The Anger Rocket: Houston, We Have a Problem
Laura Hull, MA. LMFT
In 1995, the movie Apollo 13 was released, depicting the harrowing days of the Apollo 13 moon mission in April 1970. In a scene midway through the movie, the astronauts are under immense stress from potential impending doom. Fear and frustration begin to surface, finally climaxing with an explosive exchange between the men, each blaming the others in some way for the dire circumstances they were facing. Of course, nothing about this exchange was helpful, productive or would change their circumstances in any way. However, all the education and training in the world could not remove the very human emotions of anger, fear and frustration they experienced. In a following scene, the commander of the mission abruptly cuts off the argument, without regard for whether all sides felt satisfied, and calmly radioed mission control. The issue was not resolved - far from it - it was just time to move on from it, and not allow it to fracture the trust of that working relationship. They could have continued to argue, point fingers and place blame. Hot heads could have prevailed, with arguing preventing the crew from being able to effectively work together. The need to “be right” could have been the most important thing to each of these exceedingly frustrated men, and they would have likely died. The same principles apply in all walks of life. While most displays of unhealthy anger are not directly life threatening, over the long run, there is certainly the risk of a relationship fatality in an emotional sense.
There is a place for anger in this life. It is a very human emotion. Jesus Himself displayed anger in the temple over the greed and abuse He witnessed. Anger is never pleasant but it is often appropriate in response to certain situations. Anger is problematic when it is experienced and displayed in unhealthy ways. Anger management is something we must all learn in order to be healthy in our relationships with others and to be healthy mentally and emotionally.
When we release an anger rocket on someone, the intent is clear: it’s an explosive, direct hit, with the intent to cause damage. Some individuals have a very low tolerance for frustration and it takes very little to move a situation from mildly annoying to explosively angry. In these situations, it takes very little engagement or exchange from someone else for the situation to start breaking down rapidly. “Fair fighting” gets thrown out the window quickly, with name-calling and other displays of disrespect coming into play. The more aggressive participant often “wins” with damage being inflicted on the other, and the scar from the battle being worn on the relationship. Wounds can heal; scars remain to remind us of the battle.
Anger can also present itself in passive-aggressive behavior. This is far less direct than explosive exchanges, but it can last longer and inflict just as much damage. In this scenario, anger might be present, but not result in an ugly verbal exchange. The angry partner might withdraw emotionally, without explanation as to why. This partner might also withhold love/affection, wallowing in self-righteousness and a desire to covertly “punish” the other by controlling the situation through a series of passive/aggressive exchanges. It’s manipulative and destructive to handle anger in this way.
The need to be right: why is this so important? Why do we feel so justified in our feelings and our position? Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying or implying that feeling angry is wrong. There are definitely times in our lives when we have the right to feel angry. Where we get into trouble is in how we address these feeling, what we do with our anger, and how long we hold on to it. When is how we manage anger a problem? Consider these:
- Are your feelings and the way you express them out of proportion to the situation?
- Is “winning the argument” or “being right” more important than fixing and restoring the relationship?
- When expressing anger, does it become disrespectful? Do we “go for the jugular”? Are we content to “clobber” someone else in order to relieve our own frustration?
- Have others commented that you have trouble controlling/handling your emotions? Or perhaps that your displays of temper are inappropriate?
- Do poor coping skills allow the stresses of life to push your buttons, making anger management a tall order?
If the answer is “yes” to any or all of these questions, then it’s time to address your anger management problem.
Make no mistake. The failure to learn how to cope with the stresses and demands of daily life will contribute to anger management challenges. We must develop and use good coping skills in all areas of our lives. When we allow anger to overtake us, it will destroy any potential good in our lives:
- We cannot have unhealthy/unresolved anger in our lives and have optimal marriages.
- We cannot have unhealthy/unresolved anger in our lives and expect healthy friendships.
- We cannot have unhealthy/unresolved anger in our lives and be the best employees we can be.
- We cannot have unhealthy/unresolved anger in our lives and be where God wants us to be in our lives.
Unresolved, lingering anger is like a cancer of the soul. Eventually, it will consume and destroy.
Some people seem so determined to hold on to their anger, like it’s an earned possession, but an unwillingness to work through the anger and eventually let it go is so very self-destructive. The thought of facing the root cause of underlying anger issues is very daunting to some. Coming to terms with the hurt and pain that has caused anger to become an issue can be such a challenge. But we are much healthier people when we confront our anger and pain and commit to work through it, eventually letting it go. Some issues we face cannot be fully resolved. We may never feel fully understood, vindicated or restored. But it is possible to still let go of anger and move on in our relationships and in our lives. This is both a process and a choice. When we make that choice and that commitment, we are taking back control over our feelings in a way that we never could when anger ruled our emotions.
Good coping skills are so important in being able to control anger and navigate around other potential roadblocks in our lives. Counseling is a great place to start developing healthier ways of coping with the obstacles of life and learning better ways of handling life’s challenges. It’s a mission we can all benefit from at one time or another!