We all like to imagine the holidays like Hallmark cards: beautiful, filled with love, family, friends, and lots of happiness everywhere.
The real truth is that for many people, holidays can be times of pain, hurt, and disappointment. Sometimes all these feelings bubble up into anger and frustration. It can be helpful to plan ahead for how you might be feeling and possibly get to a place where you would say or do things that you would later regret just because you got angry.
Something that is interesting about anger, as researchers like James Gilligan in Preventing Violence show, is that the main feeling underlying anger is shame. If you’re experiencing frustration and anger during the holidays, you might want to examine where shame comes in. Do you feel ashamed that you can’t make everyone happy, that you do not have enough money to afford the gifts that people are asking for, or are you ashamed about the way your house looks? All of these can be underlying causes for frustration and anger.
Think about your anger history. When was the last time you felt really angry? What was going on? Who were you angry at? How did you handle your anger?
It can be helpful to appreciate that most anger starts from a thought, decision, or belief someone has about another person and how they’re doing something wrong. In a book called The Anger Control Workbook (McKay and Rogers), the authors say that a person’s thoughts might be responsible for some of the most painful emotions the person has. These thoughts trigger us to be reactive and can happen quickly in less than a second. Maybe you’ve felt this way or you have seen others suddenly erupt in anger.
It can be very helpful to appreciate that there are two kinds of anger: Constructive Anger and Destructive Anger. The authors of the book Inner Joy, Bloomfield and Kory, explain that anger that punishes is destructive and anger that communicates is constructive.
When you think about your own anger or someone else’s, did it seem that you or they wanted to punish or hurt the other person? This is that destructive anger.
People use destructive anger for several reasons, including to:
- Overpower another person
- Get revenge or get even
- Blame, attack, shame, or embarrass
- Block communication and avoid feeling close
Some of the ways destructive anger impacts people:
- It can weaken their self-esteem
- It can make them feel powerless
- It covers up the real feelings of the angry person
- It gets in the way of healthy communication
- It leaves the other person tense and bitter
- It creates emotional distance, prevents a person from feeling close and safe with another person
- It damages trust in relationship
- Neither person feels satisfied because of the damage done to the relationship
- Over time there can be general hostility, distrust, bitterness, and an unwillingness to try to be close
On the other hand, constructive anger has four goals, to:
- Communicate feelings
- Change a hurtful situation
- Prevent something from happening again
- Improve the relationship
Some of the characteristics and impact of constructive anger are:
- It contributes to the healing of emotional injuries
- It does not attack, blame, shame or cause the other person to feel guilty
- It focuses on communicating primary feelings
- There is an appropriate intensity of expression of true feelings
- It can be relationship building, increasing trust, a sense of understanding, appreciation, connection, and respect
- It sets a pattern for further communication
- It lays the groundwork for forgiving, letting go, moving on
When expressing anger in a constructive way, it’s important to take responsibility for your feelings and not say the other person is at fault or caused those feelings. Instead of saying “You made me so angry” you can say “When you did…… I felt angry because…” With that, you share how someone impacted you. These are called “I-messages” and the emphasis is on taking responsibility for feelings without trying to blame.
It certainly isn’t easy to do these things when you’re in a moment of intense anger. At the same time, if you can remember some of these key points, you’re better equipped to be a healthier communicator when something makes you angry. And now you may understand why sometimes someone else’s anger can be so hurtful to you.
Also, you might consider the times when you get frustrated or angry with yourself. That anger can be either Destructive or Constructive just as is true when anger is between two people. You can learn to notice what you’re saying to yourself in your mind and decide if those inner thoughts are trying to be helpful and focused on changing things in a positive way without attacking or shaming yourself, or if they’re negative and hurtful to you. Just as you do with other people, you can use the same approaches that are healthier with yourself.
Invitation for Reflection:
- As you think about these two different types, what type of anger was being expressed?
- Consider how this information might help you over the holidays. What specifically can you plan to do as far as managing anger and frustration in yourself?
- How might you help others around you, including your children, better understand their anger and how they can be constructive in expressing it?
- We can also think about anger as being on a kind of scale from not being very angry to being annoyed and all the way to being furious. When you think about times, can you think about how strong that anger was, going from a one to a ten? What made you so angry that you would rank it as a ten?