Tuesday, July 19

Can anger be a good thing?

I'm in a philosophical discussion kind of mood, amigos. Ready to climb on board?
 (I promise the Star Trek Reference will make sense in a second.) (Not that it needs to be justified, of course.)

I grew up in a pretty quiet household where we... read books a lot. On the couch, in bed, in the bathroom, in a tree, we all had our noses silently buried in pages. Jason grew up in a rambunctious household where there was usually a radio playing, a TV show (or two) on, and boisterous banter. 

As a result, I get overwhelmed when people raise their voices at me, and I shut off. Jason handles it much better. Sometimes he'll jump right in and raise his voice in return-- and sometimes he's even the first to raise his voice.

So we've been having an interesting debate lately: is expressing your anger helpful or harmful? I'll give you both of our arguments, but I'd love to hear your take on it too.

So here's what I've thought most of my life: disagreements are better-solved free of showing anger. To me, a productive conversation is where both people really empathetically understand the other person's feelings and logic.

I think that when you get noticeably upset at someone, one of two things usually happen. The first outcome I've seen is that they get defensive and it becomes their mission to prove you wrong-- they stop trying to hear what you're saying and focus on arguing against it (I admit this is my own tendency). The second outcome is that they get intimidated by your anger, and give in to what you're saying without explaining how they really feel about it. Either way, the conversation stops making progress.

Jason thinks that showing anger is occasionally necessary. He says that sometimes, if someone has really upset you, there's no way to express it with words alone. Even if you perfectly articulate how seethingly furious you are with someone, they just won't believe you if you're explaining it to them while seated in an armchair with your legs crossed and using your best "NPR" voice. Sometimes, people won't have the motivation to change their ways unless you show your emotion to really demonstrate how their actions make you feel.

So what's your take on it? Are you a "Spock" like me? Would the world be a better place if people could talk things through without showing anger?

Or are you a "Kirk?" Do you think that showing anger is a necessary tool of communication?

Sorry, no behind-the-scenes drama-- I didn't post this because of any fight. We're just having fun finding the middle road (for yet another opinion that our extremely different upbringings bequeathed to us).


Jeff said...

The funny thing is, I think that I agree with both of you. The majority of the time I think that I believe in the "Spock" strategy. I think it's best to communicate logically.

But I also think that there are the rare occasions where you need to get angry. I think those times are reserved for when you are confronted by someone who is hostile or belligerent. Certain people are not willing to function on a logical level, but I think it's always best to try the logical approach first.

So I suppose I'm like 80% on your team and 20% on his team. :)

Laura said...

I love that you are figuring this out early, its smart! My husband and I differ on a lot too from out upbringing, and we like to chat it out to find the middle often.


Caitlin said...

I think the middle is just that, the middle. I think this world would be a lot better if more people were like Spock, but I wouldn't say that there are absolutely no instances where you shouldn't bust out a Kirk move and show a lot of anger. I think my house my husband is the Spock and I'm the Kirk...I wish I could be more like him.

April said...

Thanks Laura : )

Jeff-- Although I love it when I can shock belligerent people with a non-emotional comeback (very, very rarely... usually I just start shaking and feel like I'm going to cry)-- I typically just give up when they don't respond to logic, and fume over it for the next week or two. But I imagine that your "verbally slapping some sense into them" method might work pretty well.

I was looking forward to hearing what you had to say on this; thanks for your input!

April said...

Caitlin, that's sweet of you to compliment your husband like that : ) I reacted the opposite towards Jason-- I tried talking him into never showing anger a few years ago, and it all finally led to this conversation that's been ongoing for a while now. In short, I admire your maturity!

Wallie said...

Wow...this is a hard one!! What a great post!

I'm definitely a Kirk (your husband) and my husband is more like Spock (you). In my house growing up, the loudest won...Period (I won A LOT...esp. being the only girl in the group, as you can imagine). I can definitely see your husband's point of view, but I don't necessarily agree with it (anymore). Everyone deals with situations differently...Knowing how the other person will react is your responsibility.

Expressing your anger should be helpful to you, but not harmful to others. How my husband and I have dealt with our arguing differences is negotiation. I have had to re-learn (as I think your husband should) that if I raise my voice, my Steven isn't listening (just like you). Us Kirks were taught that if we don't make a big deal/scene about it, we don't really mean it. That doesn't mean that we are right. Steven has met me half way, letting me know where it is that he starts to shut down, and works through it...listening. That way, he knows I'm upset and I know where his threshold is and cannot go over it. If I do, that's my fault, not his. We are both changing our behaviors...equal effort.

