Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before – it takes something from him.
Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.
Robert Green Ingersoll
I have known a lot of angry people in my life. In an earlier blog post about bullying I speculated that perhaps I attract them to me. Maybe this is because, I have been told, that I appear to be very calm. Perhaps it’s the attraction of opposites; perhaps they’re hoping some of the calm will rub off. Occasionally it has, but often my calm façade (and sometimes it is a façade) has incited other people’s anger. So perhaps it’s more birds of a feather.
The fact is that while I am calm to a degree, what I actually am is controlled. I am controlled in every emotional aspect, and express myself best in writing rather than face-to-face communication. There are some strengths in this, for example; terrified as I am of spiders, if there’s no one around to help, I can suppress the fear enough to deal with them; and while my body experiences the symptoms of stage fright – racing pulse, nausea, etc – my mind does not, rather it dissociates and gets on with the job in hand.
It is this dissociation that has sometimes served to bait angry people. Anger is a physical manifestation of the fear of loss of control. And if your reaction to this is to show no reaction, their loss of control escalates. People whose anger is not acknowledged become more angry. When someone has been extensively bullied as a child, however, often their only recourse is dissociation, and so a vicious cycle is created.
I have as much anger as the next person, but it is internalised rather than expressed openly. Because of this, I tend to intellectualise it and so can often channel it into work, particularly writing, which is very useful.
What interests me here is that anger has its own persona. My internalised anger becomes fictional characters, and I have witnessed other people’s externalised anger become a separate entity. I have a few friends who have anger problems, and on different occasions I have been present when their anger has taken hold. And it really is like watching another person take control of someone you thought you knew, like seeing a stranger wearing the skin of a friend.
To describe it in the way I am about to sounds overly dramatic, but it really is not unlike witnessing a demonic possession, albeit not quite on the scale of a Horror film depiction.
The first thing you notice is a change in the atmosphere. Everyone can tell when someone’s in a bad mood, but this is different. It’s almost as if the air around them bubbles, and there’s something either descending on them, or rising off them. There’s a point, very early on, when the person could stop it if they wanted to, but unless they’re quick, it rapidly becomes too late.
One friend I saw this happen to had a look of confused fear on her face, as though she had driven her car too close to the edge of a cliff and realised she couldn’t brake in time. I could see her struggling to stop it, but it was too late, her anger demon had run away with her and there was no turning back.
Afterwards, when it had subsided and we were sitting on her sofa with a drink, she said, ‘I’m evil. I know I’m evil.’ Of course, I brushed off her statement and reassured her, but she said it with an air of defiance. It was matter-of-fact, as if she was stating a minor character trait that she couldn’t change, such as being obsessively tidy, or a shopaholic, and I knew it wasn’t her speaking, but the last words of her anger demon before it slunk back inside her, or went off into the ether, wherever it came from. But what I remember now, is that it was the voice of a child, not a reasoning adult.
On that particular occasion, her anger demon was focussed not on me, but on another of our group, who refused to rise to the bait. But there have been times when other people’s anger demons were focussed most directly on me, which has made me think that even though, for ‘decency’s sake’ I rarely express anger, it obviously lurks inside me and sends out barely perceptible signals.
My anger demon is a true sadist. You know the famous quote:
Masochist to Sadist, ‘Hurt me, please hurt me.’
Sadist to Masochist, ‘No.’
Anger hurts only itself. Mine loves to hurt me. If that’s not by flooding my brain with negative thoughts, it’s by sending out coded messages to other anger demons saying it’s ready to come out and play, only to retreat when the playmate comes knocking at the door, and finds, instead of a sparring partner, someone whose lights are on, but is not home.
I believe it can be helpful to think of anger as a separate personality, because then it is possible to look at it objectively to see where it helps and where it harms you, and to work out how to control it.
Like a wild animal, anger demons only attack when they feel threatened. They are, at heart, children who are acting out because they feel undermined by authority. But you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so it pays to learn how to keep the demon under control. Because if you don’t, if you give it an inch, your anger will control you; and harm you, and drive people away from you. And all that will happen before you realise what’s going on. Learn to recognise that moment when the demon begins to stir, because you don’t have to let it drag you down with it. You can stop it. As small as the window of opportunity may be, it is there, and it’s your choice whether or not you take it.