Tuesday 5 October 2010

Off the boil

I don't understand anger. I'm a pretty placid, patient person, and when I see other people fuming and raging about something I wonder where all that boiling energy comes from.

My father was an extremely angry person. Not half an hour would go by without him raging about something or other - the government, my mother's messiness, my own messiness, his boss, other people's bad manners, young people, you name it.

It wasn't altogether surprising when he suffered a stroke and discovered his blood pressure was way too high. But that didn't stop him flaring up about one thing after another. He seemed to see everything and everyone as a personal affront, out to annoy him and make his life difficult.

When I was ten, my lovely grandma took me aside and advised me not to grow up full of anger like my father. It would only make me unhappy, she said. For some reason I was so struck by what she said that I resolved from that moment not to be an angry person but to be more philosophical.

And so I have been. All my life I've found it difficult to get angry about anything. People who know me are always flabbergasted if I get seriously angry, they assume something enormously traumatic must have occurred.

I just don't see the point in getting angry. To my mind, it seldom achieves anything except to make a difficult situation worse and to alienate people. Decisions taken in the heat of anger tend to be either disastrous or badly flawed. The energy it consumes leaves me drained and battered.

I know that if I take a deep breath, stay cool, and assess the situation calmly and carefully, I'll react far more sensibly than if I explode in anger. Other people will also react more sensibly, not being cowed and intimidated by a violent outburst.

Some people think that by not getting angry I'm repressing some vital part of myself, something healthy and life-enhancing. I don't think so. I see it as taming a rather primitive and destructive emotion that tends to cause more harm than good. I have no time for it.

PS: If it's repressive to avoid anger, then isn't it also repressive to modify any kind of unpleasant behaviour, like rudeness or malice? That would be absurd.

Finally met up with the wonderful Grannymar, who's been a blogmate for around three years now. I thought I knew all about her but there was plenty more to find out. We were amazed to discover how long we'd been chatting....


  1. I used to be a very angry person, Nick. But in the last few years almost all of it has gone. I can't say I make a point of trying not to be, I've just calmed down! The main thing is that when I was growing up, my dad's very strong personality pretty much overpowered my own and the only way I could make myself heard (or so I thought) was to rant and rave!

    But I never thought it would be possible for me to not be aggressive or angry, it just eased off over the years when I came away from the situations and people who used to provoke it.

    Sometimes I feel like I've gone through some sort of metamorphosis!

  2. Val - Interesting that you've naturally calmed down, maybe as you say because you've got away from people who provoked it.

    I used to get very argumentative with my father, but seldom angry as I was afraid he would get violent (he often got violent with my mother).

  3. My father created great tension at home, like with you my grandmother always found a way break it.

    Through the years I have learned to let stressful situations go over my head while staying calm. It certainly means that dealing with my heart situation is easier.

  4. As one who can get a bit stroppy, I stay calmer now than when I was younger. I notice I tend to avoid angry or negative persons and often end up asking myself whether, in the larger scheme, my anger will get me anywhere. I've also acquired the skills necessary to diffuse these situations and become happier as I've gotten older.

  5. Grannymar - Letting stressful situations go over your head rather than getting bogged down in them is exactly right. Most of them don't seem so important 24 hours later anyway.

    e - I also try to avoid angry or negative people. They just make me feel bad, so why indulge them? Let them cultivate their negativity somewhere else. And as you say, we can develop skills to defuse volatile situations.

  6. great subject nick!
    i made a decision early in life not to be "difficult" and have worked hard at being easy to get along with. unfortunately i dont always get the balance right, compromise myself too much and tend to get taken for granted. eventually i get fed up and tend to explode. i have got the balance better over the years, i frightened myself when i realised that my anger with my kids was often not their fault and i was on the mild end of abusive towards them at times.

    my husband is a very angry man. his anger has paralysed me, alienated the kids, lost him respect at work and caused people to avoid him socially.

    learning the appropriate expression of anger is so important and we seem, as a society, to do a very bad job of teaching it

  7. The feeling of anger isn't a problem if you use it as a cue to alerting yourself to problems. But the expression of rage is not healthy or helpful. My father and stepfather were both extraordinarily angry people and I have put a lot of effort into mastering that in myself. I'm much much better at letting things go.

  8. I grew up in a house full of one person's out of control rage and anger so I am very, very leery of anyone who expresses this type of behaviour.
    I learned in therapy that it is a major sign of depression and I truly believe that. Undealt-with emotion.
    I am hardly ever angry, can't think of the last time except when driving.
    One thing I would like to do is clean up my mouth. Potty mouth (another sign of repressed rage, oh dear!)
    good on you Nick for taking Granny's advice to heart - was she your dad's mum?

  9. My father, too, was an injustice collector and by trade, a criminal trial lawyer who came home every night and reenacted his day in court for my mother, reproducing his rage and indignation. I always especially irked him, which was very hard for me. Not surprisingly, he died rather young of a heart attack. To this day, angry people scare me.

  10. Kylie - Good point, how to scotch anger but at the same time get people's respect. Getting angry with kids, who may find it terrifying, is definitely to be avoided. Sorry about your husband, that doesn't sound good at all.

    Secret Agent - True, anger can be a useful pointer to some other problem you're not dealing with. And yes, letting go of things that just aren't worth the anger is important.

  11. www - I think you're right that it can be a sign of depression and general unhappiness. And it's a very defensive thing, keeping people away from any true intimacy and self-revelation.

    No, she was my mum's mum.

    Heart - Oh dear, another angry male. It is rather typical, isn't it? I think anger scares most people, it just shuts out any tenderness and compassion.

  12. Nick - I'm sorry you had to grow up in that sort of environment where you had to be on your emotional toes all the time.

  13. Val - Thanks. It was very upsetting, but at least I got away from it eventually.

  14. My father's anger was and is truly terrifying. But it never lasts. It's a burst of flame. The trouble is, you never know what is going to set it off.

    I wish he had your strength.

  15. Megan - That was our problem as well, we never knew what was going to set my father off. A careless remark, an untidy bedroom. Anger is extremely self-indulgent.

  16. Self-indulgence is one of the curses of the middle class. Discuss... :)

  17. Megan - Oh I don't know, the hallmark of the middle-class is surely aspiration, which requires self-discipline rather than self-indulgence. Plenty of self-indulgence on the side though when the self-control gets too much.

  18. I actually understand anger. If used properly, it can incite passion and inspire. I don't think anger itself is a bad thing, you have to look at the motive, the context and the consequences first. I think.

    I am Fickle Cattle.

  19. Fickle - I guess it can inspire in some circumstances, but so often I see it used in a destructive, manipulative way that simply bludgeons other people.

  20. Some anger is justified but most of our anger is selfish and harmful to us and others.

    I'm not an angry person. I'm more of a drifter through life.

  21. Liz - I'm also a bit of a drifter, but I don't think that's connected with my lack of anger. I consciously decided not to be as irrascible as my father.

  22. Like you I had and am continuing to have a father who is short tempered and who flies of his handle at the flimsiest of excuses. No one needed to tell me not to be like him and when I am not angry, he gets angry at that reaction too! It is just not worth the bother responding to events and things with anger. I have occasionally experienced road rage but since I don't drive anymore, even that has gone from my life.

  23. Ramana - Sounds just like my own father, especially the getting angry because you're not angry! As you say, most of the time anger's just not worth the bother.