Session 7: Anger
In this session, we will explore the kinds of anger carers might be susceptible to and how to deal with them.
Listen to ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’ (use YouTube or download here)
A prayer to say together:
you understand the anger life often brings.
It sometimes feels like a burden to be carried.
Remind us that you take such troubles
and free us from their grip.
Help us not to deny our anger nor to give in to it
but to accept it as an inevitable part of our lives.
So that when we smile,
it’s the smile of one who has learned to let their anger
be part of their onward journey.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Each person should take about a minute to give their name and tell the group what makes them cross.
Nick Clarke, formerly presenter of Radio Four’s ‘World at One’, died of cancer in 2006. His widow, Barbara Want, who was left with two small children, has written about his dying and her bereavement in her book, Why not me?. Here she’s writing about the time the diagnosis began to sink in.
At around this time I began to be visited by an unwelcome emotion which I find hard to admit to. Anger came over me in waves, and I couldn’t fight it. I was angry at what was happening to us, to me, to the boys. Angry about what lay ahead, whatever it might be. Angry that I couldn’t do anything to make things better. And angry with myself about the anger I felt towards Nick for taking us all to this terrible place. For the truth was that from the moment it became clear that Nick was seriously ill, I hadn’t felt drawn into a struggle which united us, but rather into one that divided us by the very different nature of the separate battles we faced. Nick was a patient facing his own mortality. I was a carer, fighting not just for his survival, but also for mine and the boys’, and for what we held most dear – our happy and secure life with a man we loved to bits. And I was very, very scared.
I still find it hard to think about my feelings at that time. They leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. They were, and are, unpalatable. Nick seemed to understand how I felt, though we never discussed it, and his lack of self-pity, combined with the stoicism and strength he showed, made me yet more disappointed – at myself. But however I raged, my love for Nick and the pain of seeing what he was enduring never left me. It almost exploded out of my heart. And I have no doubt that his own battle was driven by his extraordinary capacity for love – for all of us.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Is there anything in this account that rings bells with you?
What makes you angry? Is it an ‘unwelcome emotion’?
Barbara Want says the anger she felt against her dying husband was particularly hard to admit to. Is anger at the person they’re caring for something carers sometimes feel?
One reason she felt angry was her awareness there was nothing she could do to make things better. She was also ‘very scared’. What kinds of powerlessness and fear do carers feel? Is anger one response to those feelings? What other reactions do they evoke?
Anger and rage:
Someone reads from Mark 11:15-19
Then they came to Jerusalem. And [Jesus] entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, ‘Is it not written, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Either listen to the author read his Reflection here or invite a group member to read it out.
Most of us learned in early childhood that if you show anger, have a tantrum, you risk feeling as though love is being withdrawn by your parents. Many Christians have been imbued, often from childhood, with the idea that Christianity and anger are not compatible. So we find it very hard to be angry. Clearly for Jesus though there’s nothing profane about it. Whereas for him oppression and exploitation were completely wrong in that holy place, the Temple, he seems to have felt it appropriate to express his anger there. There are also some relevant words in Ephesians: ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.’ (4:26). Anger is encouraged as something that mustn’t be allowed to build up and should be appropriately expressed.
People have very different ways of expressing their anger. Recent research suggests the differences don’t relate to gender – men and women are equally likely to keep quiet in the workplace, but screaming, or talking it out, or even getting violent in the privacy of a home is equally likely from either sex. Because of this it’s quite possible that the person we care for occasionally gets angry in the privacy of home. Perhaps their frustration becomes too much and they take it out on the one closest to them. For others though the opposite happens. Precisely because they feel so dependent on the one caring for them, the person being cared for feels unable to risk losing them by being angry with them. Their anger, expressed or suppressed, is one of the hardest things someone trying to care for them has to deal with.
What Barbara Want describes though is the anger she felt as she cared for her husband. She put it down to feeling scared. It’s a feeling many carers have. We’re afraid in case a situation arises that we can’t cope with or are scared of making a mistake that might have serious consequences for the one we care for; we’re frightened for them that a sudden deterioration or accident might destroy their fragile ability to keep up their spirits. Or we feel frustrated by situations where we feel messed around or not listened to by public institutions. The sense of powerlessness frightens us and makes us feel angry.
One theory about how we respond to this feeling of being frightened or threatened includes two possible reactions. They are flight or fight. Flight can involve physical removal from the situation but it might also entail pushing the feelings away by trying not to think about them; we deny their power with phrases like ‘mustn’t grumble’. Because this doesn’t actually deal with the fear, it leaves beneath the surface feelings that are going to affect our behaviour whether we like it or not. It’s quite an effort keeping our fear under wraps and, among other things, doing so often stops us thinking straight so we’re not so good at communicating.
