Professional Development Day: Making Anger Your Friend - Belfast, 22 May 2017
Anger means different things to different people. What does it mean to you? What is anger for you? Anger is a symptom, a door into long term therapy for some clients – focusing on the causes - and a shorter term psycho-education for others – focusing on behaviours. Anger has a bad reputation, we can feel anger, then feel shame about anger then the shame drives more anger. It is an inexorable cycle. In anger we can suffer a sense of aloneness – “it is only me that has a problem, in fact I am the problem” – yet anger is in our humanity. Not to experience it is not to be truly alive. Thus the idea “IT IS OK TO BE ANGRY” can be transformational.
Anger is universal. Without anger we are not alive. It is a powerful river running through all our lives. It can be a force for good and achievement while also driving terrible deeds and behaviours. Both types of anger are being played out regularly in the news –on the sports field and currently in the battlefields of Syria.
Anger can support us or it can undermine us. It is the nuclear fuel that can power us to great things or that can cause disaster. The experience of overwhelming anger, the anger that drives us to great achievements needs to be regulated. Sometimes an event which stimulates anger drives us to greater achievement.
Anger out of control gets in the way of relationship, of diplomacy and humanity. This is the anger with a bad name and a bad reputation. Let us not judge anger itself by the terrible behaviours which are driven by it. But anger is a key part of our humanity and in denying it we create shame and even more anger. Let us understand it as a sign of who we are, a symptom of something that we may think is wrong, something we need to pay attention to.
Anger regulated, contained and expressed in healthy ways can drive us to great things. By changing our relationship with anger, by accepting the part of ourselves that is angry, we can change our relationship with ourselves. Nelson Mandela, more than anyone else in modern life embodied the focus of anger on justice, freedom and forgiveness. He famously said: “There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.
To live our life to the full we must embrace and regulate the force and vitality of anger. Our challenge and opportunity is to accept it, to engage with it and only through this can we be fully in charge of ourselves.
Anger shines the light on our innermost selves and if we allow it, gives us guidance as to our internal architecture, as to who we are and how we are in this world.
David Woolfson is a psychotherapist and one of the UK’s leading Anger Specialists. He has appeared regularly on the Nick Ferrari Show and on the BBC as well as Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies". He is frequently interviewed about the anger issues of people such as Hugh Grant, Joey Barton (Talk Sport), Andy Murray (Sky News) and Luis Suarez' biting incident at the World Cup.
Previously he consulted for many music industry companies at the highest level. He has experience as a residential social worker and was for many years a Board member of the Alone In London Service homelessness charity (ALS).