When anger becomes an aphrodisiac
Do you find yourself attacking your partner or friends and then later regretting it? When a partner or friend makes a demand of you or gives you negative feedback, do you use anger to get them to back down? Do you find it easier to communicate your true feelings and opinions when you are angry? Anger is an ‘easy’ emotion—felt so intensely that words and actions flow instantaneously and without conscious reflection.
Take the example of Melanie, who feels ashamed of herself as she, once again, frantically scrolls through her romantic partner’s emails, text messages and Facebook account while he showers. As she perceives suspicious material, a cryptic text here, a ‘like’ on another girl’s Facebook picture there, her thoughts travel in a million different directions. Imagining infidelity, distrust and picturing her partner engaging in various liaisons with his female friends, she panics. By the time he exits the shower, she is enraged. The accusing and questioning leaves her partner befuddled, to the point that he cannot think straight or even remember exactly who he communicated with that week or, let alone, why. Melanie encodes his deer-in-the-headlights expression as evidence of his guilt and disloyalty.
Throwing one verbal attack after another at him, she eventually exhausts herself and the two go to sleep. The next morning Melanie recognizes she overreacted and makes amends, only to find herself repeating this same scenario in less than a week’s time. Each time her partner accepts her apologies, loving her in spite of herself, she feels more connected and secure in the relationship.
For some, communicating through anger is a dysfunctional way to be one’s true self and connect. When a person has difficulty with self-acceptance, they may dismiss and push aside their moment-to-moment negative emotions to avoid conflict and remain accepted by others. At some point, the dam breaks and an event that may warrant minor annoyance triggers rage. People who fall into this pattern feel a sense of relief in finally being able to express their true self. The only way they can experience love is when a partner or friend responds to their unpredictable anger with forgiveness and unconditional support.
However, anger’s authenticity is short lived. It is hard to be the close friend or long term partner of someone who chronically uses anger to connect. Ultimately, anger serves to distance and erode meaningful connection. And initial relief quickly turns to shame and guilt for having to express what may be genuine feelings in such a destructive way toward someone they cherish. In the long term, connecting through anger begets self-alienation.
If you fall into this pattern, work to notice your feelings in the moment. Instead of blowing off your opinions and negative emotions to ‘get along’ and be ‘friends with everyone,’ reflect on what you like or dislike about the events and people in your life. Do not wait until your emotions hit a boiling point; communicate your thoughts and feelings on an ongoing basis. With anger, notice when you feel frustrated or disappointed so that it does not build into rage. Reframe blame toward others by owning your feelings without shame, i.e. instead of “Who are you texting!?” try “I feel insecure.”