I will say that since I have "toned it down", I now have more meaningful discussions with all Spocks in my life, not just with Steven. An added bonus I have found is that I'm not on the defense as much as I used to be. Most importantly, the man I chose to spend the rest of my life with doesn't clam up. He knows I'm upset because I communicate that to him. Being aware of the anger (attention getting) issues I have has made the difference and I am loving the outcome. Changing my actions is the only part I can control, and I'm up to the challenge. Besides, if I really wanted to, I can always save my "loud discussions" with the other Kirks in my life. ;)

Emma @ She Got Married said...

I'm definitely learning to be Spock. Brett is so good and kind and sweet and I've definitely toned it down over the past few years. I'm definitely much slower to anger or get fired up since knowing him. I just realize most stuff is not worth getting angry about. (Like when a gallon of homebrew explodes all over my cool rug)And then there are times when getting a little miffed is alright (Like when someone left Roo in the car on a 90 degree day for ten minutes and thought it wasn't a big deal. Yes, the windows were down, but that doesn't change anything for me.) Miffed might be an understatement.

So I think it would be better if we were all more Spockish...but I do see Jason's side.


Markie said...

I really like this. Very interesting points on both sides.

Adam and I deal with our "disagreements" in productive ways... meaning without yelling, without bashing, without locking oneself in the bathroom, etc. I am a very emotional person, so it's harder for me to keep emotions out of it. But like you, I'm very sensitive... especially to raised voices (I'm such a confusing person!)
But I think when you are really feeling angry, sometimes its necessary to express it. Or else it stays cooped up in your heart... perhaps forever. And then it seethes... and leaks out into other areas of your life. I don't really think that it needs to be dealt with in a crazy, screaming match. But I believe that we need to let others (especially our husbands/wives) into those deep parts of us where our emotions are "stored."
Discussion is fun. I like hearing everyone's take on a question like this one!

Nanoinfinity said...

T is the most spiteful person I have ever met, so if I came at him in anger and in a "fighting" mood, it just escalates. He grew up with a very, ah, stubborn and bullyish brother, and those defensive habits are hard to break. I try to give myself time to cool down and get a fresh perspective - most of the things we fight about aren't important, and usually it's just one of us being in a grumpy, snippy mood rather than actually having a problem.

I've learned to keep my voice down, he's learned I don't respond well to stomping and door-slamming so our disagreements are quieter, at least. But we're still working on balance because we're both emotional and stubborn, and when things degrade they degrade fast, if I don't just completely shut down.

It's really hard for me, because the households I grew up in weren't very good models. My mother and step-father never got along well and never seemed to resolve things to respect each others' differences, and my grandparents just never had disagreements... ever. So I've never learned how real negotiating and stuff works... I have to figure it out on my own!

Kristie said...

While you know that anger and I are pretty close friends, in fact I make it my policy not to get angry at a person (at least, not to their face).

I sort of agree with both of you. On the one hand, if you can work things out without blowing up in each others faces, you have a better chance of maintaining a long, healthy relationship with that person, despite disagreements. Often important.

On the other hand, anger is a legitimate emotion that is sometimes caused when someone hurts or offends you. Expressing your anger with that person-- hopefully in a calm, healthy, ready-to-forgive-once-the-transgression-is-remedied way-- can bring your relationship to a new level of trust and understanding. If you never express that anger, and just bury it, you'll end up resenting this person and they'll never have the chance to make it up to you.

All assuming you're angry at a rational, nice person you like. If it's some buttface, get out your yelling voice (I kid. A little).

Jessica said...

Regarding whether expressing anger is healthy for you, Gretchen Rubin talks about this a LOT on her blog.

My husband and I confronted this issue pretty early in our relationship. I came from a never-discuss-your-feelings family, he came from a scream-about-everything family.

The most important ground rule we established was to never say anything you don't mean. He came from a family where it was understood that when you were fighting, it was a free-for-all where you could say anything that came to mind and make hyperbolic accusations. That got taken off the table quickly when he realized that I took everything he said seriously and I wasn't quick to forgive deeply hurtful comments.

We almost never have what I would call "fights" (although my mom gets uncomfortable if we even have a disagreement in front of her!). We both try to bring things up early and calmly before they become a major issue so neither of us end up feeling anything really strongly about the situation. About the biggest thing we struggle with is that he will raise his voice when he gets really passionate about something he's upset about, and I interpret that as him yelling at me, and he thinks I'm overreacting. It also took him a while to accept that I cry when I'm upset, and I can't help it, and I'm not trying to be manipulative.

