Sometimes Anger is reasonable, and sometimes it is not. Judging someone for being Angry may be reasonable, however, often it is not. Anger is an emotional tool to warn us that a situation is not good and may need addressing. A tool that we can use to address that problem is Aggression, which again can be reasonable in some situations, although often it is not. Judging us on our “Anger Side” is sometimes called for, but often this is a way to undermine us.
I’ve written about Anger the informative feeling and Aggression the sometimes needed, but often unwise, action in Understanding Anger [Link] if you would like to know more.
This post was inspired by this graphic.
In my opinion, this topic is actually quite complex, far more so than this simple graphic illustrates.
Depending on a range of contexts and experiences, we risk lumping a bunch of anger responses to different situations and contexts into the one category of “anger” here.
So let me break down some variants to show where judging someone on their Anger Side is fair versus where it isn’t.
First we need to understand a bit about Anger. Anger is the feeling you get when something is wrong, often because a boundary of yours has been crossed, or a situation has occurred that disadvantages you. You don’t generally get angry because you win something, but you do get angry when you lose to someone, especially if they cheat.
Generally we Perceive an Event that causes us to feel Anger, drawing our attention to that cause. Sometimes we feel Angry because of a mistaken understanding or because our biology has messed up, and we need to acknowledge that how we feel doesn’t match the circumstances. We can respond to the the event or not, and we may feel Angry for a while, but that feeling doesn’t automatically connect to displaying Aggression or acting in Anger. We may respond to a problem in a number of ways, such as ignoring it, rationally acting on it in an Assertive Way, rationally acting on it in an Aggressive way, irrational Aggression or by getting away (flight).
If our response is minor to moderate, we have lots of choice in our action. The stronger our reaction is, the less choice we have. To get the full break down of this, what it means, how to know what is going on for you, and how you can influence your actions, read more on Understanding Anger [Link].
With that out of the way, on with the variants.
If I respond to your reasonable request for fair treatment with Aggression, I’ve got a problem, and that Aggressive response is indicative of that.
If I respond to your unreasonable request with Assertion and you claim it is my anger response, because I said “No” (or a clear variant of No), then you have the problem, and your false allegation or attempt to redefine a reasonable boundary as aggressive is indicative of that.
If I respond to your low to moderate harmful action (social, emotional, intelectual, identity, physical etc) with first an assertive “No”, and then in mild to moderate Aggression (depending on the context and circumstances) when my Assertion was ignored, then again, you have the problem, and your ignoring my fair Assertion and requiring me to be Aggressive in defence of my boundaries is indicative of that.
If I respond to your low to moderate harmful action with strong verbal or physical Aggression, then we both have a problem. I’m only responsible for my part in that. Part of what I can do to change our future interactions is to not be around you again, if I dem that there is a reasonable risk of you repeating such behaviours. If you are my dependant, or I have other restrictions, I may have little choice in creating a safe space in some circumstances.
If my Aggression is very rare, and generally it is in a situation that warrants a more Aggressive defence of my self (or another) than just being Assertive, and generally I have tried being Assertive (case by case driven), then I should not be solely judged on these rare situations out of context; which is the implication I took from the graphic above written by Nate.
If I’m commonly Angry and this doesn’t match the context (such as a toxic relationship with an abuser), and/or I am using a Level 2/10 problem to justify my 8/10 response (10/10 is high), then I have a problem, and I should indeed be judged for that. While my 6/10 over response is not your fault, and you don’t deserve that for this triggering event, you do deserve the 2/10 response I should have given you, as there is rarely a good reason for you to give me a 2/10 problem. I should address that when I am calm and capable.
To be clear, I can not justify my 8/10 response on a 2/10 excuse, that runs the risk of false equivalence – “because you were bad, I can be bad” = wrong. Nor should I not address your 2/10 action just because I’m over reacting to it. That leads to a dichotomy of the people pleasing passivity that can switch to explosive over reaction, and that is very indicative that I have a problem I need to address.
There is likely a good reason why I’m doing the 6/10 over reaction, and I need to work on what that is. I can’t excuse my 6/10 over reaction to you on that “good reason”, and for that I do need to apologise and make amends if I act on it inappropriately. If I fail to address that 6/10 over reaction, this is generally indicative that I may not be a person you should be hanging around. At the least, you should keep an eye out for other signs. I have an entire section around Domestic Violence [Link] that covers this in more detail.
There are some circumstances where the cause of that over reaction may be beyond my control, and that has a whole extra level of nuance that I won’t go through here.
You don’t need to know why I am over reacting. While it may be for a good reason, and you can be kind to me for that, you should not put yourself in harms way on the hope that there is a good reason. If it was an anomaly and you don’t expect that it will repeat, you may choose to hang around, you also have the right to call it quits right there and not. I’ve written about that in Toxic People – Mind Toolset [Link] if you want to know more.
Effectively, if my angry side is over the top (frequency and or level), it is fair to judge me on that rather than all the times that I’ve not been angry.