WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
Writers connect characters to readers through emotions. That makes it vital to understand them. Otherwise, the odds diminish of depicting them accurately or of having the reader react to whatever is depicted the way the writer intends the reader to react.
We live in an age of rage. Where people once exercised restraint, today they are far more apt to cut loose and let the fur fly–often with little or no provocation, and too often with no thought about the consequences. There was a time not too long ago, when terms like “road rage” weren’t part of our vocabulary. Where watching a group of teenage girls beat up another teenage girl wasn’t broadcast and considered entertainment.
There are a lot of angry people out there, and yet if we limit anger to only the negative, then we’ve missed the best half of its value. Because like most things in life, anger can be positive or negative.
First we need to make to sure we see anger clearly.
Anger isn’t an action. It is a reaction. It is the effect of an underlying cause.
That cause can be someone doing something that hurts you–intentionally or unintentionally, professionally or personally. Something that appalls you, something that scares you. (Note that all three are emotions, writers.) Let’s look at a couple of examples:
If someone makes a false accusation against you, odds are pretty good your reaction will be anger.
If you pull a week of overtime on a project for the boss and the coworker supposedly helping you did nothing but takes full credit for all your work, odds are pretty good your reaction will be anger.
If your daughter wears your favorite jacket without your permission and wrecks it or loses it, odds are pretty good your reaction will be anger.
If you write a chapter and haven’t saved it and the power goes out and it’s lost forever, odds are very good your reaction will be anger.
If someone steals your car, your wallet, or your name for the purpose of damaging your reputation, you can bet your reaction will be anger.
Personally and/or professionally, we react with anger to injustice. To things we consider universally just plain wrong.
But we also at times react with anger when no malice or intent to harm is intended. In fact, we sometimes react in anger when we’re not even directly involved.
You instruct your child not to do something. The child does it anyway. You’re not harmed, but you are angry.
Someone you care about gets sick. You yell at the doctor–outraged from the tip of your head to the soles of your feet.
Because other emotions are fueling the fire. Often that other emotion is fear.
You fear the sick person will die. You rage against the fear of death, but death isn’t someone you can shout out, so you pick a victim present: the doctor, or nurse or ambulance attendant–anyone will do.
People typically look for someone to blame. It makes them feel more secure, like they’re more in control, to be able to point a finger and say, “It’s his/her fault.” So to feel less vulnerable, they look for someone upon whom they can focus their fear which manifests in the form of anger. They might even choose the individual who is sick!
Fear, frustration, insecurity. Injustice, an inability to manipulate, a loss of control, a failure to achieve a desired outcome–all of these emotion-based reasons, and others like them, can manifest as anger. But remember, anger is the reaction, not the action. It’s the effect, not the cause. The primary core emotion sparking the reaction is the catalyst.
Anger, you see, isn’t an innate reaction. It’s a learned response. A simple example:
When a child hits himself with a hammer, he cries.
When an adult hits himself with a hammer, he cusses.
One reacts to pain with tears.
The other reacts with anger.
A learned response.
The primary causes and effects discussed thus far are largely negative. But anger has a whole different side. A valuable side, and our characters should react to it just as people do. On this side of the proverbial scales, anger is constructive.
It acts as a catalyst to motivate us to do constructive things (versus destructive ones) we wouldn’t have done or couldn’t have done without that motivation. An example:
A doctor lost his father early in life to a heart attack. The son was furious. Now he could have let that anger eat him alive, or even destroy him. He could have grown so bitter that it poisoned him and stole his destiny. But he didn’t. Instead he channeled his anger constructively–and went on to create the first artificial heart.
Anger can motivate us to stretch and grow. It can inspire us to change, to do better and more than believed we were capable of doing. Anger can infuse us with determination, give us the courage to try things we never dreamed of trying–and to keep on trying until we achieve them.
Anger can impact us in ways that change the course of our entire lives–define our life’s purpose.
When we think of anger, we often think of abuse and only its negatives. We neglect to remember the good that can come from it (the anger, not the abuse). Anger isn’t so much about the emotion, though we should understand the ramifications of that, too.
Anger always has ramifications. Some are negative, but some are definitely positive. And we get to choose which our anger will be.
Anger channeled improperly causes stress. Stress kills. It’s that simple. But before it kills, it makes us sick. Headaches, digestive challenges, spastic colon problems and so many more physical challenges manifest as a result of anger (and other negative emotions) not being processed in a positive way.
Anger channeled properly inspires and infuses us with abilities we had but didn’t know we had. Inspires us to gain new skills, new abilities that serve us in all areas of our lives because they broaden our experience and give us deeper wells to draw from in doing things we want to do. Things we’re meant to do.
So, yes, we live in an age of rage. And, yes, many factors contribute to it. What we need to remember is that rage is a reaction–neither a cause nor an action. We all know that every action causes a reaction. Every cause has an effect. And we know that regardless of what that cause and action are, we control our reactions and effects. We choose our response.
We all get angry. We all have hot buttons that someone’s going to push. We know that, too.
What we need to decide is how we’re going to react to having our hot-buttons pushed. We can react negatively–whether it’s firing off a nasty email filled with half-truths or taking a swing at the person offending us–or constructively–whether it’s holding our tongues and promising ourselves we won’t treat others unfairly or we’ll use that anger to build a better mousetrap.
I study a fair amount on abuse; you guys know that. I have for over thirty years. One thing that abusers often say to their victims is, “You made me hurt you.” That or they tell others, “S/he made me do it.”
Definitely improperly channeled anger there. The abuser got angry. S/he chose to hurt, to do it, and we’re all too familiar with the horrific forms “it” can take.
So when you’re writing characters, and in living your own life, understand that anger is normal. Even the most disciplined and most holy get angry. God got angry, and He’s got supernatural powers. We’re mere mortals. So it isn’t that we should fight to not feel the emotion, anger. It’s that we should exercise self-control and channel that anger constructively.
Constructive channeling. Now that’s a valuable weapon when living in an age of rage…