Understanding and taking responsibility for our anger

Paul Beckow is an individual, marriage and family therapist on the West Shore

Dear Paul

I’ve been married several times and I admit my anger has caused lots of trouble in my prior marriages. I love my wife, I’m committed to our marriage, and I want to know — can someone really change something like this?

David

Can someone learn to live with and manage their anger? Of course, they can.

You’re already making a big step towards change when you take responsibility for your anger, when you are on the lookout for it and aware of the trouble it can cause in your relationship life.

Furthermore, you’re right, anger can produce real mischief in a relationship. Unchecked anger can bring fear, distance, protection, and resentment — forces which ultimately make trust, openness and intimacy near impossible.

Anger manifests itself in various ways. It can be projected externally; it can be held or stored inwardly. The outward dumping of anger on another is blame. The inward holding of anger is often depression or resentment. Both these states can be damaging to our sense of ourselves and others in our relationships.

Many people see anger as wrong, dangerous or destructive. However, looking closer, one can see it isn’t being or feeling angry that creates problems. Problems emerge when we use our anger in attempts to control, blame or punish another.

Further, we can be furious or out of control when we express our anger. Or we can be quietly logical and reasonable. It doesn’t matter. Attempts to blame, control and punish, however grand or subtle, always leave their mark.

When we attempt to control, we cross personal boundaries. We do harm to the other. We refer to this harm as “violence.”

All violence comes from the belief that other people’s actions are to blame for making us feel as we do and the other person deserves our judgment and censure. All of us have been taught to think this way. However, if you get quiet enough to inquire, you can see this simply isn’t true.

So, here is the first point: Others do not cause our feelings.

All feelings we experience are based upon our unique history and particular views of reality, the personal meanings and interpretations we bring to life.  No one “makes” us happy or sad or angry. We do that.

This is good news. Because when we view being upset as our responsibility we begin to take back our power to manage our inner state.

We can see our feelings are caused not by another’s actions but by what we believe to be true about what is happening.

This is our access to some power in the matter. You are responsible for your anger and its expression. This can be said to be true for everyone.

Accepting this David is the beginning of mastery over anger.

pbeckowletstalk@shaw.ca

—Paul Beckow is an individual, marriage and family therapist on the West Shore. See www.paulbeckow.com.