Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our Guest Blogger Writes About Anger

We are infinitely lucky that when we just don`t have the words in us for a decent blog entry (for days), we have a guest blogger who has had our back over the last year.

Most people who have been reading this blog awhile are familiar with the guest blogging of Kerry Stott, who works for the NHS in the field of mental health (England's National Health Service), and is a published author, friend, and so much more. (check out her website:

We deal with a lot of anger in our day-to-day life (some days more than others), much of it is released on pages of empty Word documents, filtered into poetry and other literary genres, and released in the form of art (painting, drawing, graphic design), on days we can manage; like with many of our emotions.

We own our anger as much as we can, at least on the days we understand where it is coming from (not always the case)...we think; and, like Kerry, we understand it to be a healthy emotion if used constructively.

In any case, we'll let Kerry cover the rest... 

I am angry.  I am an angry woman.  I think I was born this way.  I feel my rage course through my veins like acid, and like acid it corrodes all good feelings and erodes all the kind words that I have inside me.  I try to keep a lid on it, I try to suppress this angry demon that rules my head, heart and thoughts but sometimes it is uncontrollable and it rips its way out of me through my words and actions, leaving me feeling shame faced afterwards.

I rediscovered that I was an angry person 5 years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I had spent many years deliberately making my short fuse longer and longer until people, even those who knew me well, didn't know I had a foul temper.  Anyone who is placed under enough stress will revert back to type - be that angry, needy, shy; whatever type.  Since that time, I have been able to control my temper but not to the same extent that I was able to pre-cancer.  Is this a bad thing?  Is being angry so terrible?

Letting people know that I am angry certainly helps me get my point across at work.  When I am in big meetings I am able to channel it and focus it to a positive end.  Letting my family know that I am feeling angry (preferably before I explode) allows them to give me a wide birth.  Personally treating me with kid gloves when I have a stomp on is not a good idea because it then gives me the message that this type of behaviour is ok, which it is not.  We have come up with a system of me letting them know when I am angry and then going and working out, normally kick boxing, until the anger subsides, that is how I control it.  It may work for some but not for others.

Why do we get angry and what purpose does it serve?

I was taught that anger is a secondary emotion.  We are always angry because of something.  This might be fear, shame (a very powerful emotion), worry, humiliation, someone having a different moral stance to your own.  All of these, and other reasons perpetuate and propel an angry emotional response.  I spent the first 2 years of my nursing career working in prison and there were a lot of angry men there.  The type of anger that they displayed was destructive and would eat them up, consume them without them realising that they were throwing away family, friends, and opportunities because of the anger.  We ran an anger management course and there was a thinking skills program within the prison but I found that none of this worked.  Both programs used a cognitive behavioural approach.  Some of the mental health team felt that the anger management did not work because the prisoners' personality was already set and that by that stage there was nothing that could be done. I felt that this was a rather doom and gloom perspective.  I do not think that anything is hopeless or beyond help but perhaps I am just an optimist.  On the other hand, what was the motivation to join and participate in the group?  Generally they would go on these courses so that they could tick off a box for their probation officer, so I guess that their motivation to change was not as strong as it could be.

So if a cognitive behavioural therapy apparently has limited success, what does work?  Well, the first thing that has to happen and this is a given no matter what approach you try, is that you would have to want to change.  You have to want to change, to not want life to carry on how it is.  Once you get to this stage, then, and only then are you open to ideas.

"When we are upset, it's easy to blame others. However, the true cause of our feelings is within us. For example, imagine yourself as a glass of water. Now imagine past negative experiences as sediment at the bottom of your glass. Next, think of others as spoons. When one stirs, the sediment clouds your water. It may appear that the spoon caused the water to cloud - but if there were no sediment, the water would remain clear no matter what. The key, then, is to identify our sediment and actively work to remove it." - Josei Toda

Since starting to write this piece I have asked my twitter followers on whether they think that it is acceptable to be 'that' angry.  I have been very interested in their responses.  Some people have described the type of anger that I have written about above.  The all consuming rage that destroys people.  Others have described anger that motivates and pulls people out of a situation.  One person described about having the best rugby games when they were angry as it propelled him to play a greater game.  Another described that greats act of heroism on the battle field are a mixture of fear and anger.  I know that when a family member was not receiving the level of care in A and E I thought that they should be getting, I (very politely) went off at the deep end and then they got the care that they needed. So anger can be a useful tool.

This leads me to wonder when it is appropriate to be angry and how that can be shown in public?  It is socially acceptable for a mother to be angry and aggressive when her children are in danger.  Father's are allowed to be angry if their family or home is threatened.  Violence is often tolerated or at least not frowned upon in these circumstances.  Where the line is between being angry when it is acceptable and when it is not is very situational and differs greatly from person to person. 

As a group we make judgements based on ‘gut’ reactions, on what feels right; generally without exploring it further.  Mostly these ‘gut’ reactions are layers of morals and norms that we have been taught as being ‘right’ over the course of our lifetimes.  Whether these are right or not is subject to introspection and reflection.  I suspect that a country’s laws are a good guide for what is acceptable. However, this blog is, by its nature, too brief to fully explore societal norms for ager as they differ from culture to culture and from one country to another. 

If, as an individual, you suddenly find that friends avoid you, that people don't want to hang out with you or point out that you are a foul tempered grumpy old bastard, I would think that this is a rule of thumb that you may need to do something about your anger. Having supportive family and friends is great but when it comes to anger...sometimes I think honesty is the best policy as most angry people that I have met don't know how their anger affects others around them. There are anger management programs out there, plenty, but like I said before, you have to want to stop being that angry person.

Kerry x (@kerrystott)

Useful websites:

Other guest entries by Kerry...

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