By Christopher Spriggs of ‘Heads Up Now’
I want to talk about anger, because we are confused by this. I’ve worked as a coach with hundreds of teenagers, and many adults, over the last 20 years and this issue comes up a lot. Especially for us guys, but not exclusively. It is not “anger management” that we need, it is “anger understanding”. “I’ve got this anger problem” a 15 year old boy says to me the other day. Then I listen to his story and I think, “you know, this guy has a lot of good reasons to feel angry.”
The first thing is this: Stop telling yourself off for feeling angry. There is nothing wrong with you IF you ever feel angry. As Augustine of Hippo said, “Hope has two daughters: Anger at how things are and Courage to change them.” Anger is a ‘change emotion’. Pretty useful huh?
So, where are we going wrong with this? When we deal with anger as ‘a problem to be fixed’ or ‘an emotion to deny or get rid of’, we discard the intrinsic intelligence of the emotion. Emotions are not good or bad, right or wrong. They can, I suggest, be pleasant or unpleasant. Most people prefer feeling elated than anxious, right? And all your emotions are intelligent – they give us visceral clues, in the bones, fibres and vibes of our physical body – about what’s going on. For many of us we need to get out of our heads and into our bodies more. Anger has something to teach us (as does anxiety).
Feeling angry is not a problem. Acting aggressive is. Read that again, because that’s another point of confusion right there. It is okay to feel the anger fully. Go into it, breathe it in. If you need to express it immediately, do so safely by stamping the ground rather than punching a wall. Stamping the ground will jolt you awake. Punching a wall…well, the wall will win. I promise you. Or grunt for 10 seconds. These are short term safety valves. They are not ‘being rude’, they are ‘feeling the feeling’. Parents, please take note of this. Stop telling your children off for ‘feeling angry’ and start understanding this next point.
Feeling angry is connected to values. What matters to you? Or your kids? Write a list, go on, 10 things that matter to you, or them. Rank them 1 to 10. Let me place a bet – if any of those things, whether tangible (like a car, phone or wallet) or intangible (like being respected, or keeping people safe, or being understood, or the experience of friendship) – if ANY of those things are put under threat by somebody or something, guess what? You are not going to lean back and feel chilled. You WILL feel angry, and you should. You will probably feel it in your stomach. Some behaviours will show up maybe in a tightened jaw or fist or shoulders, or tears. Or grunting. Sure, for some teens, grunting becomes their primary means of communication.
So here’s the thing I want to say: Stop trying to not feel angry about important stuff. It’s okay. Anger tells you – beyond the filters of the rational mind – what really matters to you. Okay, for this 15 year old lad his X-box was way too high up on his Top Ten List, where his GCSE revision needed to be. But we talked about that. When he figured out – for himself (that’s what a coach helps a person do) that his school grades also mattered, and wanting to be a mechanic also mattered to him, then he noticed how silly it looked having his X-box as the number 1 thing in his life. Teens look short-term, whereas us adults think of the ramifications for the next 42 years. When we adjust what matters to us (which we have to do for ourselves, other people cannot and must not do that change for us – it just doesn’t work that way) – when we own this change, our emotional wiring and behavioural reactions also change. Ta-da! – the anger isn’t a problem to be managed, it is an intelligent emotion being listened to. In the light of understanding what it wants to say, direct assertive action can be taken to recover that loss, for example, keeping people safe, or respectful dialogue, or agreeing (and writing down) boundaries about Revision vs. X-box time. Anger becomes a gateway to change.
Until you listen to what an angry feeling is telling you, it will linger. It is not telling you to act angry. It is inviting you to understand, and then take action. Where’s the problem now?
Christopher Spriggs is the founder of Heads Up Now, which offers coaching and support for young people, teachers and leaders to think, feel and perform at their best, more often and more easily.
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