rage

The drawbacks of anger, and some alternatives

A lot of things that are normal aren’t ok. It’s hard to notice this. We’re socialized to accept a lot of things that really ought to be unacceptable. When we try to object, we’re punished. Being punished for objecting is often humiliating and disorienting.

It’s hard to remember that these things are wrong even when others punish you for saying so. It’s hard to remember that you have rights when others act like you don’t.

One way to remember that things are wrong is to get angry about them. Feeling outraged can make it easier to hold onto your sense that, no, this isn’t ok, and yes, it is ok to object.

Unfortunately, the price of rage is high. Rage hurts. It’s physically unpleasant, physically exhausting, emotionally draining, and makes it hard to think clearly. The physical and emotional exhaustion from anger makes it harder to do other things. The fog of anger can lead to mistakes that make it harder to remember after the fact that you were justified in objecting. Rage is better than nothing, but there are other strategies that don’t hurt as much.

One thing that can help is to develop your understanding of the situation over time. If you learn to understand what you’re angry about and why, it can make it possible to use understanding rather than anger to stay oriented.

Questions like these can help:

  • What am I angry about?
  • Why am I angry about that?
  • What happened that I think is wrong?
  • Why do I think it’s wrong?

For instance, say I’m in class, we’re doing an activity, I’m not able to do the activity, and I’m feeling angry. We’re writing thoughts on big paper, and I can’t do handwriting well enough to participate. In that situation, I might think:

  • Why am I angry?
  • I’m trying to participate and failing over and over and that’s intensely frustrating.
  • Why am I angry about that?
  • Because I’m sick of being left out all the time.
  • What happened that I think is wrong? 
  • The teacher knew about my disability and didn’t do anything to accommodate it when they planned the activity. 
  • When I pointed out that I couldn’t participate, they didn’t do anything to fix it.
  • Why do I think that’s wrong? 
  • Because I have a right to be here, and the teacher is supposed to be teaching me. 
  • I’m a student here, and I have the right to learn the material and be part of the activities we’re using to learn it.
  • This is disability discrimination, and that’s wrong.

Then, the next step in using understanding rather than anger is to notice that something is wrong before you start feeling enraged. Sometimes that can make it possible to fix the problem without having to get to the point of outrage. It can also make it more possible to decide when to fight and when not to.

For instance, take the class activity. If I remember that I have the right to be there and that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to teach me, this might happen:

  • I go to class and see that there is big paper on the walls.
  • I remember that I can’t do big paper activities.
  • I remember that I have the right to participate in educational activities.
  • I remember that I have the right to learn the material.
  • I ask right away “Are we doing a big paper activity today? How will I participate?” 
  • At this point, I’m annoyed, but not outraged, and able to assert something without it hurting so much.

They may or may not respond the right way — and I might still get really angry. But if that happens, I can repeat the strategy again, figure out what I’m angry about and why. Then I can get further without depending on anger the next time. (Even when you can’t win or fix the problem, it’s still often possible to use that kind of strategy to stay oriented without rage. I have more posts in the works about that specifically.)

Anger isn’t a failure. It’s ok to be angry when unacceptable things are happening. It’s also ok *not* to feel physically angry. Anger hurts, and you don’t owe anyone that kind of pain. You don’t have to be pushed to the point of rage in order to be justified in objecting to unacceptable things.

Sometimes it might help to explicitly remind yourself of this. Some affirmations that have sometimes worked for me:

  • I don’t have to hurt myself to prove that this is wrong.
  • It’s still wrong if I’m calm. 
  • It’s still wrong if I’m not crying and shaking. 
  • It’s still wrong if my heart isn’t pounding.
  • Even if I’m ok, the situation isn’t ok.
  • Even if I’m ok in this moment, it’s ok to object to a situation that’s hurting me and/or others.

It also helps not to beat yourself up for getting angry. Anger in the face of outrageous things isn’t a failure. No strategy can completely replace physical outrage for anyone. Holding yourself up to impossible standards won’t help. Working on your skills at staying oriented in other ways will.

These strategies are harder to learn and harder to use. They also make it a lot more possible to resist and stay oriented without hurting yourself. It’s not all or nothing — any skills in this area help, and it gets easier with practice.

