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COLUMN: Healthy anger

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by Dr. John Lapp

Is anger OK? When is it not OK? Well, that’s a good question but I’m not sure 1 can answer it! I can say, however, that anger appears to be “normal.”
In fact, even newborn babies viewed through the window in a hospital’s nursery may give us evidence of how normal it is. Some of the babies, just hours from birth, seem to be able to display anger. Some of them crying/squalling at the top of their little lungs. Worst of all, they don’t have a clue what they are angry about. And, on top of that, other babies in the nursery elicit sounds which are barely audible.
So this example suggests that anger is a normal emotional expression. However, adults would be better to express it in a healthy, albeit normal, manner. When it moves from healthy to unhealthy, it can take the form of physical, verbal and/or emotional abuse.
The first form to be considered is physical abuse. This abuse usually receives the bulk of public attention, investigation and prosecution. It seems to be the worst, often producing serious physical damage and, with rare exception, should always be investigated and eventually prosecuted, when necessary, to the full extent of the law.
A second form of abuse is also a very serious matter – namely, verbal abuse. When this occurs, the “victim” may struggle for a long period of time. It may take months, even years, to get past the effects of name-calling, vulgarity, etc.
One case in which I was involved was with a very nice middle-aged male whose father had repeatedly verbally abused him beginning when he was a young child and continuing into his young adult years.
He told me, “I can still ‘hear’ those words, and see the look on his face, as if it happened yesterday.” As he was emerging into his adult years, this man struggled with adequate self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence. So, it must be understood that verbal abuse can produce injury, similar to the “scars” of physical abuse.
A third form of abuse involving out-of-control anger is emotional abuse. This can occur openly or in a subtle manner. For example, when one is compared to another adult/child who is viewed as more intelligent, attractive, talented, athletic, etc.
An example: a couple I had been counseling said that they had been struggling with anger issues. What had often happened, which was done in what they said was meant to be a humorous manner, was eventually viewed as abusive.
The couple had been invited as guests to the home of a casual friend, not necessarily an intimate friend. The hostess had mistakenly burned the biscuits. When the hostess apologized for this, the husband (the guest) stated, “Oh, don’t worry about that, my wife once forgot about the biscuits and they were so hard that after dinner, I went out in the back yard, got my golf clubs and proceeded to drive them like 1 would a good golf ball.”
Finally, can you just imagine the damage done to a child who, in the company of other family or friends, hears something like: “Johnny’s team lost the game yesterday because he...” (and what follows is a derogatory statement about what Johnny did or didn’t do that caused the team to lose).
Will he ever be able to get over this and forgive the parent? Possibly, but it may take an extended period of time.
In conclusion, is anger normal? Yes, but be careful. Never let it develop into abuse. Guard carefully what you do or say which may take your anger to that level.
For more information, call John Lapp at 477-2818 or email comments to johnlapp36@yahoo.com.