Anger is like fire: it cannot survive without fuel.
Like fire, unchecked anger can grow out of control and cause enormous damage and pain. But also like fire, anger can be recognized, controlled and managed in our lives. The fuel that keeps anger burning can come from many sources – from problems at work or at home, from frustrations with the world, from our inability to overcome the challenges we face.
But interestingly, one of anger’s biggest fuel sources is self-sabotage – the things we do, perhaps unwittingly, to keep ourselves angry.
We might ask, why would we want to be angry? As an emotion, anger can be extremely powerful and seductive, especially for individuals who like to be seen as strong, cool-headed or ‘in control.’ For those of us who have little joy or pleasure in our lives, the thrill of anger’s heady excitement might be the strongest feeling we have, and even a bad feeling might seem preferable to no feeling. So we secretly stoke the fire of our anger. How? One way is to seek common ground with other angry people. Whether we look online or in our own neighborhood, there’s plenty of anger in the world. We can easily find gangs, forums and hate groups that reward anger with inclusion: if you’re willing to demonstrate your anger, you can be one of us.
Another form of self-sabotage is to turn our anger against ourselves physically. Perhaps this comes in the guise of something ordinary and culturally accepted, like smoking or drinking; perhaps it’s more sinister, like the use of drugs or self-inflicted wounds. Maybe we stop attending to our hygiene or eat our way to obesity. Maybe we stop taking life-saving medications or drive recklessly. For each of these behaviors, we undoubtedly have justifications; we rarely recognize that they help to keep us angry. The more we indulge in such actions, the less attractive we are to others, and, simultaneously, the more we blame others for criticizing, mistreating and misunderstanding us – something that makes us angry!
A pattern of putting ourselves into difficult situations and then blaming others for our failures is another self-sabotage maneuver. Perhaps we begin a relationship based on what we imagine our partner could be – his or her ‘potential’; maybe we accept a job that’s inappropriate except in our fantasy of what the job could be; maybe we start a project that’s far beyond our skills or budget. In each case, we’ve set ourselves up for failure; when, in fact, we fail, we angrily blame our partner, our boss or the world.
This cycle of self-inflicted anger can be stopped – if we seek help. Instead of hurting ourselves or others, we can learn to express our feelings and ideas. We can learn ways of relating to others without causing pain. We can turn our anger into a constructive force in our lives.
We don’t always recognize our own anger. But when other people withdraw from us, or ask us why we’re so angry or what we’re so mad about, they’re giving us a useful sign that we should be paying attention. When we see the damage and pain that comes from self-sabotage, perhaps it’s time to talk with a counselor who specializes in anger issues.
Man punching himself image available from Shutterstock.