Anger: Incident or Issue?

In the years that I facilitated my support group for estranged families, I primarily worked with older parents whose adult children had severed their relationship with them. The parents were perplexed: “I was a good parent”, they declared. “I gave my children the best of everything. There is no reason why they should be punishing me like this!”
Over the course of several months, I was generally able to offer the parents some insights into what the actual causes might be. One gentleman, named Howard, explained that he worked three jobs so that his kids could go to the best private schools, take dance lessons, and have every amenity they wanted. “How can she claim I didn’t love her?” he asked. “I gave her everything!” “Howard,”, I asked, “Did you care for her when she was sick?” “Of course not! I was working.” “Did you go to her dance recitals when she was little?” “No”, he stated. “I had to work to pay for those lessons.” “So when you say you gave her everything, what you really did was give her everything you thought she wanted or what you thought was best for her. Maybe what she really wanted was you, your presence. Maybe your absence felt like you didn’t care and having you present in her life would have made her feel loved.” He sat motionless, his mind deep in contemplation of what I had just shared. “I thought I was doing the right thing, being a good father.” “It’s not about right or wrong, good or bad. There was simply a miscommunication.” He nodded. “Go to her. Ask her to tell you what you did that hurt her and how she felt when you disappointed her. Listen without defending your actions. Acknowledge her feelings and experiences, for they are valid for her. Then apologize for not being the kind of dad she wanted. This is about her experience, not your need to justify yours.”
Howard, took my advice and for the first time in seven years, he and his daughter were speaking again. Although initially awkward, it was a beginning to an understanding and eventual reconciliation.

Consider the following in determining if anger is due to the actual incident or to a deeper issue:

Very often, a miscommunication of feelings and needs leads to a misunderstanding of what each party is seeking or how the other person’s action are affecting them. Each person views the relationship from their narrow perspective which can ultimately lead to hurt feelings and a breakdown in the relationship. These issues are left to fester until they reach the breaking point causing an ultimate outburst or separation of both parties. Even in more immediate circumstances, when one misunderstands anothers words or intentions, anger can ensue.
Solution: Speak clearly and honestly. Ask for clarification from the other party if you have any concerns about what they are saying or doing.

Very often we mistakenly believe that when an individual is irate, it is directly related to the immediate incident. It’s a case of the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Certainly we all know that a camel can support the weight of a single straw. Yet pile on enough over time and eventually the camel will collapse under the strain. So it is with humans: the incident occurring may seem relatively minor compared to their reaction yet it is actually the culmination of many smaller events that have never been resolved that can finally lead to an angry outburst.
Solution: Examine and address each issue as it arises. Some can be resolved internally without the need for discussion. For those of a more serious nature, speak up and discuss them as they occur.

Past Issue
A third possibility is that the incident itself is triggering a painful, unresolved memory from one’s past. Consider someone who was bitten by a dog: a toy poodle wanting attention is considered a pleasant experience for many. Yet for a former dog-bite recipient, it triggers anxiety and pain. The fear and angry reaction is not relevant to the poodle, but to a prior unresolved concern.
Solution: When anger arises, take a moment and examine its source. Is there some hurt or fear from your past that is fueling your response in the present? Contemplation of such can lead to a new-found awareness and subsequent healing.

Yet another source relates to how a person feels when in your presence. Someone may be comfortable listening to a criticism from one of their coworkers but be completely unreceptive from another. The first may be someone who’s opinion is respected or where the individual believes their intentions are honorable. One may be less trusting of the other if they believe they have a hidden agenda that is not in their best interest. Being suspicious of their motives can lead to feeling defensive at anything they perceive to be potentially threatening or disrespectful in any regard.
Solution: Learn to objectively observe what others are saying or doing. Separate the actions from the individual. Consider any validity to their words and/or actions. If none is found, let it go without incident and move on.

The final option is related to one’s perception of what is transpiring. We all tend to see things from our own view point. Our beliefs, prior experiences, expectations, and such often prohibit us from seeing the truth. It’s imperative for us to examine our perception to be certain it is accurate and serves us well.
Solution: Examine your beliefs to be certain they are based on truth rather than inaccuracies. Enlist the assistance of others if necessary. Make any necessary adjustments.

In conclusion, we can see that there are many possible reasons for one’s anger. Keep in mind, that it is not necessarily the immediate incident that is causing an angry response but rather the issue behind it. Therefore, take a moment and examine the incident objectively. Ask yourself, “If this was an isolated incident, would I be reacting so strongly? Even if this incident is important, if it was occurring at another time, with another person, under different circumstances, would it still hold the same significance to me? Would I still respond in the same manner?”
Answers to these questions and more can offer significant insight into the real issues behind our indignation. In doing so, our response may be more in alignment with the relevance of what has transpired. Always give yourself the opportunity to inquire as to whether your anger is related to the actual incident or to a deeper issue.

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