other people's needs).

Get that right, and you'll be able to pole-vault over the whole anger thing altogether, whilst getting your own way at the same time (well, most of the time, you can't win them all).
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