The main concept we try to get to is control of behavior. You might feel your feelings, but you have to be responsible for your actions and behavior. Just because you’re pissed doesn’t give you the right to hit someone in the face. Got the concept?
It’s a new expectation for behavior. If you were in prison, where letting an insult go can lead to a label and a target on your back, it’s (almost always) seen as necessary to respond to insults with force. If you’re living in the hood, part of not getting messed with is projecting an image of strength and fearsomeness. Rightly or wrongly, these are the cultural expectations we see in folks with anger problems. It’s not because everyone in prison is an asshole – it’s because the situation and culture creates an expectation for behavior that one must follow to remain safe.
Controlling an anger reaction is difficult not only because it runs opposite to lots of cultural and situational training, but also because it’s tough to let wrong people get away with being wrong. It’s essentially a game of self-control, but most of the time it’s frustrating and unrewarding; it’s much more satisfying to actually act on your emotions (consequences be damned) than to control them. Especially for men, who have so much identity tied up in being macho and tough and ready to fight, it’s really hard to expect them to walk away from someone who is in the wrong, or to not stand up for their reputation, or to let an insult go without reacting.
I was at an (amazing) hardcore show last night, hanging out on the outskirts of the mosh pit, enjoying the hell out of watching the folks dancing around doing spin kicks and floor punches. It’s like a cultural experience sometimes – there’s expectations for behavior and for reactions in every show, and every scene is different. There was a young man, probably early twenties, who got kicked in the leg by a dancer (I think); he got pissed and walked toward the person who had danced into him, arms out, like the “come at me bro” guy.
It was absurd, not least because it’s a cultural expectation at a show – you stand by the mosh pit, you might get hit.
He looked ridiculous, and luckily his friend stopped him, but he didn’t want to get stopped. He wanted to give into that anger reaction, and he didn’t want to admit he was wrong for getting pissed (even though he was).
The toughest part about walking away is that the person who did you wrong might never know, and this is super annoying. Lots of our cultural media is centered on justice, of wrongdoers paying the price, assholes getting their comeuppance. Real life doesn’t work that way all the time – even if a wrongdoer pays, we might never know. And it’s still essential to be the bigger person, to know that you’re okay, even if they never know.
Anger management sucks because it requires we let go of our ego and humble ourselves. It requires not acting on our impulses and maybe never getting credit for doing a good thing. In a world obsessed with individuals and ego, it’s more important than ever and more difficult than ever.
Anger management sucks, but it’s essential to function. The difference between children and adults is impulse control – maybe this is the key task for us to master before we can work toward the world we want. Society before self.
Anger management sucks, but chaos sucks more.