The first month of spring has been wet and cold. A recent storm swelled the Karra Wirra Parri, a creek non-indigenous South Australians call the ‘River Torrens’, scouring its banks and dropping rubbish along the way. The morning after the storm I took several photographs with my phone. Later that week I took shots that show the aftermath of the flood.
Anger is a storm of human emotion. The social atmosphere transforms, there is a build up, a flurry, an inhuman howl, the ‘eye of the anger-storm’ when rage is momentarily blunted, and the final onslaught.
If you know an angry person you’ll know, like the storms that afflict a city or town, human storms threaten or destroy relationships. If you are prone to angry outbursts you know the shame an angry word, a thoughtless action or a slammed door can cause. Only tunnelling through to the reasons behind the anger, the patterns of thought, fears and unmet needs that swamp you, will soothe your tempestuous spirit.
Meditation also helps, as does articulating and asserting one’s needs but this is lonely, confronting work; only we can change ourselves.
Women are not supposed to express their anger and many women cannot accommodate their fury, but as Robin Morgan points out,
women are not inherently passive or peaceful. We’re not inherently anything but human.
Women’s rage was, and is, perceived as more destructive than it actually is. Angry men were, and are, seen as protective and assertive. Angry women were, and are, called Harpies, shrill or crazy. Both ideas are prejudiced and false. Yes, anger can be destructive. It can also be a powerful agent of change. We have seen the damage angry men inflict; we have witnessed the changes to women’s lives angry women have wrought.
A 1983 study of anger and aggression claims that
anger is a response to some perceived misdeed.
A recent study indicates the ‘misdeed’ usually involves a person stopping us from getting what we want. In other words, when our desires are thwarted we get angry. While this seems obvious to most people, especially those who have lived with a toddler, it doesn’t explain why anger is not considered a natural, though intemperate and potentially destructive, part of our emotional weather.
I’m not condoning or encouraging angry outbursts. Far from it: I am an adult survivor of my mother’s rages and I have struggled, in my adult life, to hold my temper. I have forgiven my mother and I’m working on forgiving myself. I have also learned anger needs to be understood.
Last Saturday, when I took the second batch of photographs, it was slightly warmer than a mild winter’s day, nothing like early spring weather we are used to at this time of year. Low branches and bank hugging trees harboured giant nests of broken reeds, shards of wood, sheets of shredded plastic shopping bags, and red, blue and green lids separated from their water-crushed bottles by the floodwaters. Other parts of the river banks were swept clean. Fresh tips of grass pushed up from the chocolatey mud deposited by the flood. The Golden Wattle was in bloom and a few Vanilla Lillies along the higher banks survived.
Anger is like that. Once it’s passed you can feel scoured, eroded and you need to clear away the mess you’ve made. But everyone gets angry from time to time, usually for good reason so should this normal emotion be repressed? Healthy anger, appropriately acknowledged as part of our psychological weather pattern can promote new methods of communicating our needs. If we respect anger instead of suppressing it, if we interrogate its cause, if its expression is tempered, if apologies and reparations are made, won’t that lead to positive change? Is it wise to suppress our anger? Does judging a person who openly expresses their anger help them, or us? Should we punish a person because they are angry?
Averill, James R. “Studies on anger and aggression: Implications for theories of emotion.” American Psychologist 38.11 (1983), 1145.
Carver, Charles S., and Eddie Harmon-Jones. “Anger is an approach-related affect: evidence and implications.” Psychological Bulletin 135.2 (2009), 183.