In writing this, my third post on Bert Hellinger’s seven-forms of anger, I am reminded that anger is a messy topic. I know of no one who is free from feeling and expressing their own, or experiencing another’s anger. No one wants to be regarded as an angry person, nor is it pleasant to be in the presence of another’s anger. Expressions of anger are feared, and people who are fierce in their anger are generally judged harshly … as though our judgements can insulate us from our fears.
Simply, it is politically incorrect to be angry, yet many of us are angrier than we admit. So too, many of us are angry without being aware of the anger we exude: Feeling angry has become an unconscious a way of life, a habit. Unreconciled anger can lead to ill-health, and being a recipient of another’s anger, through time, is psychologically, energetically and physically damaging. Recovering from these injuries requires much effort.
The topic of this post gives rise to compassion in me, which, in my world, is a proper response to those who express problematic anger. Compassion does not however absolve those of us expressing anger of our responsibilities. We need to become aware of the impact of our actions, and to stop injuring ourselves and others. So too, when others are expressing problematic anger with us, we need to learn to compassionately and intelligently push back without attacking the other. Everyone has responsibility in these matters. It begins with learning to go beyond our aversion to conflict.
Hellinger defines the type of anger that is the subject of this post as anger that is “a substitute for the expression of love.” This anger functions similarly to the anger in my last post, yet differs in two ways: Its root is distinct, and is only directed to those you love.
Instead of expressing the love you feel, you express anger. In this model, this type of anger is a consequence of an infant’s or young child’s physical, emotional and energetic attempt to “reach out” to its mother or father to receive or give love. The intended connection of love never occurs and the “reaching out movement” incomplete. This results from the parent either being physically present but energetically and emotionally absent, or from the parent being physically absent. Both render the child’s “reaching out” incomplete.
Without proper remedy we express anger to those we love throughout our lives. The intensity of this type of anger increases through repetition. Many of us end up with increasingly angry partners. Compassion is called for. So too is seeking right and competent assistance.
I maintain that we live in a friendly universe. This notwithstanding, life circumstances repeatedly render great pressures for the purposes of changing and advancing our individual psyche. Think for a moment about babies born prematurely: infants tucked away in isolettes where physical touch is all but impossible, say nothing about emotional and energetic connection. Think too of birth trauma and the child’s ensuing medical attention. As consequence, the child is physically, emotionally, and energetically distant from its parent.
So too, what of those countries which prosecute one or more wars in every generation…absent fathers…fathers who return to their families carrying the weight of combat…many are unavailable to their children. In more recent years, women too are in the fray. They too return burdened.
What about parents with unhealed injuries about which they may have little or no awareness? So too, those parents facing extremely challenging life issue without workable models to guide their way? These parents are physically present yet energetically, emotionally and psychologically inaccessible to their children. No wonder anger is expressed in love’s stead. Again, I suggest expressions of compassion are warranted.
I am not asking you to learn to calibrate these various forms of anger. Rather, I offer these distinctions to spark, nudge and speak to the unconscious healing motion inside you that awaits your conscious awareness. With such awareness, you can take action to further your own psychological awakening. Spiritual and energetic awakenings are ill-fated without honest growth, development and the opening of your personality, mind and heart. Understanding alone does not bring change; yet, we are thought-based people and we require words and conceptual understandings to bring things into our awareness – those things asks for healing attention from ourselves and competent others.
Most of us are spontaneous and highly skilled in expressing anger. It is imperative to become equally or more skillful and spontaneous in expressing our compassionate intelligence. The cosmos consists of forces and counterbalancing forces. As individual people, our task is to let go of models and understandings which do not serve – the ones no longer working. We need instead open to an informing universal wisdom that lies beyond our understanding. It is this wisdom that will inform our push back – for we too need push back in our lives. Yet, we need do so without attacking the other. We need do so compassionately, intelligently and wisely rather from fear and pain.
To this end, open your heart and mind to the following:
• How can I push back against another’s anger without attacking them?
• What form of push back communicates that I will no longer tolerate anger directed to me?
• What are the right moments to push back?
Questions to direct your attention:
• How can I be more gracious with myself and others?
• How can I see the beauty, dignity, innocence resident in each human life? In me too?
• How do I know of my own beauty, dignity, innocence?
• How can I be strong in myself yet compassionate, creative and powerful?
• How can I be centered in my belly, grounded to the Earth and feel stability in my bones?
• How can I be relaxed and equal to circumstances in my world?
