The trouble with anger is that it’s an ugly emotion. When you are going through the process of redundancy probably the most consistent piece of “advice” offered is don’t, whatever you do, get angry. When you are angry this is less helpful than you imagine, underlining the profound difference between advice and help, the latter being a rare thing and the former given in abundance especially from a position of relative security. The thing about telling an angry person not to get angry is that it’s something of a vicious circle. You are angry, a demand is made that you CALM DOWN and regulate your feelings, you feel this denies the legitimacy of why you’re angry, you get more angry, even harder to calm down.
For a start there’s a lot to get angry about. Our work and the value of it are seriously threatened in the current climate. Public sector ethos now sounds like something from the 1950s, to those of us witnessing a devaluing of our contribution and experience. Health and Social Security anyone? Even the name sounds like something that’s passed away, get over it silly.
We live in a demanding age of communication – with the focus firmly place on how to communicate something positively rather than the ‘what’ we’re trying to communicate. Much of the current push for workplace programmes is based on positive psychology, a psychology that tries to change individual thoughts (naughty negative thoughts) and behaviours (no punching or spitting then). There is much debate about the value of this approach, specifically whether it denies the realities of people’s experience of work. In a context of job insecurity, victimisation and workplace bullying being told to focus on positive thoughts and breathing exercises can be highly provocative in that it denies the significance of what can go wrong at work. In this context optimism and positive thinking are a poor response to feelings of anger and hopelessness.
So given that there is a lot of anger around at work, what could be a healthy attitude towards it? It might lie in the understanding that anger is necessary to the process of change. The energy and focus that you have when you are angry is an important motivator in challenging things that we think are wrong. Not being able to direct our anger at the right things is one of the most important reasons why some people experience depression and others don’t. If you can get angry you are really living, really experiencing and reacting to what is going on around you. Depression is a numbing and dumbing process, to try to avoid feelings of sadness and anger. And it is precisely this that makes depression essentially an experience of hopelessness.
So this is why I’m all in favour of anger, because of its relationship to the future. If you’re angry, you’re also hopeful that things should and could change.
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