The Downside of Rage: Why Anger Can Indicate Weakness Just as Much as Strength

Rage is the antidote to a sense of one’s own weakness. Have you ever had an argument with someone whom you blamed for mistreating you? Did your reaction betray a sense of entitlement toward that individual, that they owed it to you to treat you better? Were you mad at them, yourself, or both? Most psychologists will tell you that anger, when used properly, indicates a sense of strength and provides others with a grasp of your boundaries. But, what if, on the flip-side, anger can also give us a glimpse into unmanageable fear?

Rage can be useful, but it can also be stifling. Philosophers and psychologists will tell you that anger often fosters activism and subsequent social and cultural change; when groups become enraged, they sometimes band together to cultivate revolutions, non-violent ones included. In this respect, anger tells us that a particular group has had enough, that they’ve built up enough resolve and confidence to accept what they can and need to do. Rage, if managed well, is an asset to these groups; it reminds them that they deserve to live in more compassionate communities. But, what about when individual power isn’t limited, when that person doesn’t need group-strength?

As someone who struggles with ‘other-oriented perfectionism’, a term denoting an individual who expects others to be perfect, I often become angry at people who act immaturely, or irresponsibly. When I believe they’ve wronged me, my anger goes from zero to one hundred. If I were a Jewish person living in nazi Germany, my anger, at least, could have been useful. However, I often don’t need group-strength, nor do I even need to scare a less than perfect person into following my rules. Rage leads to the perception of a threat, and for what seems like forever, I’ve used it to try to change the world around me. But, rage indicates fear just as much as it does courage.

The question to be considered is: why do people become ‘other-oriented perfectionists’? Why do they care so much about others’ actions? As I’m sure you probably guessed by now, I’m also a ‘self-oriented perfectionist’. This means that I hold myself to a high standard. To me, conflict usually leads to self-blame. I hate it when people are upset with me because I find it difficult to accept that I’m not responsible for everyone else’s feelings. Therefore, I find it equally as difficult to set boundaries. So, instead of feeling guilty over hurting someone else’s feelings or taking on the responsibility of their resentment toward me, I become upset with them, essentially blaming them for my predicament. In my mind, I’m not upset with myself for failing to set boundaries; I’m mad at them for “making me” have to set them in the first place. Why can’t they just leave me the hell alone?!

My mind, feeling guilt as strongly as it does, attempts to preclude that feeling manifesting by telling me that it’s the other who needs to change, the other who needs to demand less of me. Rage becomes my enemy because it isn’t useful in this type of context; demanding people rarely change. If I were honest with myself, I’d acknowledge the intensity of my fear and how awful guilt makes me feel. And my anger, in its attempt to protect me, often makes me feel just as badly as I would have otherwise, because, when acted on in a harmful way, I’m left with the feeling I was trying to keep at bay.

In the end, on an individual level in which I have the ability to set a boundary or walk away, it isn’t anyone else’s responsibility to treat me well; it’s mine to protect myself and, thereafter, to manage my sense of guilt. As one bleeds into the other, if I can learn to accept that I can have my own needs and fight for them, I can let go of needing others to always be considerate, or, fundamentally, perfect.

I know what you’re thinking: but, can’t anger help lead me to set boundaries? It can, but you can just as easily set them in tranquility.

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