OP ED: ANGER by Ilene L. Dillon, M.S.W.

January 23rd, 2007

A father is brutally stabbed to death in his own Tiburon, California living room. We are told his own, angry, son may have done it. Two teens, one on medication, ostensibly to treat depression (a form held-in anger takes) kill more than a dozen classmates and a teacher in Littleton, CO. An aging Florida mother shoots and paralyzes her own daughter, angry that the daughter is considering sending her to a nursing home.
Why did these Americans choose such violent behaviors to deal with the frustrations in their lives In our quest to make sense of the senseless, we have rushed to find an explanation. Perhaps if we can figure out who or what to blame, we can keep it from happening again. So we look at:

  • Guns – seeing that there are too many, too easy to get and too uncontrolled
  • Media – blaming violent visual images on television and in the movies; electronic game images of those who die and immediately rise up to live anew
  • Parents – saying they should have known something, should have had more control, set better limits
  • National violence – questioning if the government is bombing Kosovo, why wouldnt children bomb Columbine High

We question the way the police did their job, the atmosphere of the school. We look at everything to find something that will explain, a place to make effective corrections.

One place we have thus far failed to look is at a common denominator in all these situationslisted, but not accounted for. That common denominator is anger.

A sons anger toward his father apparently erupts into murderous violence. The anger about being taunted or treated badly by those who are in, coupled with the anger of being turned down by the military, piled up as depression which is then medicated instead of released, leading to the death of 15 promising young souls.
A mothers fear and anger is so great, with personal power so small, that it overwhelms a mothers instinct to love her child and leads her to destroy the child instead. So far, we have not looked at the anger.

Why is this common denominator omitted and overlooked Because we do not know what to do about it and with it. You cannot ban anger, or legislate against it. Some people believe, in fact, that there is not really anything that can be done about anger. The best most people have come up with is to teach us to manage anger, assuming that its existence can in no way be diminished.

In the last twenty-five years, educators have recognized that, in the interest of working with and developing knowledge and intellect, another area of developmentthe emotionshas been seriously neglected. They began to ask themselves Of what use is knowing how to read, write and do arithmetic if the child in the next desk is filled with anger and only knows violent ways to deal with that anger.

From this inquiry, educators began to formulate the ideas and studies that have led to the recognition of emotional intelligence and the necessity of developing emotional literacy along with the 3 Rs.

Contrary to previously-held thought, studies have shown that people who are most successful in lifein every area of lifeare those with a high EQ (emotional quotient) and not necessarily those with a high IQ. This means that people who allow themselves to feel, understand, work with and learn from their emotions (as well as read and stay sensitive to the emotions of others) are the ones who get promoted, get along well with family and friends, negotiate disagreements, have lasting love relationships and are the most creative and productive.

To some extent, almost everyone in this country is emotionally illiterate, because of our tendency to teach children to repress and suppress feelings rather than to express and feel them. The people of whom we write here merely represent the extreme of the emotional illiteracy plaguing our whole society.

No amount of gun control, media control, police investigation, legislation or medication will alleviate the stream of violence until we address this bottom-line problem. We are taught to hide, repress, cover up, deny and lie about our true feelings starting in very tender years. After a while, we dont even know what our feelings are. You cannot work with something you do not see or know is there. Instead, the feelings stay inside and fester (feeling held inside tend to grow) until the fateful day when they erupt, uncontrolled, to make headlines for our media.

Life could be so different if we learned to recognize and work with our feelings as signals and tools, together creating a personal “guidebook to show us how to better live our lives. To learn that anger demonstrates a violation we feel of our deeply-held beliefs, signaling a need to acknowledge hurt and take constructive action, would lead us to look at what we want to become, not at what we want to overcome. We could also learn that fear signals us to pay attention, that jealousy signals us to become more creative, and that remorse signals a need to examine and change our behavior toward a more desirable future outcome.

The time has come, before the spillage of ever-increasing amounts of blood (as this is written, reports of a copycat high school shooter in Conyers, Georgia are in the media), for us to wake up to the need to attend to our emotions and to their understanding and development.

Children can be taught to feel, recognize and process their feelings, so a dangerous buildup of so-called negative emotions does not occur. They can be taught to value all their feelings, examining them for information and direction, like many people examine their dreams. Children can learn that emotions they experience and get in charge of (without repression) are friends and allies with greater strength than any idea or manipulation. Balanced feelings also serve as protection and comfort.

Of course, children learn from models, most often parents. So parents need to wake up to the vital importance of their own emotions. This may, at first, be painful, as long-dormant feelings “wake up”and find their way out. Over time, this pain will dissipate, allowing a flow of feelings followed by chosen actions. This flow of energy will allow parents to be more balanced, opening the door to more love, caring and empathy, too.

We are all parents; we are all children.

The time has come for us to wake up. Every place in our lives that we refuse to look and make change is rapidly becoming a point of greater and greater pain. It is the way of things. The sooner we realize it is time for all of us to embrace emotional literacy, and to make all our emotions our friend, the sooner such wholesale violence and idiocy can disappear from our daily news.
Do not let all these people die in vain: take action now, such as:

  1. daily attending to your feelings, your experiences and what you have inside
  2. getting therapeutic help with emotions that are too much, confusing, or a continuing problem for you
  3. sharing your feelings (lovingly) with others
  4. teaching children how to know, understand and work with their emotions, especially through modeling this yourself
  5. deciding to become emotionally literate in all areas of your life and being
  6. embracing feelings as signals and friends and the most of these is Love.

Make a commitment to be loving and caring in all that you do and say, being certain to love yourself as well as others.

Ilene L. Dillon, L.C.S.W. is a speaker, psychotherapist and author of Exploring Anger with Your Child. She can be reached at www.Emotionalpro.com or 1-866-385-5769.