Anger is about fear. It’s about losing control or having no control, or being controlled by others, or by circumstances – by the universe, essentially – in a way that one cannot tolerate. This can be as simple as getting cut off, rudely, by yet another driver who gets away with it, or being stuck in a traffic jam for the third time that day.
It can be as complex and painful as losing one’s job with no prospects for another, with all the instability this can bring not just to oneself but those one cares about. Anger is about injustice, about thoughts on how that same universe – your world – just shouldn’t be the way it is, or how there should at least be a simple way to change it. Anger loves simple ways.
There is a strong element of sadness at work, here – simple solutions that work tend to be rare – but the angry tend to deny this. Anger is about not thinking too much, or at all; it is much more about ignoring complications and nuances and involved solutions that might require time and compromise. Anger has no patience for all that. Anger demands a clear target and simple answers and actions. Anger likes to punish, to show the world who’s boss. In the moment, anger can be extremely powerful, and almost always takes control – or the semblance of control – while the world backs off, often in fear. This control is always fleeting.
In boxing, as in many sports, a common winning strategy is to get your opponent angry, get them unthinking and unobservant and distracted, with an inflated sense of their own power – which might give you a winning opening. In politics, you can win votes by appealing to people’s anger – to their worst fears and the sadness they deny, to their desperate need for simple answers and someone to punish, to their need to regain control (or something that resembles control), so they can restore justice to their respective universes, or at least justice as they see it. Elections can be won in this way, but if you win, both you and the world better watch out. The universe, as it really operates, always catches up.
John Dabrowski, LICSW
Neponset Health Center
Geiger Gibson Community Health Center