Thursday 23 July 2015

52 Ordinary Words: Anger

It takes a lot for me to lose my temper, but in no time at all - having exploded - I'm regretting it and apologising.  This may have something to do with my dislike of displays of temper in others.  But apart from a genuine fear of angry people, which may have arisen from observing my father's temper tantrums (he would jump and down in shows of sheer frustration!), there is also something about anger being an undignified loose cannon; it’s an ugly and negative emotion.

When I saw that the third word David Whyte had chosen to write about in his book, Consolations, I anticipated that he might say something about righteous anger and that he would doubtless reiterate what a Gestalt therapist had once said about it being a valid emotion.  And maybe he would say something about repression.  I did not expect him to come out - at first reading - in favour of it being something positive; because anger’s typically considered a bad thing that should be justified - and kept on a short leash.

I was surprised to read that he feels anger “is the deepest form of compassion,” and that it is “the purest form of care.”  I can appreciate that it illuminates what we care for, what we want to protect and what we are willing to “hazard ourselves for” and that it touches “the limits our understanding” - that it is a violent response to our helplessness.  But does it really represent the “unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing in the face or our love”? 

I have never associated anger with fear before; but Whyte is right: anger is another face of fear.  It is a response to feelings of powerlessness.  We do turn to anger (violent speech and action) when we lack any other way to express our feelings, or means to carry a burden. 

Of course, anger is also a response to vulnerability; but is what we experience when manifesting anger, merely "what remains of its essence"?  Is it to be reduced to our inability to “hold what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with clarity and breadth of our whole being”?  Of course, random acts of violence are responses to powerlessness, but where is love; what is it that we are loving?  What about ‘road rage’ or the drunken violence that spills out onto our cities’ pavements on Saturday nights? 

I’m answering my own questions.  I can see that understanding the many faces of fear is key.  I can appreciate that what we call anger on the surface only serves to define its true underlying quality, "by being a complete but absolute mirror-opposite of its true internal essence."  No bad thing if, by understanding it, anger is disempowered, but I am still left wondering how anger relates to compassion for self.  We are not always good at looking after ourselves - we don’t necessarily know what’s best.   Is Whyte talking about protecting ourselves?  But just what is anger's true internal essence?  

Whyte maintains that “anger truly felt at its centre is the essential living flame of being fully alive, and fully here; it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world.”  Isn't this another way of saying that anger isn’t a good thing? Because I'm left with the distinct impression that anger is an inappropriate response.  Is this all that Whyte is saying; that anger is a quality? 

I am not saying Whyte’s wrong, but it’s going to take me a little time to get my head around his take on anger (!)  It could be, of course, that I don't altogether understand what he's saying...

If you do, then please enlighten me.  It can't be that difficult.


  1. I just lost my comment, so I'll start again!
    I haven't read Whyte's book on the underlying meaning of everyday words. For me, feelings of anger could arise from frustration or feelings of injustice. Anger can also be sadness, disguised. Can it be fear? I will have to notice more as, and when, this strong emotion may rise within me.

    As children, we are taught that anger is a bad thing... but finally it's only a passing emotion like all others. How can we label them as good or bad?

    1. There is a strong relationship between anger and fear. Anger is the fight part of the age-old fight-or-flight response to threat. Most animals respond to threat by either fighting or fleeing. But, we don’t always have the option to fight what threatens us. Instead, we have anger.

      I agree, that no emotion is inherently good, or bad, but the fall out from anger can have disastrous consequences.

  2. I think there are many stages of anger. I am like you, hard to anger..I usually don't get angry..I get sad that someone or something has made a negative impression. I haven't read this book, but from what you have written from the explanations, I don't agree with Whyte at all..I think there are other emotions that could take the place of anger in most instances as anger blocks your true feelings. It is not a valid emotion in my world..frustration, disappointment, hurt, annoyance and possibly fear but fear I have to think about. Too many people use anger toward a recipient when they really feel something else. Being from the South of the United States, I sometimes use the little phrase "Bless his/her/its heart" when someone or something bothers me to the point of being cools off my anger and gives me a pause to reflect on myself and makes the person/thing causing these feelings to fall into a different category..that of being not worthy of any response in me. I am good at walking away from situations where anger is involved..I am more worthy than that. Some people are good at bringing a person to anger..they are not worthy of my time and space.

    1. But, I think there are times when anger is the appropriate response, because you are owning how you feel; the alternative, denial, is hardly healthy.

      Surely, there are times when it might be better to voice anger rather than to sink under crippling depression - which is often nothing but repressed anger? I'm thinking that there’s all the difference in the world between losing one's temper/giving vent to sheer rage and being justly angry.