Final thoughts: Actual anger is best reserved for when your partner has seriously offended or disrespected you. Usually when you're "angry" about something it's because you feel frustrated, or misunderstood, or neglected, or annoyed, or some other emotion, and it's easier to reach a resolution when you're aware of those nuances than reacting to everything with anger.

April said...

you are all incredible. Thanks for the amazing comments! I'm going to email every single person right now : )

Ashley said...

I AGREE with both of you, there are times when you need to be angry, stand up for yourself and sometimes there's a time to sit back and "take it"

Erika Lee Sears said...

I am Spock! lol. I know that something that I work on with my spouse is just to be able to communicate clearly and the bottom of the issue. I think it's ok to be angry, mad, sad, but you can't solve anything until you want to meet in the middle and have a talk about it. :)

Sam said...

Wow this is crazy interesting. As per usual, I am way late getting in on the conversation. But here's my two pennies:

Both of the Sam folks in my household are the quick to anger type. We are both EXTREMELY passionate people who feel very deeply about EVERYTHING. I love Sam because he, like me, feels everything to the core of his being. And I mean EVERYTHING!

I locked him out of his own bedroom once because he told me that he thought Pearl Jam sucked. Most NORMAL couples can disagree about the suckiness of a band without having to crawl in and out of window in the pouring rain, but we cannot. It is just not who we are as people, and that is why we are so in love. The fact that Sam can make me that irate over such a small thing proves to me that I care about his opinion. It broke my heart to hear him say that he didn't like something that was so emotional/meaningful to me and such an important part of my childhood. He is equally angered/depressed about my inability to appreciate horror movies because horror movies are important to him, and I am important to him.

I don't know if our relationship is what you would call "healthy," but I think that it's possible for two angsty kids to find love and happiness as long as they understand that behind all of the yelling and commotion there is a tremendous amount of love, and a genuine thirst for understanding and maybe even just attention and affection. I definitely think it would be easier to just talk things out, but we usually start off by screaming/crying and end in snuggling/eating tacos/playing 20 questions against the computer until 3 AM. The plus side is that I know that I will NEVER have to hold back anything with Sam. If I feel angry or upset, I can tell him right away. I don't feel resentment toward him because I tell him exactly what's bothering me as soon as it starts to bother me.

I have a bad habit of never telling my friends (especially the female ones) when they have upset me. Instead, I tend to just cut them out of my life without any notice or warning because I am too afraid of the confrontational conversation.

I guess I just need to work on learning to communicate without such extremes. But,hell, I'm nuts, so what can you really expect?

How's that for TMI?

I really miss you!

Sam said...

On a less personal note: I deal with very angry people for living. As you can imagine, people get really upset when you take away their food stamps when they are already struggling to make ends meet. I feel like its good to just let them yell at me sometimes. Sometimes people are just angry, and its not necessarily even at the person they are yelling at. Many of my clients have been poor for a long time and many of them are scared about what the future will bring. I have found that just allowing them to yell can really help them work through some of the things that have been bothering them for a long time. Sometimes they just need a chance to verbalize everything that has been weighing them down for so long. A lot of times when they go off on a long rant, I find something out about them that I didn't know. Sometimes, I find out that they were facing a problem or issue that I didn't know about because they were too embarrassed or afraid to tell me. I can then use that information to help them come up with solutions to their problems. I certainly don't enjoy being yelled at, but sometimes it helps the customer to feel better about their situation. However, I have also noticed that I am much more apt to bend over backwards for people who are polite and professional when they speak to me than those who scream at me and tell me how horrible I am. So I guess it goes both ways.

Sorry, this is just really interesting to me, and I was super bored. I am done now though. I promise!

Kristie said...

Sam, you are a little bit my hero for taking such an awesome perspective on your work.

Maybe a lot of bit my hero.

Sammie said...

Anger… the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Matthews enterprise. A continuing mission to explore strange new emotions, to seek out new thoughts and new ways of reaction. To boldly go where no one has calmly gone before.

April said...

Oh. Em. Gee. I love my Sams/Sammies!!!

Sam-- 'The fact that Sam can make me that irate over such a small thing proves to me that I care about his opinion.' How true!! You are a wise little lady. (Not to mention tough/selfless for letting people yell at you so you can help them. You are a freaking saint and don't even realize it.)

Sammie-- <3!!

Sam said...

You silly kids. I'm certainly no sort of saint, but I appreciate your words.