We cannot help having toxic anger, but it is our responsibility not to vent it on others

While we can explain the creation of toxic anger and see it as a burden, we must also realise how harmful it is to those who bear the brunt of it. It is the engine which drives abuse of all kinds -verbal, psychological, physical, sexual, or financial. Abuse may be about power and control, but it is fuelled by anger and shame. In a sense anger and shame are in opposite camps. Anger gives a sense of power, but shame cripples us. Toxic anger destroys peace and tranquillity, creating fear, hostility, a sour atmosphere, the death of love, the destruction of relationships, and creates many psychological and emotional problems for children that eventually blight their adulthood.
I see toxic anger as having a three stage cycle. The first stage is one of calmness. The next is of rising anger, where sourness and bad humour is evident. The third phase is the explosion, the venting of the anger on the unfortunate victims, adults and children. When this aggression is vented, the calm phase returns and on it goes, keeping the victims hypervigilant. Those who are victims of this cycle generally use the same phrases – walking on eggshells or being on tenterhooks. Sometimes there is no explosion but a sullen withdrawing which has an even worse impact on the other. An angry silence is a powerful way to control.
People with toxic anger express it in different ways, referred to as five anger styles by Mike Fisher. He describes the first one as the intimidator, whose threatening behaviour brings compliance through fear. The second anger style is interrogation. The interrogator is manipulative and questions the victims to make them feel small and ashamed. It is often supported by a powerful, persuasive but irrational logic. Thirdly we have the victim anger style. The ‘poor me’ type seeks to make us feel guilty for not meeting their needs. It is the ‘look at all I have done for you and there is no thanks for it, would you blame me for being angry with you’ type of mentality. It can be quite crushing if practised on people who have a strong caring or rescuing streak because the ‘poor me’ person always needs rescuing. The fourth anger style is distancing or withdrawing, which makes the other person wonder what is going on, although they will always sense the anger in the distancer. The distancer will rarely get into a conflict and generally will minimise their feelings, or intellectualise them i.e. they will always give a thought when asked about a feeling. The fifth anger style is winding-up. The ‘winder upper’ controls people by jocosity, teasing and making little of others in a witty way. They are disliked and avoided and the knife they sink in you is just as sharp as that of the violent controller. Seeing other people angry somehow meets a perverse need of the ‘winder upper’, who is unable to express his own anger and somehow sees it expressed through other people’s anger. It is projection and a way of avoiding their own anger. Winding up can be learned in childhood when the child is showered with shame and is a distinct sign that a parent is incapable of loving or cherishing.

Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018

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