Thar She Blows. Coping With Explosive Tempers

I’m Not a Psychologist, But….

OK. I’ll level with you right from the start. I don’t have all the answers, whether the person you want to deal with is someone else, or whether you came here hoping I had all the 100% guaranteed-to-work-every-time strategies for how to get your own anger under control, I don’t know it all. Sorry. Hope you are not too angry about that. I do have a few tips, however, that are very useful indeed when employed. Practiced, I should say, because like a lot of stuff in life, this, too, takes practice to get right. This is a light-hearted stab (oops, maybe a bad choice of words for a piece on anger) at the topic, and not meant to downplay the seriousness of the subject; anger can be very dangerous, very destructive, and is very worth talking about. Anger is a natural emotion which is not in itself evil or destructive, but I believe it requires management on an individual level, through use of self-discipline and self-knowledge. We can’t always do something about other angry people, but we can become more skilled at managing both our own angry impulses, and our reactions to other people’s anger. Willpower alone won’t keep our tempers in check for long, but development of emotional maturity by utilizing thinking skills effectively can.

Angry girl and Zulu movie clip
A Very Public Temper Tantrum That Ended Up Becoming a Meme

The Sad Case of Trigglypuff

If you’re an honest enough person to admit you might have some kind of problem with anger (and many of us do, and can’t), ask yourself, is Trigglypuff me? We all have a little of Trigglypuff in us, hopefully  not the whole beast , but we all lose the cool sometimes. This girl, however, shows no shame afterwards, which gives us the clue that this is her usual mode of behaviour when she’s abroad in the world. If she was throwing this tantrum in her room on her own, nobody would notice or care, but when it happens in public it gets everybody else pretty riled up too. Actually, the speaker she was interrupting at this campus lecture twigged  this  girl’s mental age pretty quickly, and gave her a mum-style telling off, before the full-scale tantrum erupted. Here’s the lead up to the ‘incident’.

We are human, and we react to strong emotion with strong emotion, to match the behaviour we are presented with.  We might have some chance of staying calm when the angry person is not trying to make it our fault that they are angry, because we don’t have as much personally, emotionally, at stake in the angry outburst. Unfortunately, when the anger is directed at us, because it is somehow our fault, it’s a whole other story, the big guns come out, and war ensues.

Anger is an attempt to deal with internal conflict. In Trigglypuff’s case (I’m sorry I didn’t provide the girl’s name here, but she seems to have at least three different versions, and I don’t think she deserves the extra research, to be honest;  do I need to be respectful of someone who has so little respect for themselves that they make no attempt to exert some control over their own emotions?) it is an attempt to get her views heard and accepted in an environment which she interprets as being hostile to them. So often anger has this at its core, the belief that one’s ideas or identity are not being accepted. This activates our primitive defense mechanisms because on an animal and emotional level, we perceive our physical safety as being threatened, and we swing into action, either verbally, or physically, against the perceived enemy. This lady on a flight, who found herself sitting beside a Trump voter just after the elections, was clearly feeling threatened. No doubt the mild-mannered young man she chose to berate felt the same, however his control of his emotions was a fair bit more developed than the woman, who didn’t make much effort to hide her feelings to save those of the young man, or her husband, or the air stewards who had to deal with her.

This lady is a good example of how anger often shows up how we think our own needs trump (sorry, lady, couldn’t help it) those of others. She wants what she wants, and to heck with everyone else. Her world view is utterly shattered by Donald Trump unexpectedly winning the US presidential elections, and she is angry because she wanted things her way. I think if we are being honest we must all be able to relate to something in this idea, that it sucks when things don’t go the way you want them to. I for one, although I find her behaviour a bit repulsive (her repulsive husband’s a whole different post) can feel her pain. Some folks take it further than just words, a lot further, and the reasons that they come up with to justify their violence can be ridiculous. This poor woman got beaten up by lefties because they reckoned she was a righty. Like that makes it OK. How? This is how polarized views can effect your emotions, and as we are seeing in all these examples, strong emotion can effect your ability to think clearly and rationally.

It is a very uncomfortable feeling being angry; that’s why most people try to avoid getting to that place in themselves whenever they can. There’s a certain sort of person, however, who spends a lot of time in the angry place. For these we reserve the special badge of honour, the one-size-fits-many label of crazy. These elicit our pity rather than our empathy, because their anger is deemed to be completely out of proportion to, or unrelated to, the circumstances, as far as the onlookers to the drama can see.

These problem people can be relied upon to create havoc from peace with no provocation at all. All the drama and the imagined threats are in their heads, which are filled with paranoid ideas about how the world works that most of us couldn’t begin to fathom. These poor souls are in a hell of their own making, where they are constantly being persecuted by the rest of us, who, in reality, haven’t done anything to them at all.

The Demon Drink

I have to make a guess that the lady in the next video had more than one pint of Guinness in the bar before the ‘plane ever took off, and many’s the fight that happened or angry words exchanged when drink has loosened the inhibitions. The animal side of our nature comes out to play then, as anyone married to a mean drunk will tell you. The poor man sitting beside this lady looks like he wishes the floor would swallow him, he’s so embarrassed. Does she care? No. She is totally out of control. She can’t handle her emotions at all, and is clearly suffering as much as everyone else around her.

Help Is At Hand

OK, I hear you say. You certainly made a long-winded attempt to describe anger, but where’s the help you promised? Can you actually help me control my explosive temper, or cope with the effects of someone else blowing their top? Try these solutions out for size. If it’s someone else’s anger you need to deal with, try a little empathy. Empathy helps get you in the other person’s shoes. Imagine how awful it feels to be them at the moment they are truly losing their sh*t, how fired up they must feel inside as they thrust their finger in your face to emphasize their anger, and spit in your eye as they shout at you. See yourself performing the same actions, saying the same words. Instead of seeing the anger as something outside you, see it inside as you swop roles in your mind’s eye. You don’t have to be in agreement with what the person is saying, or doing. You just have to be able to imagine that it is you. This puts you in the empathetic place. People get empathy and sympathy mixed up sometimes; you don’t get anywhere with understanding anger if you only feel sorry for them having the burden of their anger, you must also be able to see something of how they got to the anger, or at least be able to experience some of what they are feeling. The removal of the self/other polarity helps with compassion, which, again, isn’t a sympathetic frame of mind, so much as an understanding one. It goes against the grain to open yourself up to someone who is causing you some uncomfortable feelings, as anger tends to do to those on the recipient end of it, but developing understanding is a good route into diffusing anger, since your emotions get disengaged from the situation just enough for you to see that there is no ‘payoff’ in feeding the angry persons emotions by reacting angrily in response. When the angry person doesn’t have a reciprocal angry response they often desist, because they have not gotten the fuel required to keep the anger going. This is an ideal situation; sometimes escape is impossible; when you live with an angry person you don’t always have the opportunity to escape the anger, and since anger tends to be a cyclical, repeating behaviour, the dread of more angry encounters can make even the smoothest anger-wranglers despair. I said I didn’t have all the answers; I wish I did. Sometimes people with anger issues are just grown-up bullies, and like all bullies seek you out when you are trapped or vulnerable, and can’t escape. The best escape of course, is to physically remove yourself if the bully is a repeat offender in the anger department, but like the people on the airplane flights we looked at, the choice isn’t always ours, or we can be taken by surprise when anger comes from nowhere. However, if you manage not to get emotionally overwhelmed by a person’s angry behaviour  you have a chance to keep your dignity and self-respect intact when the episode is over. Over time, if you stick around to allow yourself to be abused by the person over and over again, you start becoming a participant in your own emotional abuse, and your self-esteem begins to suffer.

Telling the Angry Person What You Think

Is this OK? Shouldn’t we just give as good as we get, or is it better to be loving, forgiving, maybe pretend nothing happened? I’m no expert, so I’m just gonna give my personal take on this. The tips for dealing with anger that I gave above do work, but you’ve got to decide for yourself what the right thing to do is, because when you start talking about woulds and shoulds you are in the area of morals and ethics, and you have either become a philosopher, or someone in need of a guru or religion. I think, though, that the idea of personal boundaries is important, because asking yourself what your own boundaries are will help you answer the woulds and shoulds of how you want other people to behave around you.

It’s not a judgemental thing, where you decide this is a ‘good’ person, that is a ‘bad’ person, and weed out your friends and acquaintances based on which they are. It is just figuring out what you can cope with from other people, and what is too much to expect you to put up with. Someone who you know to be an angry person who is comfortable freely expressing that anger on a regular basis might be someone you decide you don’t want to be around often; maybe not at all. Then again, you might be well able to cope with being with this sort of person, and able to accept them as they are with no problem. You probably already have the answers to these kinds of questions yourself, if you think about it a bit.

What About Me?

What if you are the angry one? Maybe you recogize something in yourself from the examples we have shown here. If you are able to be honest enough to see something of yourself here (and trust me, most of us display anger, even if we don’t admit it, and those of us who don’t display it are having an anger issue, too) then well done. You are half-way to solving your problem, and there are much better ways to solve them than venting anger at other people. Sometimes it’s difficult to admit that we are not perfect, or to have to listen to someone tell you that they are great, and you aren’t. And let me tell you, if you didn’t already know, this p*sses other people off like nothing else. And this is exactly what angry outbursts do; they let other people know that they are inferior to you, and you are therefore allowed to make them squirm with discomfort, ‘cos you are entitled, better, and just generally more worthy of your needs getting met than them. Often, this self-agrandizing view doesn’t gel with reality, and this plus the fact that you are indirectly running the other person down, gets them so annoyed that they start shouting back at you and before you know it you have made an enemy for life. Then you can have fun shouting about how the world hates you, after you have just created a self-fulfilling prophecy. The universe is pretty neutral, in fact, and this kind of ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking is typical of the thought distortions that often fuel anger. If you can use the ‘unhooking’ technique, to disengage from your anger you have removed the fuel from your anger, and you can do this by dropping the ‘storyline’ that goes along with the emotion. Thought feeds emotion, and our story about why we are right to feel angry, if sometimes correct, can also get us so stuck in anger that we revisit our anger over and over, unless we manage to disengage enough to move on. We are not meant to get stuck in emotions, and it is a sign of an ineffective resolution of a traumatic experience, or some kind of blockage of energy, when we keep revisiting an old emotion with no cause in the immediate environment. Somatic therapies such as Gendlin’s Focussing Technique are excellent ways to deal with PSTD traumas, which can be a factor sometimes in anger issues. Click here for a very interesting  free book on the topic, which includes exercises. Lastly, for anyone trapped with an angry person, keep on rockin’ your thing, and don’t let them bring you down.

2 thoughts on “Thar She Blows. Coping With Explosive Tempers

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