Anger - 2
In my last post, Anger - 1, I wrote of a positive strengthening and enabling anger: In itself, it exists without emotion. It is an energetic force accessible to assist us. Generally, and unfortunately, this positive anger is mixed, contaminated, with forms of problematic anger: those which conscript our attention and emotion. Therefore, we rarely experience or express this type of anger cleanly. Although it does help us, other unnecessary issues arise. In the follow-on to the seven posts I write regarding Hellinger’s model, I will speak to other approaches to taking action.
The topic of this post’s exploration is of a type of anger that is harmful and serves no life affirming function: No one benefits and its consequences grave. It is an anger entangled with emotion. Some years ago a large percentage of my work involved providing conflict mediation to leadership, departmental and project teams in business and government. The anger addressed in this post is one of three, possibly four, types that pervaded those workplaces.
This post is the subject of Bert Hellinger’s second type of anger: An anger that is a substitute for an action you could have, or ought to have accepted, or taken, or asked for, or, demanded from another. Instead of asserting yourself and taking what you needed, you became angry with those from whom you ought to have taken, asked or demanded from. This anger is a substitute for action and arises from inaction. It has a paralyzing and weakening effect that lasts a long time.
Please take note of this reminder: Models are no more to be believed than are theories, dogmas, proofs, facts and narratives. Rather, appropriate working models are useful as point our way. We cannot get on without them. Too, like theories, they are often mistaken as truths. The beauty of working models is in their underlying intent: They are to be altered, as necessary, to fit the constantly changing and diverse worlds we inhabit.
In reading my examples below you will find that I have altered this model a little: Not only is anger substituted for actions you could have asked or demanded from another, but asked or demanded from yourself. How many of us after failing to do what a moment asks, have gotten angry? Nearly all of us have experienced this.
Lets look to examples: When I was thirty I wanted a radio-cassette player to replace the AM/FM radio in my car. I found the one I wanted yet bought a less expensive brand. After twice returning it to the manufacturer and having it malfunction yet again, I was beside myself with anger. In a cloud of profanity I walked to the dumpster behind my apartment and fiercely threw it in the bin. I was unaware at the time of being angry with myself, yet I was. Too, there were other co-mingling forms of anger present then, but those types are subject to other posts.
Some time ago I outsourced a marketing project. Having received a bid, I contracted the job. Over the course of the project the contractor was angry with me. Eventually he stated that he had given me a discounted fee, and too, that the project was taking more time than anticipated. As consequence to his failing to pencil out his costs, he had unwittingly substituted anger for actions he could have taken: He could have asked for a proper fee. In failing to do that, he could have attempted to renegotiate his fee or the project’s scope. That would have taken courage on his part.
I have done similarly: During times of high rapport with another who asked my fees I have understated them. In failing to change my state of being from one serving social interaction, I created consequences I did not want. Anger was but one. The action I ought to have taken was to change to and embody a state serving my company’s interests. When angry these days, I ask myself: “What ought I have done?” and “What should I do now?” Then act accordingly.
In workplace hierarchies many people frequently and unwittingly act unkindly or disrespectfully to those reporting to them. The myriads of things driving their behavior are beyond the scope of this report, yet, the anger of those in subordinate positions is, if only as example. Many of the mediations I facilitated in executive suites and conference rooms were to redress such issues. Generally however, the executives and managers I worked with were ignorant of their actions: Nor did they initially grasp that their actions largely contributed to their troubling workplace environments.
This anger too is substituted for actions one ought to take within couple and family relationships. No further example here warranted as this practice is commonplace.
I remind you: My intent in these posts on anger is to prompt our awareness; In doing so, to invite us to interrupt our habitual anger. So too, to prompt us to respond with actions right for the moment: those which serving self, other and the moment.
The following questions are asked of ourselves. The answers are irrelevant. Simply ask:
In what contexts have I used anger as substitution for actions I ought to have taken? Should have taken? Asked or demanded from another? Of myself?
In what other contexts have I done this? Are there specific people with whom I regularly done this?
What patterns do I find in myself?
What patterns do I find in those closest to me? At work?
In what situations do I need to assert myself effectively?
In my next post will highlight other forms of anger as substitution. I end this post with a few words from William Blake on anger. (Please keep in mind: How you speak to another concerning your anger is the difference that makes the difference.) Thank you Gregory Bateson for this phrase.)
A Poison Tree
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I water’d it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright;
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veil’d the pole:
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.