Anger is an emotion, not a moral blank cheque

hello i have a question, do you know how to deal with someone who hurts and manipulates you and then makes you feel bad about it? like, if they say mean things about/to you and justify it by saying ‘i was angry’ but if you are ever mean to them, they get really mad at you for it and say you’re a terrible person?
realsocialskills said:
I think in that situation, the best thing you can do is get distance so that person can’t keep hurting you like that.
Some people treat anger like a blank cheque that justifies anything they decide to do to you in their rage. Those people are abusers.
Anger is not a justification. Things that are wrong when you’re calm are still wrong when you are angry.
One thing that anger does is lower inhibitions against certain kinds of actions. That can be a good thing, if it makes it feel more ok to protect yourself. It can be a bad thing, it if makes it feel more ok to hurt people who don’t deserve it. It’s easier to make certain kinds of mistakes when you are angry and have lower inhibitions against doing things that might hurt others. We all make mistakes in anger, from time to time. 
But those mistakes *count*; the anger doesn’t cancel out the actions. People who treat their rage as a justification for mistreating you are unlikely to ever start treating you better. If someone still thinks what they did was ok once they’ve calmed down, then they *actually think it was ok* and will do it again next time.
What people say when they’re angry counts. What people say when they’re drunk counts. What people say and think always counts. This is especially true if they are very distressed by the possibility that you’ll judge them for saying mean things, but not at all concerned about the possibility that they hurt you by saying mean things.

If someone calls you a terrible person on a regular basis, assume they mean it. Even if they say they don’t later. Even if they say it was just anger (or alcohol, or stress, or exhaustion.) And keep in mind that friends are people you like who like you, and people who dislike you aren’t friends. 
People who regularly tell you that you are a terrible person are trying to make you feel unworthy of friendship so that you will put up with anything they decide to do to you. If they really thought you were a bad person, they’d be trying to get away from you, not trying to keep you close.
The best thing you can do is distance yourself from this person, and spend time with people who actually like and respect you.

Living with our anger as marginalized or abused people

When you’ve been mistreated for a long time, it can be hard to notice that something is wrong. 

Even if you do know it’s wrong, even if you hate it, even if it makes your life awful, it can be very, very hard to realize that it’s ok to object. It can be hard to be upset or even actually *mind* what’s going on in any active way. (And, if you’re like me, you might feel like the problem is that you’re just too broken, and try to shame yourself into becoming someone else)

And then maybe you finally start to get angry. And maybe you meet other people who are angry about the same thing.

And maybe - you start to say so. You find ways of expressing anger. You say the angry things and you even tell people they’re hurting you and that it’s wrong. And you yell and express yourself in emphatic terms in other ways. And you don’t die. You learn that it is, in fact, actually possible to say these things out loud and actually press the issue and win from time to time. And that even when you lose, you survive.

And at first it’s exhilarating and liberating. Because it gives you really, really important things that you’ve never had before.

But sometimes, for some people, this can lead to a place where most of what you have access to is rage. And.. that’s not a great place to be in either. It’s dramatically better than not being able to get angry and express it, but it’s still pretty horrible.

And, a caveat here. Do not even think of using this post to shame people for their anger, or for the amount of time they spend being angry. People have damn good reason to be angry, and sometimes anger is all you have and it is a terrible, terrible idea to try to stop being angry in those circumstances. Anger is important.

Anger is also exhausting and draining.

And anger is not the only way to be able to say what’s wrong without backing down. It is possible to get to a place where you can do that, *even without being actively enraged*. It’s very, very hard to do that, and it’s not always even remotely possible. But it’s a useful skill to acquire and use sometimes, because it means you can sometimes fight these battles without it costing you as much all the time.

It doesn’t mean you stop getting angry. We all get angry, even enraged, sometimes. Trying to eliminate anger is incredibly destructive. Don’t do that, and don’t pressure others to do that. We need anger. We have reason to be angry. Anger is not a failure.

There are other tools, in addition to anger, that we can use to protect ourselves and fight these battles, for instance:

  • Avoiding or limiting emotional entanglement with toxic or dismissive people
  • Spending time explaining things to people who are worth talking to and actually give a damn
  • Spending time with peers who understand and face the same things, and doing things other than being angry about the things
  • Emphasizing and appreciating the value of people like you, even when everything in your world is trying to tell you not to. (Eg: celebrating your culture, eating your food even when it’s stigmatized, body positivity, supporting businesses run by marginalized people, seeing unique value in the perspectives you have)
  • Saying no to things that hurt you even when you’re calm
  • Telling people that they’re hurting others and need to stop even when you’re not enraged by what they’re doing

These tools do not replace anger, but they are also helpful. And so are others. There are a lot of reasons it’s worthwhile to learn additional approaches, for instance:

  • Anger is expensive. It is not as expensive as seeing yourself as someone who isn’t entitled to anger and suppressing it at all costs, but it is expensive and being angry takes a tole.
  • Anger can center the villains more than the good guys. We have damn good reason to be angry. But, push come to shove, good is more important than evil and sometimes it’s worthwhile to center the worth and lives of our own rather than focusing on those who seek to harm us (we can’t ignore them; this is not about positive thinking or pretending that if we don’t acknowledge evil it will go away or any of that BS. What it’s about is making sure we’re remembering to value the people we’re fighting for)
  • Sometimes anger isn’t as effective as something else could be. (It’s more effective than doing nothing, and it’s absolutely legitimate so don’t even try to use this to tone police people. And sometimes it *is* the most effective available tool. But it is not *always* the most effective approach, and it’s good to have other options sometimes)

This is hard. It is also worthwhile.