Anger is a well-known emotion to some and feared by others but it is naturally a part of being human. It’s a powerful emotion- and its sheer force can make it especially problematic and difficult. Anger handled well can actually be quite healthy and many times can warrant a turning point for honesty and growth. However, patterns of both repression and explosion lead down painful roads and can wreck havoc on relationships, family-life and overall mental health. In this post, we’ll help you develop some insights into your experience with anger.
The most explosive way to cope with anger is extreme venting. When “venters” are angry, you know it. These people usually have tempers and can escalate quite quickly. When venting is the norm in a household, so are harsh words, yelling and short lived tantrums (banging doors, slamming tables). If you are this type, you likely are aware because it’s caused you relational problems most of your life. The danger in these kinds of explosive outbursts is the impulsivity and heightened emotions. In the same way it’s hard to remember the details of a crisis or any other adrenaline-charged event, people who vent and explode often say things they don’t mean and later regret. If a couple includes two people who both have explosive tempers, it’s likely for family life to feel volatile and scary. Have you ever heard the term fight or flight? If not, it alludes to the animal kingdom’s response to predators- some animals fight (think lion) where as some freeze and attempt to be as still as possible (think rabbit). People who cope with anger by venting or raging are usually “fight” oriented, not “flight” oriented.
“Flight” oriented people withdraw during conflict. Usually, they describe themselves as hating conflict and avoiding it at all costs. People who withdraw during conflict take the stance that it’s just “not worth it” to bring it up. Their body language is closed off (think arms crossed, eyes down) and it’s difficult to understand where they stand in the argument. Sometimes, withdrawing folks will more accurately engage in ‘denial’ kind of behavior- they’ll pretend nothing has happened and refuse to engage. If two individuals in a marriage are both withdrawing, resentments will build over years, decades even. If one person is more withdrawing than the other, he or she will likely shut down more when as he might see it, “pushed” by a more explosive type. Withdrawing behaviors in conflict are most harmful in the sense that they block intimacy. It’s difficult to develop depth, substance or connection if conflict is avoided or shunned altogether.
If venting is aggressive and withdrawing is passive, emotional stonewalling is passive aggressive. Emotional stonewalling often involves manipulation in the form of fabricated tears, personal or non relevant attacks and other forms of guilt-tripping. When there is an emotional stonewaller present, there is oftentimes a great deal of shaming and blaming in the midst of conflict. Instead of focusing on the issues at hand, the emotional stonewalled pushes the conversation in a different albeit manipulative direction.
How do you cope with anger and conflict when it presents itself? How do the people you are closest to, cope? Identifying our tendencies is the first step towards growth.