More creative is the ‘fight’ response. This usually takes the form of rage. One contemporary psychotherapist, Sue Parker-Hall, helpfully distinguishes between rage and anger. Rage, she says, developed in us in our childhood as a defence mechanism when our basic needs were not being met. It is the only way open to a baby or infant to fight back when their survival feels under threat. We feel it as adults – a sudden welling up of infuriation or frustration. Perhaps a misunderstanding with the person we care for, a sudden feeling of being taken for granted, a time-wasting interaction with an outside institution, even a mistake we’ve made that makes us angry with ourselves – any of these and many other similar situations can make us feel physically agitated. Barbara Want’s comments describe well the fear that leads to rage. She says she felt ‘angry about what lay ahead, whatever it might be, angry that I couldn’t do anything to make things better, and angry with myself about the anger I felt towards Nick for taking us all to this terrible place.’ This kind of rage uses up a great deal of energy but there are ways of learning to handle it that we’ll look at later in today’s learning section.
Anger, on the other hand, says Sue Parker-Hall, originated in the more creative process by which we separated from our parents. It’s a positive, necessary emotion that plays an essential and energising part in us becoming ourselves. It was anger, not rage, which Jesus displayed in the Temple. The abuse of the temple rituals he saw there provoked a passion in him which gave powerful energy to his actions. It’s the kind of passion we might feel as we see the one we love and care for struggling in ways that most people don’t have to or see our own lives being restricted because we are committed to caring for them. It’s what I think Barbara Want was experiencing when she said, ‘I was angry at what was happening to us, to me, to the boys.’ This kind of anger can be valuable if we can learn to channel that passion into creative outlets. If we’re not afraid of the power of those feelings, they can give renewed energy to our caring.
Learning to distinguish between these two similar but very different emotions requires that we review each situation in which we feel this kind of agitation emerging so that we can learn to distinguish between them. But it could make quite a difference to us if we were able to stop wasting energy by being enraged and let the passion of our anger turn into new and creative energy.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Discuss the distinction between rage and anger. Is it helpful?
What are the best ways of dealing with rage – your own and that of the one you care for?
Share any experiences you may have of anger being channelled creatively.
The Human Givens approach works from the assumption that every human being has a set of needs and, if they are born healthy, they also have the internal mechanisms, their Human Givens, to ensure they are met. Anger can occur when that balance is not working effectively. In the short term, the kind of fear or panic that we have seen to be the source of much of our rage is best dealt with by incorporating various calming techniques into our daily routine. Some of them are well known – concentrating on breathing, clenching and then relaxing muscles (especially the fists), practising mindfulness (focusing intently on a simple task). The approach also emphasises the importance of sleep and exercise.
In the longer term, we can prevent the anger that arises when our needs are not met by making sure they are. The website (http://www.hgi.org.uk/archive/anger.htm) that was suggested in the last session gives lists of our basic needs and of the resources we have to meet them. Here are some examples, particularly ones relevant to carers:
- Attention (to give and receive it) – a form of nutrition.
- Feeling part of a wider community.
- Privacy – opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience.
- Meaning and purpose – which come from being stretched in what we do and think.
- The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others.
- Emotions and instinct.
- An observing self – that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness.
Some possibilities for discussion:
What techniques do you find help you maintain your equilibrium in stressful situations?
Which needs or resources from the lists above or from those on the website are you neglecting?
We’ve been focusing on when we feel angry. Share thoughts about strategies for helping the person you care for deal with any anger they may be feeling.
Preparing for the next session
In the next session, we shall be talking about a book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. It’s quite short and can be read in its entirety here.
Now is the time for anyone in the group to mention anything going on in their lives that they are finding difficult. When there has been time for everyone who wishes to speak, a silence follows, during which each quietly prays for the members of the group who have just spoken. Anyone who wishes to say a prayer out loud can also do so.
Leader: Nothing ‘in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39).
as we pray for each other, you meet us in our need.
Grant us the resources we need for our caring
and surround us with your love.
‘The father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” … Jesus took him [the boy] by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand’ (Mark 9:24, 27).
Now go round the group in turn and each person mention the name of someone they are caring for. Follow each mention by a long enough silence for that person to be prayed for silently by the group before the next person speaks. Then all pray together:
you promise to sustain all whose lives are hard.
Grant those for whom we care your strength and your peace.
May God bless us all till we meet again.
To take away
The poem the below extract is taken from describes a three-walled room in which a raven beats himself against the walls. No amount of loving encouragement will persuade it simply to fly out by the open wall – it’s made ‘a prison of a place which is not one at all’. But when two other ravens come and make him angry by taunting him, he flies away ‘o’er flattened wall at once to heaven’s skies’ (the whole poem can be found on the internet).
Anger it was that won him hence
as only Anger taught him sense.
Often my tears fall in a shower
Because of Anger’s Freeing Power.
‘Anger’s Freeing Power’, Stevie Smith.