Anger is an interesting subject in my opinion.
I grew up with narcissistic parents. They were angry a lot. I always found it puzzling because they would become hostile about the littlest things and their feelings were always more important than everyone else’s, of course. And so this sensitive person was off and running trying to understand it – lots of opportunity for ruminating!
Much has been written about hostility so I was reluctant to wade into the subject. So often it is discussed as one issue but I think it is more complex.
Anger Can Be Hard To Handle
There is more than one kind of anger:
- Injustice and cruelty can activate our anger.
- When we are threatened, anger is a normal response.
- If expectations are not met, it is common to feel or experience anger.
Anger can be difficult for empathetic HSPs to handle. Sometimes we are comfortable with anger that matches our nature especially when the anger is related to our empathy. These angry feelings are usually legitimate sources of anger and may be invalidated by some people around us depending on their values.
Karla McLaren, emotions expert and author of The Language of Emotions, describes anger as “The Honorable Sentry”. Anger tells us who we are, what we need and when our needs and self are being violated. Without anger, we lose our capacity for self-care as well as our integrity. According to Karla McLaren, anger is necessary for us to live authentically.
However, there is a big difference between reality and identity threats to ourselves. Being able to discern the difference is important if we are to use our anger wisely.
Anger Can Be Overwhelming
Since we have access to so much information today, we have more reasons to feel upset. Our rich media system plies us with so many instances of unfairness and misery that it is hard not to become angry.
Competition and behavioral permissiveness around displays of anger (let it out) all contribute to a climate of hostility. As a result, we are likely to feel the energy of hostility in many places and areas of our lives. Highly sensitive people will pick it up more than others and suffer from it more. As a result, the more we are able to make distinctions about the anger we and others experience the better off we will be.
Structure And Anger
Hostility based on direct experience are one thing; there is also hostility that is not based on our experience. I call it anger from our heads because it is not a living anger. It is based on the “oughts” and “shoulds”. It is based on expectations and entitlements. It is based on concepts about life, not life itself. It is based on the demands created by the social structures in our lives. It is also based on ideas about who we are not who we really are.
Hostility based on cultural structures and conformity are generated a number of ways:
- by the assignment of social roles. Anger may be directed toward people who do not conform to them. It may arise on ourselves when expectations are inappropriate.
- through expectations that we will support a cultural structure whether we want to or not, whether we think it is healthy or not. This type of hostility can be a demand for loyalty to something we may or may not agree with.
- through ideals of some kind, the demand for the impossible – through some sort of perfectionistic expectations.
- by the need for change. Those who see the need for and initiate necessary change are not usually welcomed bu those who are comfortable with the status quo.
Structure And Inequity
Not all hostility is wrong or misguided. Some hostility is based on serious inequities and unresolved structural issues. This is the kind of anger that people use to fuel their passionate engagement in social causes; creating change brings important hope to agents of change and those they serve.
When people are subjected to serious inequity day in and day out, their anger will harm them. Internalized anger with no hope of resolution can be very destructive. Put someone in a position where they are angry every day due to injustice and handling that anger will consume their attention and energy and make it difficult to be effective in their lives. It is a great way to keep people down. Becoming a part of the solution is one of the great ways to support hope in the world and make constructive meaning in your life.
Sensitive People And Anger
I think that highly sensitive people have strengths and weaknesses in handling anger.
On the one hand, HSPs are often fairly aware. That means that they have the ability to make compassionate choices. They can act to change injustice and support the healing needs of people who are suffering including themselves. On the other hand, they are often so inundated with the harm in the world, that it can be difficult for them to function. They literally drown in the pain of the world. They also suffer from the abuse they have received and often need healing themselves.
It, therefore, is important for highly sensitive people to take special care of themselves and their physical and emotional health while acquiring the wisdom to know what situations to get involved with, what they can change and what they have to let go of.
The hostility in the world is serious stuff. Sensitive people need to take special care of themselves so they can handle it properly while finding ways to make constructive hope-building contributions to the world. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing so.