Understanding anger means understanding pain.
As someone who is interested in what causes behavior, I am convinced that the madder you are, the more wounded you have been. It’s hard to think of an angry person as in pain though. Most of us want to get away from someone who is angry. We feel their fierceness and we just want to back away and not have anything to do with them.
Understanding Anger Is Harder When We’re Caught Up In It
I see this sometimes with the couples I counsel. I recently met a couple that is in the middle of a big fight. The husband was so mad at his wife he could not calm down. He started to tell me what was wrong and every time he began a sentence he grew louder and louder and then he would turn away from me and turn towards his wife and be so loud the windows rattled.
I tried to calm him down. I did so three times. The fourth time I just let him rage, and that’s exactly what he did. He raged and raged and raged. And when he was done he got up and left the room. I continued with the wife and soon after the session ended. I felt a lot of emotion in the session and a lot of it was mine. I felt helpless to help him. I felt very sad for his inability to find a way to be understood by his wife. I felt him trapped inside himself and having no way to express himself except with a big booming voice that no one could tolerate.
Examine Where Anger Comes From in a Safe Setting
This is anger at its loudest and most destructive. Anger is a defense against feeling what is inside us because that feeling of loss or pain could be even worse than being mad. This man was suffering. His wife had an affair and he found out. He was so upset. He was so hurt. He was so insulted and disappointed in her. That’s why he raged. That’s why he left.
After he was gone and the session ended, I encouraged his wife to come in again so we could talk about what happened to her. Something made her stray from her marriage. She wanted to work on the relationship with her husband. She wanted to understand why she did what she did. The wife came in later that week and we started talking. We began to unravel the life the two of them had. She cried several times when she spoke about hurting her husband. We ended the session and I asked her if she would talk with her husband about it. She said she was going to.
Once Anger Gets Vented, It Can Make Way for Us to Be Our Sweeter Selves
I suggested she invite him to come in and talk with me by himself. I said I thought it might make him feel better. She said she would like that. Later that day I got a text from the husband. He asked in the politest language possible if he could have an appointment with me. His sweetness is another part of this man. I only saw his anger during the first session. Now I can see his openness, even in a text. I look forward to helping this man individually and to helping them both as a couple. All of us want to be loved. All of us want to be heard. All of us want to be valued.
Those themes live inside each of us, even when we are angry at the one we love. We still want to know we matter to them and that they love us. He was using his anger to get that, to get noticed and for her to remember that he mattered and had hurt feelings. That’s what he really wants. Now he just needs to learn how to ask for it, and that is just another skill, another part of him yet to be revealed.
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