Have you been hopping mad recently? Some people temperamentally seem to be more easily roused to anger than are others. Yet, to some extent we all get irritated at times. We feel cross when others attack what we love like our child or pet animal. It could be something we love in ourselves, that when attacked, causes us a sense of wounded pride. Offensive put-downs thrown at us in a condescending tone of voice also can get to us.
Irritation can easily spiral into full-blown anger when we retaliate in kind and the heated things that are said – which on reflection we often do not even mean – hurt both parties. It is possible to harbour resentment for years especially if we continually avoid someone or allow ourselves to slip into the habit of not conversing with them when we do have an opportunity.
Making up with the person who caused you anger
Making up may be easier said than done. And not every attempt at reconciliation works. After all, it takes two to tango. We need to eat a little humble pie even if the other person who triggered anger does not.
“The fellow who thinks he knows it all is especially annoying to those of us who do” (Harold Coffin)
Even when we swallow a bit of pride the other person may not stop his or her ego trip. Unless the opponent meets us halfway, the attempt at finding a way forward may possibly fail.
To increase the chances of success we could try saying what we think in a low-key way. By seeking a common understanding, we are giving the relationship every chance to get past this difficulty. It means looking at the situation from the other person’s point of view; not assuming that he or she is entirely at fault, using our imagination to step into their shoes whilst at the same time not avoiding thorny issues. It is possible to voice our feeling of anger without exaggerating and without casting blame. We can try to think of different points of view rather than one wrong one and one right one.
Sometimes we do not try hard enough to make up and rarely are the first to make a conciliatory move. One fallacy is to believe that “a relationship that needs working at is not worth having.” However, satisfying relationships are unlikely to develop unless all concerned are prepared to be committed and to make an effort.
We may wrongly assume that the other person who has hurt our feelings should know how hurt and angry we feel. Yet people cannot see into each other’s minds and however close we are to others, they will never be able to know exactly how we feel unless we let them know.
Using good sense when dealing with anger
We need to show good sense when relating to others. Making unwise compromises that maintain destructive relationships is not good sense. In other words, doing good to others and forgetting their wrongdoing may not always be wise if the behaviour is harmful and persists.
There may be violence within the home or sexual infidelity with no remorse or effort to change. Then our acceptance of the other person’s limitations, rather than simply saying we forgive them, may be a more realistic goal. In extreme cases sometimes it is better to part company.
Letting go of very deep-seated hurt and the consequential anger may take considerable time that requires real or imagined encounters with the perpetrators of our pain. A few of us have been so very badly abused and offended against that it has caused a long-lasting suppressed state of anger. We may firstly need professional help to work through our shock and denial and become more aware of the effects of the terrible wrong done to us. This may involve starting to appropriately express feelings to others of hurt, grief, anger and rage. It greatly helps if the fact of the wrong-doing is acknowledged by those previously involved.
Great anger in South Africa
Desmond Tuttu the black clergyman living in South Africa during the apartheid period and many other black Africans had every reason to feel very angry at the treatment meted out to them by the white supremacists in power over them.
- Separate public facilities were enforced on racial lines.
- To all intents and purposes only white Africans had the vote.
- Black Africans were legally confined to rural reserves covering only about 7% of the country whereas they consisted of 68% of the population.
- Segregated townships for blacks working in urban areas were set up. Blacks had to carry a passbook identifying themselves and showing whether they were entitled to be in a white only area.
- Husbands and fathers were separated from their loved ones as a result of a pernicious system of migratory labour.
- Their children went to overcrowded schools in black townships and lived in inadequate shanty housing with a woefully inadequate system of transport.
- Black people who protested suffered long periods of detention without trial and there were deaths in detention. All this meant that the black people suffered frustration and humiliation. They were a subject people.
Although not a pacifist, Desmond strongly believed in responding to injustice by asserting ones human dignity and rights in a courageous way with a view to possible reconciliation rather than revenge. He advocated civil disobedience rather than violence as a response to oppression. But when he and others joined illegal protest marches they risked being shot by police. Desmond with other religious leaders often intervened to try to help diffuse situations where violence was a distinct possibility calming down the anger and aggression.
This was the action of someone who believed that problems could be solved by people sitting down together to discuss their differences rather than resorting to violence. He said that the campaign should be characterised by discipline and dignity because they were all involved in a moral struggle and that non-violent protest could only succeed resulting in their freedom.
There were outbreaks of violence by black people but the overwhelming response to the violence of oppression was peaceful protest. Despite the great anger felt the struggle was to be based not on hatred but on the hope of freedom and reconciliation.
Many commentators had thought that bloodshed, violence and civil war were inevitable because a people can take only so much injustice and despair. But they were wrong. In my opinion international pressure and the emergence of political leaders of the calibre of Nelson Mandela and Frederik der Kerk were necessary for the avoidance of civil war but what was crucial in this outcome was the prevalent spirit of love and justice in the nation – other than within the white right-wing reactionary forces. The spirit of love was the message of the New Testament when Jesus said `Love your enemies’
As has been said if we instead were to follow the old idea of revenge embodied in the teaching of `an eye for an eye’ soon all people would be blind and then where would we be? Longer version of this article
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems