Do you sometimes open a newspaper, or turn on the television and almost immediately feel your blood boil? Does the language used by politicians and presenters seem designed to raise your blood pressure? Does the shouting, drama and fear expressed in TV soaps or reality shows make you feel ‘on edge’?
Sometimes it seems we have become an angry nation. Some papers seem deliberately divisive; they blame immigrants, benefit claimants, bankers. At the weekend one paper used the headline ‘NHS to fund sperm bank for lesbians: New generation of fatherless families… paid for by YOU’ above a piece that when read closely described a sperm bank that was also for heterosexual single women and couples. In fact it was a sperm bank for everyone to use, managed carefully to ensure those approaching it had thought carefully about starting a family, but the headline was deliberately inflammatory and designed to induce anger against a particular group. It is not a one off. Footballers get angry and bite other players; Jeremy Clarkson makes remarks about shooting striking nurses or uses racist language and claims his right of free speech; politicians continue to blame one another for the country’s problems and shout across the House at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Isn’t this all very unhealthy? What does it achieve and how does it spill over into our own lives?
We cannot necessarily influence what is said on the wider national stage, but we can ensure we deal with any feelings we have as individuals in a healthy way. We all have to deal with faceless call centre staff who seem to have gone on every ‘dealing with difficult people’ course available and are impervious to our frustration. Our friends and family don’t always agree with us, can hurt us: bottling anger up can lead to explosive outbursts that can cause rifts in relationships, stress and feelings of guilt as we turn it in on ourselves. So what should we do?
Psychotherapist Harriet Lerner has examined the impact of anger closely and has developed some key ‘do’s and don’ts’, and we particularly like the following coping strategies:
Speak up when an issue is important to you
People often say, when seeing someone in distress, to ‘let it go’. If someone says something hurtful, it is sometimes seen to be more mature to just let it be. But this is often the way bitterness and resentment sets in. In the long term it is better to make a stand when something is important to us.
Appreciate the fact that people are different
Different perspectives on an issue suggest there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the matter. People react in different ways, and to recognise that can be very liberating.
Don’t speak through a third party
‘So and so was upset when you didn’t turn up at her party’ could, if it has made you angry be phrased as ‘I was really unhappy that you didn’t find the time to come along, you were missed’. To use someone else’s assumed response is dishonest and avoids the real issues.
Next time we will look at who is actually responsible for the way we respond to an incident. Think about it – in the examples we started this piece with what should we do with our anger at casual rascism, the discrimination inherent in the sperm bank story or the behaviour of politicians? We can change our newspaper and turn off the television but avoiding the issues doesn’t make them disappear. If we are not dealing with our anger appropriately something else will inevitably take their place. …