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Rabbi Shmuel Gluck - Areivim - When Anger Holds Us Back - Part 2
by Rabbi Shmuel Gluck

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When Anger Holds Us Back: Part 2

Before people confront their anger they must first acknowledge to themselves that they're angry. Denial of their anger is often more damaging than the anger that is being denied. Once they acknowledge their anger they can move forward.

People must appreciate that anger isn't always the aggressive "book throwing" type. Sometimes the anger is subtle and the word resentment may be more suitable. Resentment is often more of a statement of their character, than the extent of their anger. Although they may be naturally composed and not let their anger out at anyone, the negative effect is as devastating as if they were "book throwers".

At other times the anger may be deep rooted and so well hidden, that not even the angry people are aware of their anger. Deep rooted anger is very damaging. In many cases, people feel that they have no "right" to be angry at the people who mistreated them. They may feel that way because the aggressor may be a person of position, such as a parent, older sibling, Rebbi or community leader.

Not allowing themselves to be angry causes them to feel confused; their anger becomes submerged and, eventually, it's directed elsewhere. Sometimes it becomes self directed (e.g. they acquire eating disorders); other times it's directed at others (e.g. religion and everyone who promotes it). It becomes difficult to confront the cause of the misplaced anger as the attention is directed towards the chosen diversion and not at the actual source.

One of the saddest parts of diverted anger is that it appears as if the anger is not justified, causing others to believe that that the angry people are unstable or mentally ill. Is there anything sadder than people who're hurting and are so misunderstood that instead of getting help they're treated as sick people? Since they're unable to confront their "demons" they're unable to express the injustices that have been done to them, even to themselves. They're normal, very normal, but are victims of their surroundings.

How long should people hold onto any cause of anger? Obviously, the answer is as short a time as possible. Here are some thoughts to assist in accelerating the process.

People get angry and may have a half formed idea of how to "get even". They assume their anger can somehow be directed toward the person at whom they're angry. They assume that through their anger they'll be "strong enough" to scream at the person. Otherwise, they know that they'll be too afraid, or embarrassed, to say anything. They believe that their screaming will make the people realize what they did, and will, hopefully, be therapeutic for them. Without the anger, they assume, they'll feel too embarrassed to say anything. Remember, this is only a half formed idea.

The first thing they must realize is that, even if they do "let it out' at the other person, their screaming won't be therapeutic for them. On the contrary, their anger, reinforced by their screaming, will make them more and more angry. The people at whom they're screaming may get angry, upset, and possibly hurt, but the goal of getting them to admit to their actions and apologize, is usually not successful. In many cases, the people that caused the anger move on. However, the angry people become angrier because they realize that even with the screaming they haven't achieved their goal and, through resentment and despair, they become even angrier.

The second thing is that angry people, whether they keep it inside or not, are treated as "unstable". These two points must be considered by the angry people. They will suffer more than the intended victim, and they may find that the person responsible for their anger is revered, while people look down at them.

When the angry people are children this often is their subconscious, and sometimes conscious, goal. Although the next few paragraphs may sound incredulous, they've been described to me multiple times. Sometimes children have been hurt so much by their parents that they become determined to fail in life. (This article ignores whether or not the hurt is legitimate. When discussing feelings, perception is more important than reality.)

Teenagers and young adults have told me that they've sabotaged their lives many times to "prove" to their parents that they've ruined them. Their anger is, willfully, directed inward to punish their parents. Their anger is "so deep" that they're not concerned with the fact that they're punishing themselves more than their parents.

This doesn't make sense, logically, and angry people should pause and consider it. I often tell them that if they want to "get back" at the other people they should succeed despite what they've "gone through". This is particularly true for children who're angry at their parents. I suggest that they excel and prove that they're successful. Although this may be difficult, it'll give them everything they want. They should succeed in life, feel good about themselves, and then they can say that they've succeeded against all odds.

The people who caused the anger may be thinking that it's not their problem. "Angry people are clearly self-destructive and there's little anyone can do to change this." This is totally not true. It's very easy to help angry people remove their anger.

Those who caused the anger are responsible, and capable, of removing it. Many of the necessary components, such as effective communication, problem solving techniques, and increased self esteem have been discussed in previous articles, and therefore I'll only discuss the one point that is specific for dealing with angry people.

They must acknowledge that they caused the anger. This doesn't mean they have to acknowledge its validity; however, they must acknowledge the person's anger. If the anger is justified an apology must also be included. However, this doesn't happen often and is frequently the cause for continued anger. People are uncomfortable in acknowledging even a hint of a mistake. Parents, more than most, are unwilling and even believe that they shouldn't acknowledge their children's feelings, and certainly not at the cost of their status.

The following is a typical example, one that highlights how silly, and needless, much of our children's angers is. Children become angry when the parents consistently promise to do something and don't follow through on their promise. They're usually "small" things, such as making a phone call, taking something to be fixed, or just "being there" for the children. Since they're usually small things, the parents won't accept the fact that they did anything wrong. Instead they'll rationalize that it's not their fault, or that the children did something wrong, and therefore they didn't do what they promised.

The parents, unwilling to appear less than perfect in their roles, "stick to their guns". The children, unable to respond, can only become angry. What should be done is for the parents to acknowledge that the children have a legitimate reason to be frustrated. If they have a really valid excuse then they must say, "I know you're upset and we're truly sorry. We try our best but sometimes fall short." This means that in the future they must try harder. If not, the apology will be seen as being hollow.

Even if the children's complaint is not legitimate (the parent's did everything to which they committed), acknowledging their children's feelings must still be done. "We're sorry that you're upset. We're not sure that we could've done better. Nevertheless, we would've also been upset if our parents kept us waiting as we did to you. Is there anything we can offer to make up for what we didn't do?" The sooner this is done the less the anger is engrained, enabling the children to respond more positively.

At the least, it's important to allow them to be angry. This doesn't mean to let them continue to be angry. It means that the anger should be seen as legitimate. Parents should demonstrate this legitimacy by reacting with compassion, and sensitivity, allowing the anger to heal over time.

To be continued

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