We all seek to be powerful. I’m not speaking necessarily about having authority over others but we certainly want to have control over our own lives. Yet even the most well-intentioned, enlightened person wants to control a particular situation or individual at times. Certainly, parents impose their authority over their children which is not necessarily a bad thing. Children, especially those who are young and immature or who may be developmentally slow, are not fully capable of making responsible decisions for themselves and rely on the judgment and guidance of the parents to do so for them. For those in the military, or other organizations responsible for the lives and safety of others, a leader must be in charge in order to keep all those under their command safe and to create the favored outcome for all. And we’re all familiar with the person who is a control freak, the one who needs to feel powerful at all times, never letting their guard down or relinquishing dominance over others.
But is there a connection between anger and power? The very definition of anger is that it is a feeling of discomfort or displeasure brought about by feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. Feeling powerless makes us feel vulnerable, susceptible to the whims of others. It takes an enormous amount of trust to permit others to have dominion over one’s life in any capacity. Very few are willing to relinquish such authority. Humans instinctively protect themselves from any perceived harm or unpleasantness and anger is an appropriate tool to get the job done.
Think about what occurs when someone gets really angry: people pay attention. If my boss is screaming at the entire office, you can rest assured that most everyone is affording him their undivided attention. Anger makes us feel powerful in the moment because we generally get the attention we’re seeking and very often the cooperation of others as well.
However, this kind of power brought about by anger is an illusion. When we lose control and allow anger to dictate what we say or do, then in essence we have given command to the emotion itself. We are no longer operating from an intellectual, rational mind but rather from a place of tumultuous feelings. When one is in a highly emotional state they typically are not making rational judgments, therefore they are not thinking logically by collecting the necessary facts that enable them to make an intelligent decision. In this case, one becomes power-less (a victim) to the rage.
Here’s the primary issue in the case of the boss: his anger evokes fear in his workers. When one is engaging in irrational or threatening behavior, others are uncertain as to what to expect. They feel at risk for any unforeseen consequences (such as an impromptu firing of a coworker or a cutback of privileges). They are unable to reason with a boss who is not displaying rational thinking and are hesitant top even try. In that moment, employees may comply with his demands but the long term and far reaching effects of his tirade create a breakdown of trust and respect, thus seriously undermining his effectiveness as a leader.
The authentic power of anger lies in our willingness to channel it in a constructive manner that will bring about positive change not just for the self but for all parties concerned. When the message of anger is deciphered, that is when we are able to identify what we considered wrong, unjust, unfair, corrupt, dangerous, disrespectful, and so forth, then the messenger (anger) has served its purpose. Much like an announcer who proclaims, “Play ball!”, once the proclamation is declared his job is complete and the players commence the game. Anger is an announcer, it tells me that something is wrong. Once I receive the message I can dispose of that specific emotion and put my energy into the solution.
Here’s an example: a young mother is outraged that her father-in-law favors their oldest son. Her younger children have noticed the nepotism and she can see the hurt in their eyes. “How could he be so insensitive and mean to my other children?” she thinks to herself. But rather than verbally lambast him, she sets out a course of action to create a more balanced family dynamic. She puts down the anger and addresses the issue with the grandfather stating that she realizes her son is a very special child and she loves the bond he has with him. She also knows how much her other children would cherish the same kind of relationship with him. She then offers suggestions as to how they can work on creating that as well as the benefits for all of them. In this regard, her anger motivates her to improve a family situation before any serious damage was done. The ability to make thoughtful, intelligent, positive decisions with extenuating benefits for everyone is where our authentic power lies.
Take great care when choosing anger for it can be highly deceptive. Never relinquish your authority to such a powerful emotion for once you do it has the potential to have devastating consequences. Like an announcer, listen to its message, set it free, and set your thoughts on a path to positive actions. And in this way, you will find the true power that is rightfully yours.