It is important to be aware of the choices present in life. To acknowledge our options when a moment or interaction goes somewhere we don’t it want it to go. For many men, anger is the most comfortable choice in responding to difficulty. ‘Manning up’ means going hard and doubling-down, attacking the problem. When something’s broke, not to mope – fix it with force. This logic has its upsides, but on an inter/intrapersonal level it sometimes leaves us feeling more isolated and full of rage than before. Moving through life with anger may keep us away from the acceptance and compassion available to us from others and ourselves.
2 to 3 days a week, I play pickup basketball with a group of men. Ambient testosterone levels are high and physical fights are known to happen with some regularity. The game of basketball is a team sport; it requires a group of 5 to work together. Respect the geometry and spacing, pass the ball, talk to each other on defense, have your teammates’ backs. There’s a sort of magic that happens when it all comes together properly. There’s a gratification in the unspoken harmony of the group. There’s also the potential for discord. Inevitably, a teammate errs. An easy layup is missed or a defensive gamble leads to an easy basket for the opposition. These are the moment that illuminate individuals’ characters and deepens or weakens bonds. The worst response to adversity is one in which teammates assign blame to each other, forgiveness is withheld, and superiority is established. Unquestionably, it is disappointing when a mistake is made. It makes sense to acknowledge the error and learn from it – make an effort not to repeat it. Usually, as individuals we are aware when we’ve made a mistake. Many of us have an internal critic that is harsher than anyone else’s criticism. However, there are some that find any mistakes by their teammates or partners in life so intolerable, their response is to become angry and assign fault. Rather than sit with disappointment, call out the other.
Unfortunately, most of us, including myself, do not respond well to judgment and criticism from others. It has a way of exacerbating the shame and guilt that we may already be feeling in response to our mistake. It also drives us away from seeking the support that others can offer us. Some feelings like shame and guilt are bigger than us and the people in our lives can help us manage them through their acceptance and compassion. Keeping this in the domain of basketball, this might look like telling our teammates ‘don’t sweat it’ or ‘keep shooting it’ or a friendly pat on the back when they mess up. Even the act of withholding criticism and playing through is an act of acceptance.
Relationally, when we assign fault and blame, we discourage risk-taking and vulnerability. Relationships become stunted and compartmentalized for fear of the negative feedback we receive unless we play if safe. Getting angry should not be confused with assigning blame. It is healthy for us to feel our emotions and not repress them. We can be angry, even enraged without it tearing down our relationships. Anger may be seen as a signal that something is unpleasant to us.
Occasionally, there are clear instances when anger and its charge are demanded – an physical attack on us or someone we love, a clear injustice on someone that is vulnerable and unable to defend themselves, etc. Though most of the time, anger keeps us out of touch of the grief that we are actually feeling. Grief that the moment didn’t go as we wanted, our partner said the wrong thing, or our boss didn’t recognize our achievement. When we are able to tap into grief, we are usually able to access compassion and care. This is healing for us and has the power to bring parts of ourselves into integration and to make our relationships deeper. Showing our soft side is good for those around us and for ourselves. Responding to grief with anger usually distances us from the support available within our selves and in our relationships. When we are angry with ourselves we may fall into shame and isolation.
The small moments and interactions of the day-to-day weave the networks that characterize the quality of our life. By choosing how we respond to difficulty in everyday life - be it at basketball, breakfast with our partner, or at work - we choose how our life feels. If we are able to stay with the disappointment and difficulty inherent to life without it making us angry and bitter, we may hope to forge new experiences and relationships that give us hope and happiness.
My ongoing exploration into therapy related topics.